Are the Jyllands-Posten cartoons racist? Many people (including a spokesman for the US government interpreted by the press to be communicating the Bush administration position on the matter) have claimed so, and followed it up by saying that it was wrong to publish them. I've been unable to find a complete english translation of the cartoons, but wikipedia provides the following descriptions:
-The face of Muhammad as a part of the Islamic star and crescent symbol. His right eye the star, the crescent surrounds his beard and face.The magnified images, with partial english translations, can be found here.
-Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, with a lit fuse and the Islamic creed written on the bomb. This drawing is supposed to be the most controversial of the lot.
- Muhammad standing in a gentle pose with a halo in the shape of a crescent moon. The middle part of the crescent is obscured, revealing only the edges.
- An abstract drawing of crescent moons and Stars of David, and a poem on oppression of women "Profet! Med kuk og knald i låget som holder kvinder under åget!". In English the poem could be read as: "Prophet you crazy bloke! Keeping women under yoke"
- Muhammad as a peaceful wanderer, in the desert, at sunset. There is a donkey in the background.
- A nervous caricaturist, shakingly drawing Muhammad while looking over his shoulder.
- Two angry Muslims charge forward with sabres and bombs, while Muhammad addresses them with: "Rolig, venner, når alt kommer til alt er det jo bare en tegning lavet af en vantro sønderjyde" (loosely, "Relax guys, it's just a drawing made by some infidel South Jutlander". The reference is to a common Danish expression for a person from the middle of nowhere.)
- An Arab-looking boy in front of a blackboard, pointing to the Farsi chalkings, which translate into "The editorial team of Jyllands-Posten is a bunch of reactionary provocateurs". The boy is labelled "Mohammed, Valby school, 7.A", implying that this Muhammed is a second-generation immigrant to Denmark rather than the founder of Islam. On his shirt is written "Fremtiden" (the future).
- Another drawing shows an angry Muhammad with a short sabre and a black bar censoring his eyes. He is flanked by two women in niqaabs, having only their wide open eyes visible.
- Muhammad standing on a cloud, greeting dead suicide bombers with "Stop Stop vi er løbet tør for Jomfruer!" ("Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins!"), an allusion to the promised reward to martyrs.
- Another shows journalist Kåre Bluitgen, wearing a turban with the proverbial orange dropping into it, with the inscription "Publicity stunt". In his hand is a child's stick drawing of Muhammad, refering to Bluitgens upcoming illustrated childrens book on the life of The Prophet. The proverb "an orange in the turban" is a Danish expression meaning "a stroke of luck" , here the added publicity for the book.
- A police line-up of seven people, with the witness saying: "Hm... jeg kan ikke lige genkende ham" ("Hm... I can't really recognise him"). Not all people in the line-up are immediately identifiable. They are: (1) A generic Hippie, (2) politician Pia Kjærsgaard, (3) possibly Jesus, (4) possibly Buddha, (5) possibly Muhammad, (6) a generic Indian Guru, and (7) journalist Kåre Bluitgen, carrying a sign saying: "Kåres PR, ring og få et tilbud" ("Kåre's public relations, call and get an offer")
None of this is even remotely racist. Most of this is commentary on the way Islam is often used to oppress women, encourage suicide bombing, or stifle free speech. This is not a criticism of a particular ethnicity or a particular religion; its a criticism of how a particular religion is used by extremists to propagate repression and violence.
I reject the idea that the "offensiveness" of these images ought to have stopped their publication. Are we also going to criticize research into the historical Jesus because Christians might find it offensive? Are we going to ask newspapers to refrain from publishing three-dimensional pictures of religious figures, because this is considered a grave sin in Orthodox Christianity? Broadly speaking, if we are going to criticize every statement that might offend people, we won't have any political discourse to speak of.