WikiLeaks Reveals US “Influence” On Danish Reprint of Mohammed Cartoons

mohammed protest

Protests in London over the controversial Mohammed cartoons (src)

With more and more WikiLeaks cable being released every day, the job of pouring through each one, looking for juicy tidbits, is getting overwhelming. Imagine how overwhelming it is for the journalists of Afterposten, based out of Oslo, Norway, who recently got their hands on all 250,000+ cables from WikiLeaks. Sure enough, they’ve got a whole sub-site devoted to the leaks, and while pouring through the cables myself, one caught my eye:


The cable (link 1 link 2) describes how the paper that originally published the “offensive” cartoons, the Jyllands-Posten (or the “Post”), was considering re-printing one or all of the cartoons on the one-year anniversary of the original print: September 30, 2006. When the US Embassy, headed by Ambassador James P. Cain, learned of this, he fired off a phone call to the Prime Minister of Denmark’s security office, wanting to know just what the hell the deal was: if the Post was going to re-print these cartoons that incited so much violence, chaos, and activity again, he needed to “notify our government and help prepare our embassies around the world for possible reaction.” What was the PM’s office’s response?

[Denmark security advisor Bo] Lidegaard confirmed that “Jyllands-Posten” was weighing a second run of the cartoons but indicated that the government did not want to get directly involved in thematter. So sensitive was the issue, Lidegaard told the Ambassador confidentially, that the prime minister’s office had made a conscious decision not to alert the foreign ministry or the intelligence services.

In addition, Lidegaard told the US Ambassador that if the US did try to get involved, by “openly influencing the paper’s decision,” they would have condemn it. We can only assume this is based on the fact that publicly, the Danish government wants to appear to support free speech, but privately were quite concerned about the publication. This is the Ambassador’s take, anyway:

When, then, the newspaper that ignited Denmark’s worst foreign policy crisis in sixty years essentially threatened to do it all over again, the prime minister apparently concluded that the potential costs of being seen to intervene against free speech outweighed even the risk of another uproar. The Danish government might not have been able to dissuade the paper’s editors in any case; one could also argue that another such provocation is inevitable. It seems clear from this episode, though, that [Prime Minister] Rasmussen’s first priority was to stay on the right side of the free speech issue and avoid any suggestion of concession. [emphasis added]

mohammed cartoons

One of the original pages from the newspaper that sparked worldwide controversy (src)

But here’s another interesting point: Islam in Europe, a blog that reports on matters of the same name, reported the news in this way: “Wikileaks: US Embassy pressured Danish paper not to reprint Mohammed cartoons.” But did it? It appears to be more of a subtle “influence” from the way the cable describes it:

[Post editor-in-chief] Juste told the Ambassador that he and his team had been considering re-publication, but concluded that such a move would be unwise, especially so soon after the controversy caused by the Pope’s Regensburg remarks. The Ambassador welcomed this news, noting that none of us wanted a repeat of the crisis earlier this year. Lidegaard was demonstrably relieved when the Ambassador reported this exchange a short time later.

What was really said in that telephone call we can only speculate on. Perhaps the Post’s decision was a combination of several things, but it does seem in the end they went with diplomacy rather than free speech. Why not publish some cartoons? Harper’s Magazine published all twelve a few months before the one-year anniversary. If your beliefs, even your religious beliefs, cannot withstand that kind of scrutiny, they need to be re-evaluated. At least, that’s my take.

Ambassador Cain’s take is that the while the “positive” of the Danish stepping up their troops in the Middle East works with their “integration and outreach to the country’s immigrant communities,” the negative is far worse:

this popular center-right government has hardened its views on the absolute primacy of free speech. The prime minister appeared willing to let Jyllands-Posten dictate the timing of the next Islam vs. West confrontation without question or open discussion within the government.

Primacy of free speech? Why, that’s just what WikiLeaks is after. What a coincidence. As for the next “confrontation,” I’d rather it be waged in print than on the battlefield. Would that happen? Not likely. So it seems reasonable that the US would be concerned, but the touchy issue of free speech still looms large. Not to mention the strange relations between the Danish government and the media in Denmark. Has free speech prevailed? Years later, we’re just beginning to uncover the truth.

Meanwhile, Isalmist militants aren’t satisfied. See the BBC’s recent: “Denmark holds ‘Muhammad cartoon plotters’” from just a few weeks ago. Will it ever end?