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Kurt Westergaard, Man Behind Muhammed Cartoon Dies At 86

Kurt Westergaard became popularly known in 2005 for his controversial depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in the newspaper.

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Divya Dhadd
Divya Dhadd
Journalist

DENMARK: Kurt Westergaard, a Danish cartoonist best known for his caricature of the Prophet Muhammad that aroused widespread fury around the Muslim world, has died at the age of 86.

His family said Westergaard died in his sleep after a long period of illness, the Berlingske newspaper reported on Sunday.

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The illustrator became world-famous for his 12 drawings published by conservative daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005. Under the headline ‘The Face of Mohammed’, was one of the 12 published by the newspaper, which showed a turban bomb, sparking anger as some Muslim countries saw it as “criticism of Islam.”

Islamic tradition says that depictions of Prophet Muhammad are taboo and are offensive to some Muslims.

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The newspaper’s cartoons sparked protests in Denmark, while its government received complaints from the ambassadors of Muslim-majority countries. The anger escalated into anti-Danish violence across the Muslim world in 2006 in which dozens died, Danish embassies were attacked, including the one in Damascus which was burned down.

The publication of the cartoons has left a lasting legacy.

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In 2012, French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo reprinted the cartoons, which culminated in a 2015 attack on the offices of the satirical magazine that left 12 people dead at the Paris office.  

Courage comes at a cost

Death threats against Westergaard for publication of the cartoons eventually forced him into hiding. But in a matter of time, he decided to live openly in a heavily fortified house in Aarhus, Denmark’s second city.

In 2008, three people charged with planning to murder Westergaard were arrested, after which Denmark’s three main newspapers reprinted the cartoon.

Later in early 2010, Danish police caught 28-year-old Somali, Mohamed Geele, armed with a knife and axe in Westergaard’s house, where he was planning to kill him. 

Westergaard had to live with a bodyguard at secret addresses in his later years.

Also Read: Indian Journalist Danish Siddiqui killed In Afghanistan Clashes

No regrets about drawings

In 2018, speaking to Reuters news agency, Westergaard said he had no regrets about his satirical drawing. He believed the cartoon had generated an “important” discussion about the place of Islam in western countries with secular values. “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 said.

“We are discussing the two cultures, the two religions as never before and that is important.”

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