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We Talked to the Cartoonist Behind the Original Muhammad Drawings

Kurt Westergaard gave us two minutes of his time to discuss 'Charlie Hebdo.'
January 11, 2015, 12:20pm

Here's a drawing of Kurt Westergaard

Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard is well aware of how it feels to be the target of extremist anger. In 2006, he drew a cartoon for the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, illustrating Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. It wasn't taken lightly and incited protests worldwide. Since then, he's been living with constant death threats. He's been attacked in his home by Islamic extremists and is still under constant police protection. As if that's not enough, the far right have adopted the drawing of Muhammad and continue to use it as a symbol of why they believe Islam is horrible and violent.

In light of the tragic attack on the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, we called him and convinced him to give his two cents on the week's incidents in Paris.

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VICE: What's your take on the tragic events that took place at the offices of Charlie Hebdo?
Kurt Westergaard: Just like everyone else, I think it's awful. Really, really awful. And it has sent a huge shockwave through society, all across Europe.

Do you feel that recently there's been an escalation in attacks on freedom of speech?
Every time something like this happens, it's an escalation. And, of course, it has some terrible consequences, as it brings out self-censorship in everyone.

What about your own drawings? Has this changed the way you think about them?
No. I don't think it has. What's important now is that we don't move backwards. That we don't submit to this grotesque situation and begin to think it's so dangerous to either write or draw about Islam. Any time something like this happens, it's a huge shock, but luckily I don't think either the people or the press will stand for it. The worst part is that it has a very negative influence on integration everywhere.

Speaking of integration, the right wing have sort of adopted your drawing of Muhammad to use in their own context. How do you feel about that?
The drawings are mine. It's very odd that the right wing has been using them this way. It's obviously illegal and I can press charges, but right now it's just something I have to live with.

Right. Finally, has the attack in France changed anything for you personally?
I'm incredibly angry over being threatened in the way I have been since I made my drawings. That anger has helped me to overcome the fear of an attack. Mentally, it's been a way to cope for me.

Previously – Europe's Leading Satirists Respond to the Charlie Hebdo Massacre