Norway’s reputation for peace brokering and insistence on dialogue is probably responsible for the relatively free ride it has enjoyed whenever indulging in a bit of Mohammed cartoonery, certainly by comparison with neighbor Denmark who started it all. But now a sudden urge to flex the freedom of speech muscles may change all that.
Norway’s flag was ablaze in the streets of Lahore, Pakistan today as incensed Islamists protested Aftenposten’s decision to reproduce the caricatures in connection with coverage of the recent, unsuccessful, attack on one of the Danish cartoonists. The drawings, now four years old, were originally published in Jyllands-Posten, and Aftenposten, as far as I can see, only showed a reduced montage rather than running any of them full size – but to be honest the reaction has been fairly pint-sized as well. Rational debate at home, and scattered fires abroad. So far.
Then the Progress Party (FrP), Norway’s populist and most right-wing political party, decided that perhaps it was time to show greater solidarity with the cartoonists. Sooner or later someone was bound to test this stance in Norway, but when it’s a political party that has its origins in stern anti-immigrant attitudes, things get blurry very fast. Principled stand or publicity stunt?
First the news broke that FrP MP Ulf Erik Knudsen had chosen to use the most controversial caricature, of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban, as his profile picture in Facebook.
“This is done in sympathy with someone threatened by forces that want to limit freedom of speech. I believe that more of the Norwegian press should have published these drawings,” Knudsen told newspaper VG’s web site. But the FrP was just warming up.
Newspaper Drammens Tidende announced that the party’s membership magazine Fremskritt (Progress) is about to publish its own Mohammed caricatures. These drawings will be intentionally controversial and the party is braced that they will cause offence to Muslim fundamentalists.
Drammens Tidende reports that FrP leader Siv Jensen has approved the drawings, and their parliamentary group is ready for the backlash. Former party secretary Geir Mo confirmed that the new illustrations are home-made originals designed to accompany an article about freedom of speech. The decision was taken after a discussion about whether or not to reproduce the notorious Danish cartoons.
“It is a good story and it is well illustrated. You will see the result tomorrow,” Mo said. Watch this space.