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Mohammad cartoonist wants his old identity back

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A Danish cartoonist at the center of a crisis in 2006 that set off riots in the Muslim world dislikes the profile the incident gave him and would prefer to return to his old identity as an ordinary artist.

Kurt Westergaard’s cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb sparked outrage across the Muslim world and the artist said it took on a life of its own.

“It travels around the world and is used and misused and the cartoon gets a status as an icon, as I do sometimes, and I am not so happy about that.”

“I’d want back my good old identity as an average, reliable cartoonist that pretty much never missed a deadline,” Westergaard told a news conference Monday to coincide with the launch of his autobiography.

The autobiography includes a new version of the cartoon, one of 12 published by a Danish newspaper in 2005 that caused riots and the death of at least 50 people in the Middle East, Africa and Asia after Muslims took offense.

“Self censorship is dangerous because you cannot see it. It is not bureaucratic as it is going on inside the heads of people,” Westergaard, 75, told Reuters, adding that the new book was also a defense of freedom of speech.

In January, Westergaard escaped an axe attack by a man suspected of al Qaeda links.

However, he said he did not regret the publication.

“The cartoons have contributed to starting a necessary debate on freedom of speech. That has caused friction between Muslim and Western Christian democratic cultures and that is something we need to get through. But it should preferably happen peacefully.”

Westergaard’s new book “The Man Behind The Lines” contains a cartoon depicting the artist glancing at his 2005 cartoon and showing him with a bomb on his own head.

Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Susan Fenton