Danish paper in the eye of cartoons hurricane

Jyllands-Posten, the Danish daily that first published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad—sparking an international uproar that has resulted in 11 dead, burnt-out diplomatic missions and an abiding rage in the Muslim world—is under siege.

Protesting e-mails, letters, phone calls flood in every hour, interspersed with messages of support from around the world.

And so do death threats and bomb scares, for the first time in the paper’s history.

Jyllands-Posten was set up in 1871 under a slogan professing its independence from government and business interests. It calls itself Denmark’s international newspaper, which it certainly is today.

On the political right, it has over 800 staff, 650 at its headquarters at Viby, near Aarhus in Jutland and 175 in Copenhagen. It is the best-selling daily in Denmark, claiming 688 000 readers on weekdays and 799 000 on Sunday, in a country of 5,4-million inhabitants.

These days, to get into its offices in the chic Kongens Nytorv district in Copenhagen a visitor has to run an obstacle course of 24-hour security.

In the canteen editorial staff chat calmly about the cartoons affair.
But if asked for their views, they clam up.

Knock on the door of arts editor Flemming Rose, the man who commissioned the 12 caricatures, and there is no answer.

The man at the eye of the storm left on “indefinite holiday” shortly after saying he would print cartoons about the Holocaust—the theme of a competition launched by an Iranian newspaper—to show that his publication was not “selective” in its freedom of expression.

But an hour later editor in chief Carsten Juste denied there was any such scheme and dispatched Rose on vacation.

Jyllands-Posten does not wish under any circumstances to publish these drawings ... so as not to create a further unnecessary controversy,” Juste said.

Rose, whose telephone has not stopped ringing with interview requests, is just plain tired, he told the International Herald Tribune on Saturday.

“I am thankful the paper has given me a chance to recover… in the middle of a crisis you do not always recognise the tensions placed on you,” he said.

The paper again apologised in Arabic this week for the offence caused to Muslims but refuses to apologise for having published the caricatures, as many Muslims have demanded.

But it is a hollow victory. On February 1 Juste told another Danish newspaper, Berlingske Tidende, “They’ve won”, referring to enemies of freedom of speech.

“If I had known that this was going to lead to boycotts and endanger the lives of Danish people, I would not have printed them.” - AFP

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