VIENNA (Reuters) - The Danish cartoonist who outraged Muslims with a drawing of the Prophet Mohammad seven years ago has said the West cannot let itself be muzzled by fear of offending Islamic sensibilities.
Kurt Westergaard, whose lampoon of Mohammad in the Jyllands-Posten paper nearly got him killed by an axe-wielding assassin in 2010, told Austrian magazine News he had no regrets about his work and said freedom of speech was too precious to relinquish.
"Should we in future let ourselves be censored by Islamic authorities in deeply undemocratic countries? Should they be allowed to tell the German chancellor in future whom she should honor and whom not? Are we really this far along?" he asked, referring to Angela Merkel's citation of his work.
For many Muslims, any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous and caricatures or other characterizations have provoked protests across the Muslim world - most recently after the denigration of Mohammad in an amateurish film trailer concocted by anti-Islamic campaigners in the United States.
Westergaard, 77, said he still lives in constant fear of another attempt on his life. His home has become a "fortress" with a police station in the back yard and bodyguards who ferry him and his wife around in the back seat of an armored car.
"I can't even go shopping or sit in a cafe," the cartoonist said in the interview published on Thursday.
Westergaard said cartoons poking fun at Muslims could signal that Western cultures saw them as part of society. "But we don't understand one another," he added.
That was because "we have long found ourselves in a culture war" raging not just between the West and the Middle East but directly in Western societies where he said many Muslims seem not to understand or respect democracy and freedom of speech.
He said cartoonists could not hold back in their efforts to spotlight issues in a pointed way.
"It is already bad enough when people like politicians or journalists who work with words no longer prefer to say and write things that are obvious. We have got used to that, but fortunately not yet to (the idea) that bans on drawings also prevail in the meantime."
(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Alistair Lyon)