The Jyllands Posten cartoons, while purporting to be some kind of gesture supporting the notion of free speech, are shot through with the same kind of latent racism as I met on my Danish press trip. Not the kind of intense racism that leads to lynchings, but the soft kind, the kind that lots of middle-class people express to one another at dinner parties when they think nobody from an ethnic minority is there to hear.
They’re full of hook-nosed bearded figures and big-eyed veiled lovelies – stereotypes straight out of 30’s Hollywood B-movies. I found them offensive, not because I believe that one shouldn’t represent the Prophet Mohammed but because they’re nasty and small-minded. They come from a position of ignorance rather than enlightenment.
That said, the question becomes one of finding an appropriate response. As a newspaper editor I wouldn’t have reprinted them, because they’re trashy and provide very poor ground on which to base an argument about free speech. I believe strongly in the principle and as a member of PEN, the writers organisation, I’m involved in fights to defend it, but these particular examples of the practice deserved to wither and die.