Danish Cartoonist In Hiding After Attack

In 2005, Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard was asked by his newspaper, Jyllands-Posten to draw a picture of the prophet Muhammad "as you see him" The assignment changed Westergaard's life forever. His cartoon outraged many Muslims, who called it blasphemous and offensive. Host Liane Hansen speaks with Westergaard, who is now in hiding under the protection of the Danish secret service, after being attacked in his home by an axe-wielding man on New Year's Day.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

There was another attempted attack by an extremist in recent weeks - this one on New Year's Day. But rather than trying to kill hundreds, the 28-year-old man who carried out the attack in Denmark had targeted one man: Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.

In 2005, Westergaard was asked by his newspaper Jyllands-Posten to draw the prophet Muhammad, quote, "as you see him," end quote. His cartoon outraged many Muslims who called it blasphemous and offensive. Drawing any images of the prophet Muhammad is prohibited in Islam. Protestors responded by setting fire to Danish embassies in Damascus, Beirut and Tehran.

Westergaard is now under the protection of the Danish Secret Service because of death threats. Kurt Westergaard reached us by phone. Mr. Westergaard, where are you?

Mr. KURT WESTERGAARD (Cartoonist): Well, I cannot tell you that because I am under the protection of the Danish Secret Service. So, I cannot inform you about my position.

HANSEN: Describe what happened to you on New Year's Day.

Mr. WESTERGAARD: Yes.

HANSEN: What happened?

Mr. WESTERGAARD: I was sitting in our living room with my little grandchild. She's five years old. And then the intruder, he came in. He smashed the window in our garden with a very big axe. So, I turned to the bathroom. And then the man, he started hammering at the bathroom door with his axe. Finally, the police came. I don't know how long time it lasted. But, anyway, it was some of the worst minutes of my life.

HANSEN: You published this cartoon back in 2005, and have you been in physical danger since then?

Mr. WESTERGAARD: Oh yes. I have been surveyed by the police and the Secret Service all the way. And now they increase the Secret Service.

HANSEN: You'll have a bodyguard full time.

Mr. WESTERGAARD: Yes, I suppose so.

HANSEN: Now, describe the cartoon that you drew.

Mr. WESTERGAARD: Oh, yes. The cartoon was a picture of a terrorist who looked like he was coming down from the mountains in Afghanistan. And in his turban he had a bomb. And under the bomb was the holy (unintelligible) inscription: There is only one God, Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.

HANSEN: Were you actually depicting Muhammad the prophet?

Mr. WESTERGAARD: I don't know. Somebody says it's Muhammad. I always say I don't know who it is. I think it is, first of all, a terrorist. And, well, I don't know anymore.

HANSEN: So, you were not aware that this cartoon would set off such a controversy.

Mr. WESTERGAARD: Well, that was a surprise, but I don't think I can do anything about that.

HANSEN: How has your life changed?

Mr. WESTERGAARD: Well, the rest of my life, I'm sure I've got to live with bodyguards. I'm also 75 years old, so, you know, my time is limited. But what is left I can spend with Secret Service bodyguards.

HANSEN: You must miss your normal life.

Mr. WESTERGAARD: Yes, in a way, I do, perhaps. But, nevertheless, with the bodyguards I can go everywhere.

HANSEN: Are you still working as a cartoonist?

Mr. WESTERGAARD: Yes, I am.

HANSEN: When you do drawings now, do you think twice about what you do?

Mr. WESTERGAARD: No. Well, of course, I've got to think about what to draw 'cause the - but I draw what I like to draw. Then it must be the editor's job to decide whether to use it or not.

HANSEN: But on the other hand, I mean, you know, given that this one cartoon that you say is only being interpreted as one of Muhammad because it appeared under the headline "The Face of Muhammad," your subject matter, are you now more prone to go to less controversial subjects?

Mr. WESTERGAARD: No, I don't think so. You know, I am soon 75 years old and at that age you don't have so much to risk. You are not so much afraid anymore.

HANSEN: Cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. His 2005 cartoon depicting a terrorist that ran under the headline "The Face of Muhammad" was widely condemned by many Muslims. On New Year's Day he was attacked in his home. He phoned us from an undisclosed location.

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