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Backlash against artists

Silke Wünsch, Heike Mund, Susanne Cords / kbmJanuary 7, 2015

Expressing strong opinions can make enemies and French satirical newspaper "Charlie Hebdo" was no stranger to that. DW looks at other outspoken cultural figures who suffered terror or persecution for unpopular opinions.

Muhammed images in Danish newspapers, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Being outspoken can have dire consequences. In some cases, fault can be found on all sides. Here are a number of examples of cultural figures that have drawn the ire of the Muslim world.

Muhammad caricatures

A series of 12 caricatures titled "The Face of Muhammad" appeared in the Danish newspaper "Jyllands Posten" on September 30, 2005. In one of the images, the Prophet Muhammad is pictured with a bomb on his head instead of a turban. The illustrator, Kurt Westergaard, received death threats as a result. In response, he cited his right to freedom of speech. Nevertheless, he and his wife received police protection and the couple has to move regularly and live clandestinely.

On New Years Day, 2010, Westergaard only narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by an al Qaeda member. For his courage in promoting freedom of speech, the illustrator has received numerous awards, including the 2010 Leipzig 'Prize for the Freedom and the Future of the Media.' Iranian Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shirin Ebadi and Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji were invited to the ceremony, but refused to come out of protest.

Rushdie's verses

Kurt Westergaard, Copyright: ddp images/AP Photo/Johannes Eisele
Danish illustrator Kurt Westergaard lives in police protectionImage: AP

British-Indian author Salman Rushdie was at the height of his career when he published his novel "The Satanic Verses" in 1988. The books was highly acclaimed and won numerous prizes. But the Islamic world protested against the work, accusing him of blasphemy.

On Feburary 14, 1989, Iran's religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini placed a fatwa on Salman Rushdie. In a radio address he called for Rushdie's death and placed a bounty of $2.8 million on his head.

Salman Rushdie, Copyright: picture alliance/ZUMA Press
Writer Salman Rushdie's life changed with his novel 'The Satanic Verses'Image: picture alliance/ZUMA Press

Today, Rushdie lives in hiding and is under police protection. In response to Wednesday's shooting in Paris, Rushdie issued a statement via the PEN (Poets, Essayists, Novelists) authors' association on Twitter, saying that satire "has always been a force for liberty against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity."

Pattern of hate

On November 2, 2004 at 9:00 a.m., two Dutchmen met on the street in Amsterdam. One was the son of Moroccan immigrants, the other from a famous, wealthy family. On that day, Dutch-born Muhammed Bouyeri murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh, creator of "Submission." Bouyeri, 26, had followed van Gogh on his way to work, cutting his throat and pinning a death threat on Somali-born politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali to his chest. She had co-produced the film with van Gogh.

Considered well integrated, Bouyeri had become a religious fanatic who viewed "Submission" as an affront to Islam due to its depiction of the role of women. The film shows images from the Koran being projected onto transparently veiled girls' bodies.

Theo van Gogh, Copyright: "AFP/Getty Images/R. Nederstigt
Theo van Gogh made scandalous comments about foreigners in the NetherlandsImage: AFP/Getty Images/R. Nederstigt

Van Gogh was known for xenophobic comments, comparing Muslims, for example, to people who have sexual relations with animals. On the day of his death, van Gogh was on his way to film a movie about the right-wing politican Pim Fortuyn, who was assassinated in 2002. After van Gogh's murder, the right-wing scene in the Netherlands held violent demonstrations and damaged local mosques.

In a heartbeat

During a theater performance in Kabul in December 2014, a young suicide bomber blew himself up, taking two other people with him. Later, the Taliban claimed to be behind the bombing, saying that the performance was immoral and offensive to Islamic values.

The irony is that the play was titled "Heartbeats. Silence After the Explosion" and dealt with the issue of suicide bombings. One person was killed in the attack.

Satanic sounds

In Egypt, heavy metal bands cannot play freely. Prior to the Arab Spring, hard rock could only be heard underground. Those who played the "devil's music" were persecuted. In 1997, 80 young people were arrested at a heavy metal concert on suspicion of Satan worship. Since the Arab Spring, however, musicians and their fans have experienced more freedom.

Sivas Massacre

In July 1993, an angry crowd of Salafists gathered at the fringe of an Alevi culture festival in the Anatolian city of Sivas. The writers, musicians and poets participating in the festival were staying in a hotel made entirely of wood. Sparks flew from the crowd and set the hotel on fire. Thirty-five people were killed, including prominent Turkish artists. The tragedy is now known as the Sivas Massacre.