Danish author 'sad' at violence over cartoons

Kaare Bluitgen thought his children’s book about the Prophet Mohammed would help bring ethnic Danes and immigrant Muslims closer together.

Kaare Bluitgen thought his children’s book about the Prophet Mohammed would help bring ethnic Danes and immigrant Muslims closer together.

How wrong he was.

While the book itself was released two weeks ago without major controversy, it was Bluitgen’s problems finding an illustrator that triggered the conflict that has sent angry mobs rampaging against Denmark in Muslim countries.

“It’s horrible to see,” Mr Bluitgen said. “I tried to create understanding for a new religion and culture, and it all ends up with Scandinavian embassies being burned.”

The 46-year-old Copenhagen writer said he did not feel responsible for what had happened. But he looks back at the escalation of anti-Denmark sentiment in the Muslim world with alarm and disbelief.

“For four months I’ve been thinking that this just has to stop. But it has only gotten worse,” he said.

It all began when Danish media caught wind that Bluitgen had trouble finding an illustrator for his book, The Koran And The Life Of The Prophet Mohammed. The book was meant to give Danish children a better understanding of who the prophet was.

“I only used Islamic sources,” Bluitgen said.

Some illustrators did not have time. Others declined, saying they were afraid of reprisals from radical Muslims, since Islam is interpreted to forbid any illustrations of the prophet for fear they could lead to idolatry.

But Bluitgen insisted on having pictures of the prophet, saying it was part of European book-writing tradition to illustrate the main character. He finally found an illustrator for the job, on condition of anonymity.

A number of Danish media highlighted the issue. But it was Jyllands-Posten, a national newspaper based in western Denmark, that brought it to the world’s attention by inviting illustrators send in their own drawings of the prophet.

The rest is history.

“This has run completely out of control,” Bluitgen said.

As outrage over the Jyllands-Posten drawings mounted in the Muslim world, eventually spilling into the streets of cities including Beirut, Tehran and Damascus where Danish diplomatic missions were set afire, Bluitgen’s book hit the shelves in Denmark on January 24.

The reviews were not all good. Muslim critics said as a nonbeliever, Bluitgen was ill-suited to write a book about the Prophet.

Imam Abdul Wahid Pedersen, a Dane who converted to Islam 24 years ago, called the book “useless”, saying it unfairly described the prophet as “a really vicious, vile and unforgiving warlord”.

But he was not that concerned about the illustrations, which portray different stages of the prophet’s life, including his encounter with the archangel Gabriel, who Muslims believe transmitted the word of God to Mohammed.

“We don’t appreciate illustrations of prophets,” Pedersen said. “But there is a reason for doing it because he actually writes a story.”

Bluitgen said he had expected the book to draw more protests in light of the anger over the Jyllands-Posten cartoons.

If anything, the conflict has been good for business. Originally printed in only 2,000 copies, Bluitgen said it’s been reprinted twice to meet demand.

“People have been curious, more curious than usual for a children’s book,” said Nanna Gyldenkjaerne of the Hoest & Soen publishing house that printed the book.

Bluitgen meets the success of the book with mixed feelings.

“It’s a sad way to make sales,” he said.

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