Danish Prophet cartoonist says has no regrets

AARHUS, Denmark Wed Mar 26, 2008 6:10pm EDT

Activists from Shabab-e-Milli group shout slogans during a protest against the republication of a caricature of Prophet Mohammad in Karachi February 15, 2008. REUTERS/Athar Hussain

Activists from Shabab-e-Milli group shout slogans during a protest against the republication of a caricature of Prophet Mohammad in Karachi February 15, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Athar Hussain

AARHUS, Denmark (Reuters) - His satirical drawing of the Prophet Mohammad has changed his life, but Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard has no regrets, despite the exposure of a plot to kill him.

Westergaard, 72, drew the cartoon that caused the most controversy in the Muslim world, depicting the founder of Islam with a bomb in his turban.

He said that, in the end, the cartoons could help serve to find a place for Islam in the West, where secular values sit uncomfortably with an Islamic view of society.

"I would do it the same way (again) because I think that this cartoon crisis in a way is a catalyst which is intensifying the adaptation of Islam," he told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday, speaking in English.

"Without a cartoon that provoked the Muslims, it would have been something else; a novel a play, a movie, this situation would have occurred sooner or later anyway."

He said: "We are discussing the two cultures, the two religions as never before and that is important."

Westergaard's cartoon and 11 others were first published by the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in September 2005. Other papers reprinted them in 2006, enraging some in the Muslim world who saw the depiction of the Prophet as blasphemous.

More than 50 people were killed in protests in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

MURDER PLOT

Last month, the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) arrested three men, one Dane and two Tunisians, on suspicion of planning to kill the artist.

At least 15 Danish papers and several foreign papers have since reprinted the caricature, sparking a new wave of protests.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden last week warned that Europe would be punished for the cartoons.

Westergaard, who still works full-time, said he believed he would have to live the rest of his life under the cloud of violence and would have to make the best of the situation.

"When there is no way out, you get braver and you want to resist so my basic feeling in this situation has been and is anger. I am angry that I am being threatened. I have just done my job," told Reuters at the offices of his paper Jyllands-Posten in Aarhus, Denmark's second city.

The cartoonist said he appreciated the reprinting of his drawing as a show of solidarity to the threat against freedom of speech and the murder plot.

The cartoons have pitted religious sensibilities against Western ideals of freedom of expression, but Westergaard said his drawing was not designed to offend Muslims but instead aimed at those who use religion to justify violence.

"I have no problems with Muslims. I made a cartoon which was aimed at the terrorists who use an interpretation of Islam as their spiritual dynamite," he said.

The cartoonist, who describes himself as an atheist, has lived in five different safe houses since security police told him of the murder plot in November and will soon move to a sixth.

"It is a special way of living, but you can still have your every day life anyway and you can do what you usually do. It is not so bad," he said.

Since the publishing of the cartoons in 2005, several young Muslims have been convicted in Denmark of planning bomb attacks, partly in protest at the drawings. Denmark's Muslim community makes up about 3 percent of the 5.5 million population.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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