Turning the other cheek

If newspaper Drammens Tidende may have been stoking the fires of controversy in its coverage of various Progress Party activities linked to the Mohammed cartoons that have been back in the headlines recently, their coverage has now become distinctly serene. Now they have been speaking to Muslims.

“We don’t give a toss about this. It means nothing,” Labour Party politician Aisha Ahmed told DT. “I won’t even waste time criticizing it,” she said when quizzed about the Progress Party (FrP) decision to publish their own brand-new, homemade caricatures. Though the FrP has now said that these cartoons don’t depict Mohammed. Or God. Unless your freedom of speech has been impaired, and you think they might.

Drammen city councilor Shahid Iqbal Bhatti agreed with his Labour colleague. “I want to urge my Muslim brothers and sister not to be provoked by this. That is just what the FrP wants, and we just have to ignore it,” says Bhatti, who does admit that he finds the exercise offensive. “But I’m a grown-up, and I know how to handle this.”

Liberal Party city councilor Yousuf Gilani used the occasion to make a point about why this debate has never reached flashpoint in Norway. “During the debate four years ago, Muslims in Norway clearly stated that they supported freedom of speech and rejected the violence.”

“We were the first to reject violence and the burning of embassies,” Gilani continued. “Norwegian Muslims cannot always take responsibility for things that happen in the rest of the world,” he said, adding that the FrP should use their freedom of speech responsibly, and not indulge in mockery designed to offend thousands of people.

Finally, FrP’s MP from Drammen, Ulf Erik Knudsen, has dropped the use of the most controversial Mohammed cartoon as his Facebook avatar. Knudsen was not knuckling under to pressure, but giving in to the wish of the artist, who turned out not to be particularly enthusiastic about the gesture.

Knudsen said NRK had made him aware that Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard was not pleased, so he changed his Facebook profile. “This is out of respect for Westergaard. I wanted to support him, not annoy him. That’s why I deleted the picture,” he said.

Although Knudsen and the FrP might have a context problem, they have received support in principle – from Per Edgar Kokkvold, the secretary-general of the Norwegian Press Federation.  “I will defend every editorial right to publish drawings that are insulting to communism, capitalism or religions,” Kokkvold told Drammens Tidende, and repeated his opinon that Norwegian media should have been more visible in support when protests against the caricatures were at their height in 2006.

It would be interesting if the media at least published the FrP ‘free speech’ illustration, just so everyone could see what exactly they are up to. Meanwhile,  Norway remains a place where the media need to be reminded to go out and risk offending as many people as possible.

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