Something very important is happening in Denmark -- a showdown over freedom, tolerance, and their wolfish menaces in religious clothing. So, please, turn off "American Idol," put down the Game Boy for a moment, and pay attention. This does affect you.
Last October, a Danish newspaper called the Jyllands-Posten published a dozen cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. The illustrations included various depictions of the prophet Muhammad, some innocuous (Muhammad walking in a pasture) and a few with provocative references to radical Islamic terrorism. One showed Muhammad with a bomb in his turban; another had Muhammad wielding a sword in front of two, wide-eyed Muslim women covered in black abayas; another featured a cartoonist hunched over his desk, sweating in fear, as he drew Muhammad in suicide bomb-like apparel.
The newspaper was making a vivid editorial point about European artists' fear of retaliation for drawing any pictures of Muhammad at all. (Remember: It's been a little over a year since Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered by an Islamist gunman over his movie criticizing violence against women in Islamic societies.) A Danish author had reported last fall that he couldn't find an illustrator for a book about Muhammad; the Jyllands-Posten editors rose to the challenge by calling on artists to send in their submissions and publishing the 12 entries they received in response (available here).
The reaction to the cartoons has resoundingly confirmed the fears those artists expressed about radical Islamic intolerance and violence. In fact, the Jyllands-Posten reported, two of the illustrators received death threats and went into hiding. The Pakistani Jamaaat-e-Islami party placed a 5,000-kroner bounty on the cartoonists' heads. A terrorist outfit called the "Glory Brigades" has threatened suicide bombings in Denmark over the artwork.
Despite how relatively tame the pictures actually are (compared not only to Western standards, but also to the vicious, anti-Semitic propaganda regularly churned out by Arab cartoonists), the drawings have literally inflamed the radical Muslim world and its apologists. Eleven Muslim ambassadors to Copenhagen immediately protested to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen demanding retractions from the newspaper. The ambassador of Turkey urged Rasmussen to call the Jyllands-Posten to account for "abusing Islam in the name of democracy, human rights and freedom of expression."
Rasmussen, in a rare show of European spine, steadfastly refused to appease the howlers.