From Prospect Magazine:
Jyllands-Posten is Denmark’s largest paper, with a circulation of about 150,000. It is a provincial paper, aligned with the party of prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The paper’s main offices are in Aarhus, the country’s second largest city. It is where I grew up, and the paper still sits on the coffee tables in my family circles. This is a conservative paper and it has always minded the religious and political sensitivities of its core readership: Lutheran farmers and the provincial middle class. It still does. A few years ago the paper rejected a cartoon portraying Jesus Christ because, it thought, publication would offend the readers. The illustrator of the Jesus cartoon gave his Jyllands-Posten rejection letter, which he had kept, to the Guardian. Jens Kaiser, the editor of Jyllands-Posten’s Sunday edition, had written, “I don’t think Jyllands-Posten’s readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore I will not use them.” When confronted with the old rejection letter, he said, “It is ridiculous to bring this forward now. It has nothing to do with the Muhammad cartoons.” Some saw double standards at play.The Muhammad cartoons started out as a political gag. Flemming Rose, the paper’s culture editor, decided last summer that he was fed up with what he described as the spreading of “self-censorship” on matters related to Islam and solicited cartoonists for drawings of “how they saw the Prophet.” Cartoons are an important anti-totalitarian expression, Rose wrote, and therefore the paper had asked 40 Danish cartoonists to draw their image of Muhammad. Only 12 responded. The 12 cartoons were published last September, under the headline “Muhammad’s Face.” As examples of the epidemic of self-censorship, Rose cited a stand-up comedian who had complained that he was afraid to make fun of Muhammad on television, and a children’s book author who complained that he could not get anyone to illustrate his book about Muhammad. Rose also claimed that three theatres had put on shows deriding George W Bush but none Osama Bin Laden. (Considering that a member of parliament from the Danish People’s party has called Muslims “a cancer on Danish society,” some people—including the former foreign minister and EU commissioner, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen—say the problem is that there is too little self-censorship in Denmark.)It is said that humour does not travel well, but these cartoons really were not very funny.