Danish Creator of Famed Muhammad cartoon, Kurt Westergaard, dies at 86

Kurt Westergaard,a Danish cartoonist for Jyllands-Posten conservative newspaper since the 1980s, dies at age 86. According to the Danish Berlingske newspaper’s interview with the family, he died in his sleep after suffering from deteriorating health.

In 2005, Westergaard’s controversial images of Muhammad were published by the Jylland-Posten newspaper with the headline, “The Face of Muhammad.” One of the artist’s caricatures depicted the prophet wearing a turban fashioned to the shape of a bomb. These cartoons raised resentment among Muslims everywhere, especially since Islam forbids visual depictions of any prophet. The anger among Muslims continued to grow until waves of violence ensued in 2006.

Westergaard intended for his cartoons to focus on the criticism and self-censorship of Islam. He said his depictions portrayed how some Muslims exploit the prophet to decriminalize their terrorist actions. However, many members of the Muslim community  interpreted the drawings were characterizing the prophet as a terrorist.

Initially, the drawings went almost wholly unnoticed for about two weeks until a demonstration against them began in Copenhagen, where Muslim ambassadors protested in Denmark. The anger among the Muslim world grew into anti-Danish protests in February 2006 as the cartoons of the prophet spread. The Danish embassies were attacked, and dozens died during the resulting riots. 

On January 7, 2015, the artist’s cartoon images of the prophet again resulted in violence. This time 12 people were killed and 11 injured in Paris, France, as an ISIS attack ensued against the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the weekly satirical magazine that re-published the cartoons in 2012.

Westergaard became the target of death threats and assassination attempts. Like others linked to the drawings, Westergaard was forced to live at a secret address with constant police protection.

In 2008, Danish authorities charged three people with planning to murder Westergaard. Two years later, they caught a man armed with a knife breaking into his home. Mohamed Geele, a Somali national, was convicted of attempted murder and terrorism in 2011 and was jailed for nine years afterwards. 

According to Reuters, in 2008, Kurt Westergaard stated he has no regrets about his artwork. “I want to be remembered as the one who struck a blow for freedom of speech,” Westergaard said in a quote published by Berlingske. “But there is no doubt that there is someone who will instead remember me as the Satan who insulted the religion of a billion people.”

Westergaard and his wife, Gitte, had five children, ten grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

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