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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006, 17:40 GMT 18:40 UK
Denmark row: The power of cartoons
By Thomas Buch-Andersen

Cartoon by Joergen Bitsch
A cartoon of the cartoon row - by Denmark's Joergen Bitsch
One year on from the publication of 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, Danes are still trying to understand how the images led to the country's biggest international crisis since World War II.

Many Danes point the finger at a small group of extremist imams who travelled to Egypt and Lebanon to tell Muslims about the provocative pictures.

It was the trip that ignited a campaign against all things Danish.

Others blame Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen for refusing to meet Muslim ambassadors in Copenhagen early on in the row.

They claim it is part of the government's anti-immigration policies and accuse Mr Rasmussen of building a fence around Denmark.

Wake-up call

Almost everyone agrees that the ensuing row was a wake-up call for Denmark. Ironically, the controversy may have been what the country needed to begin engaging with its Muslim citizens.

Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Freedom of speech is the most valuable right of liberty - we must defend it to the very last
Danish PM Anders Rasmussen
Earlier this month, Denmark's Religious Affairs Minister Bertel Haarder opened the country's first Muslim-only burial site, saying: "Denmark is a paradise for Muslims."

Sitting next to Mr Haarder at the opening ceremony was imam Ahmed Abu-Laban - one of the driving forces in spreading the row worldwide.

According to the cleric, more Muslims are now finding their way to mosques and more people are making donations to Muslim charities.

"Generally, we have seen a boom since the cartoons were published," he said. "Many Muslims are becoming stronger in their faith.

"They feel there is a need to practise the religion more."

At the height of the tensions, Syrian-born Danish MP Naser Khader founded the organisation Democratic Muslims.

"The Muhammad row has been a natural prolonging of my life project to show that Islam and democracy can work side-by-side, and that you can be Muslim, Democrat and Danish at the same time," he said. "The crisis helped me a lot."

He believes the group helped prevent the tensions in Denmark from escalating, pointing out despite protests around the world, there were no riots in Denmark.

Democratic Muslims are now setting up branches across the world to promote a teaching of Islam which can co-exist with Western democracies.

The Danish government has consistently argued the cartoon row was about freedom of expression. One year on, the prime minister is confident he handled the crisis correctly.

"My conclusion is that freedom of speech is the most valuable right of liberty. We must defend it to the very last," Mr Rasmussen said.

He rejects any accusations of his foreign policy being dictated by the US.

"Across the world, there is respect that we didn't give in to the pressure of fanatical Muslim groups. In many places, the story has put Denmark on the map and, except for a few countries, we have seen almost exclusively positive reactions."

Lessons learnt?

As the row turned international, traders and supermarkets across the Arab world began boycotting Danish goods.

Boycott notice pinned to a half-empty shop shelf
The row over the cartoons took its toll on Danish firms
The latest figures from Danish Industry (DI) suggest that export of Danish foods to Muslim countries has fallen 35% while other European countries have seen a 10% rise in exports to the same region.

However, the diplomatic crisis seems to have passed. Last week, the Saudi Arabian ambassador returned to the Danish capital and all Danish embassies have re-opened.

The question everyone is asking is: has Denmark learnt any lessons?

A recent poll, published in Danish weekly Mandag Morgen, suggested that 57% of Danes believe there will be a similar row within the next five years.

Flemming Rose, editor of Jyllandsposten who commissioned the cartoons, was asked whether Danes could - or should - do anything to avoid a similar case in the future.

"The cartoonists did what they do every day. This case surprised everyone. Even so-called experts on Islam could not have predicted it would explode in this fashion," Mr Rose said.

For most Danes, the row is in the past. However, 10 of the 12 cartoonists have still not appeared in public - for them the crisis is not over yet.

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