This week, at least 17 Danish newspapers reprinted one of the 12 Muhammad cartoons that two winters ago set off an orgy of outrage and killing in the Muslim world. They did so not to sensationalize the news or ignite a return of the street riots in which scores of protestors were killed in early 2006. Rather, they published the caricature of the Muslim prophet to take a stand for freedom of expression. Danish police had earlier arrested three suspected plotters whom they believed were readying to murder Kurt Westergaard, the artist of the cartoon in question. The papers' owners, publishers and editors wanted Muslim extremists to know they would not let threats and terror tactics intimidate them into giving up one of Western civilization's most fundamental freedoms, what one called "the right to blasphemy."
The papers and their staffs are to be commended for their courageous act. What they have done may seem, on the surface, trivial. After all, countless publications around the Western world every day publish material that is provocative and even scandalous. But in a world were political correctness and extremist violence have combined to stifle debate about the threat posed by militant Islam, the reprints were anything but ordinary.
Perhaps in this regard, the Danes are way ahead of us North Americans. Having been among the first Western nations to welcome large-scale Muslim immigration more than 30 years ago, Danish society is now engaged in a national debate over what to do with the roughly 5% of the population who are Muslim and refuse to learn the language, participate in mainstream Danish life or respect the country's pluralistic traditions. The high-stakes Danish conversation over what we have come to call "reasonable accommodation" makes Quebec's version look like a pleasant chat about the weather.