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Jeff Ackerman: Response makes cartoons newsworthy

A Danish newspaper publishes a dozen cartoons and some high-ranking mullah offers a million bucks for the artists’ heads.

I write 2,000 columns and all I get is a bumper sticker?

If you haven’t heard the latest, a Danish newspaper FOUR MONTHS AGO published an unflattering CARTOON (intended emphasis on the four months and cartoon) of the prophet Muhammad and it finally made its rounds through the Middle East.



Fueled by the clerics – who can organize a protest faster than you can say, “Pass the Danish” – angry mobs have been burning and shouting and shooting and looting in several Muslim communities and nations. Late last week, some religious wacko (also, coincidentally named Mohammed, but with an “o”) offered a million dollars in jewelry and, I think, food stamps, to anyone who can find and kill the Danish cartoonist who drew the offending cartoon.

“Whoever has done this despicable and shameful act (draw a cartoon), he has challenged the honor of Muslims,” the mullah reportedly told 1,000 people who happened to be hanging out at his mosque last week. “Whoever will kill this cursed man, he will get $1 million from the association of jewelers bazaar, one million rupees ($16,700) from Masjid Mohabat Khan and 500,000 rupees and a car from Jamia Ashrafia as a reward.”




The mullah was apparently unaware that a dozen cartoonists actually worked on a dozen different cartoons first published on a page last September by Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

“This is a unanimous decision by all imams of Islam that whoever insults the prophets deserves to be killed, and whoever will take this insulting man to his end” – I assume he means death – “will get this prize.”

The mullah must also have forgotten that the Prophet Muhammed was, according to historians, a forgiving man who always sought peaceful solutions first. The mullah’s actions, as well as the actions of other radical Islamics who are killing innocent Muslims today, are a contradiction of their own religion. Perhaps that’s what the cartoons were trying to point out in the first place.

Other Muslim communities have called for a boycott of all Danish goods, such as cheese and … yes … Legos (unfortunately they don’t make roadside bombs from Legos). And they will no longer refer to pastries as “Danish,” preferring instead to call them “cherries from the Prophet” or something like that. You don’t stop eating pastry just because some Dane got carried away.

We tried the same thing with the French when they refused to join us in Iraq. To this day I won’t eat snails and refer to my fries as “Walnuts From Idaho.”

The Danish government is refusing to apologize for the cartoon, saying it is a matter of free speech. The same free speech, I suspect, that allows Muslim cartoonists to portray Jews as hook-nosed. And I’m sure we’ve all seen “Jesus Christ Superstar” once or twice, where the Christian leader was portrayed as … here goes another riot … a hippie.

I suspect the Danish newspaper had no idea it had so many subscribers in Pakistan. Of course it’s not the first time a journalist has been threatened with death for offending a few million people. One time a guy said he was going to stick a sword in my stomach and twist it until my tongue popped out. I swear on my mother’s eyes.

We hired a security cop and made him sit in the lobby eating Danish until it all blew over. The bad guy never showed up, fortunately for him. The security cop wasn’t the fastest fellow I’d ever seen, but he had a giant pistol. Even bigger than the one I have in my drawer.

That’s right, Mr. Mullah. You’re not getting my head without a fight. You’ll think the Danes are wimps when you come calling on me. In fact, when you walk in my front door, I’m down the hall on the far left, with black hair, mustache, bulging biceps (and triceps).

It is rather amusing that most of the American press refuses to run the cartoon but has no problem describing every detail of it. They didn’t seem to have a problem running photos of the charred bodies of four Americans hanging from a Baghdad bridge. Just last week the San Francisco Chronicle published a cartoon of Dick Cheney dressed as the pope. I didn’t hear one peep from the Catholics.

Perhaps taste is a matter of opinion? We would not initially have published the cartoons as a matter of respect for all religions, no more than we would publish a cartoon depicting Christ as a terrorist. But it’s a news story now, one that has cost the lives of many and threatens the lives of many more. And that is exactly why I have included the original page from the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, published last September.

Neither the Danish government nor its journalists owe an apology to anyone. And anyone who even remotely values free speech ought to feel the same way.

The mere idea of a nation where religious zealots can intimidate a free press with threats of death ought to send chills down the spines of even the spineless.

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, jeffa@theunion.com, or at 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.


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