A Danish newspaper apologised yesterday for offending Muslims by reprinting a cartoon of the Prophet Mohamed with a bomb-shaped turban, rekindling a heated debate about the limits of freedom of speech.
The Danish daily Politiken said its apology was part of a settlement with a Saudi lawyer representing eight Muslim groups in the Middle East and Australia. It drew strong criticism from the Danish media, which had stood united in rejecting calls to apologise for 12 cartoons that sparked fierce protests in the Muslim world four years ago.
Lars Loekke Rasmussen, the Prime Minister, expressed surprise at Politiken's move, saying he was worried that Danish media were no longer "standing shoulder to shoulder" on the issue.
Politiken said it did not mean to offend Muslims in Denmark or elsewhere when it reprinted one of the most controversial cartoons, showing Mohamed wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse. Islamic law opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favourable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.
Politiken was among several Danish newspapers that reprinted the cartoon in 2008 after police uncovered an alleged plot to kill its creator, Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. In a statement, Politiken said it "recognises and deplores" the fact that Muslims were offended by the caricature.
"We apologise to anyone who was offended by our decision to reprint the cartoon drawing," it said.
Tøger Seidenfaden, Politiken's editor-in-chief, said that the paper was apologising for the offence caused by the cartoon – not the decision to reprint it.
"We have the right to print Kurt Westergaard's drawings, we have the right to print the original 12 drawings, we have the right to print all the caricatures in the world," he told AP. "We apologise for the offence which the reprint has caused. That is what we apologise for."
Mr Seidenfaden called the statement a "unique chance" to foster a dialogue on the issue and reduce tensions between Denmark and the Muslim world. But critics blasted the decision.
"Politiken's pathetic prostrating before a Saudi lawyer takes the first prize in stupidity," said Joern Mikkelsen, editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten, which first printed the 12 cartoons. Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, the head of the Danish Union of Journalists, said Politiken was "kneeling before opponents of the freedom of press."