Norway Apologizes over Muhammad Cartoons

Filip van Laenen, Brussels Journal, Jan. 27, 2006

The left-wing government in Norway apologizes to Muslims worldwide for the publication of twelve Muhammad cartoons [see them here] in the Norwegian newspaper Magazinet. Oslo sent out instructions to all the Norwegian embassies on how to respond to queries about the cartoons. Unlike the Danish government, the Norwegian government is not concerned about safeguarding the right to freedom of expression. Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, a leading member of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Workers’ Party, wrote the following e-mail to the Norwegian embassies:

I am sorry that the publication of a few cartoons in the Norwegian paper Magazinet has caused unrest among Muslims. I fully understand that these drawings are seen to give offence by Muslims worldwide. Islam is a spiritual reference point for a large part of the world. Your faith has the right to be respected by us.

The cartoons in the Christian paper Magazinet are not constructive in building the bridges which are necessary between people with different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Instead they contribute to suspicion and unnecessary conflict.

Let it be clear that the Norwegian government condemns every expression or act which expresses contempt for people on the basis of their religion or ethnic origin. Norway has always supported the fight of the UN against religious intolerance and racism, and believes that this fight is important in order to avoid suspicion and conflict. Tolerance, mutual respect and dialogue are the basis values of Norwegian society and of our foreign policy.

Freedom of expression is one of the pillars of Norwegian society. This includes tolerance for opinions that not everyone shares. At the same time our laws and our international obligations enforce restrictions for incitement to hatred or hateful expressions.

Opposition politicians reacted to this message with indignation. Jon Lilletun, the spokesman on foreign policy for the Christian-democrat Kristelig Folkeparti, points out that it is not the ministry’s task to express an opinion on the content of the cartoons. Carl I. Hagen, the leader of the Progress Party, fears that freedom of expression is being swept under the carpet.

Magazinet published the cartoons in support of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which after publishing the drawings last September has been threatened with revenge by Muslim extremists. According to Islam it is blasphemy to depict Muhammad. The Danish government has consistently refused to give in to demands from Islamic countries that it apologize for the publication of the cartoons and introduce censorship.

As we noted before it is striking to see how Norwegian politics differs from Danish politics. The Norwegian Foreign Minister’s e-mail was meant to be confidential and not to be disclosed to the Norwegian public, “because,” as the Foreign Ministry wrote, “that would look rather stupid in the Norwegian press.” Apparently Muslims abroad are more deserving of respect than one’s own citizens.

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