Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist whose 2005 caricature of the prophet Mohammed wearing a bomb-shaped turban sparked violent Muslim protests, caused a massacre that killed 12 people in the offices of a French satirical magazine and made him a target of murderers. for the rest of his life, passed away on Wednesday in Copenhagen. He was 86.
His family announced his death in the Danish media on Sunday. A specific cause was not given.
Mr. Westergaard was one of 12 artists commissioned by Jyllands-Posten, a self-described centre-right newspaper in Denmark, to draw Mohammed “as you see him”. The paper said that “the Mohammed cartoons,” as they came to be known – though some other figures portrayed them – were not intended to be offensive, but rather to raise questions about self-censorship and the limits of criticism of the Islam.
Mr. Westergaard said that when he drew his cartoon he wanted to underline his view that some people invoked the prophet to justify willful violence. He later explained that the bearded man he depicted, with a burning fuse sticking out of his turban, could be any Islamic fundamentalist — not necessarily the founder of Islam.
Still, many Muslims were outraged because they believe any depictions of the prophet, let alone any provocative connection to terrorism, are considered blasphemous.
In 2006, Danish embassies in the Arab world were attacked in riots that claimed dozens of lives. In 2008, three people were accused by the Danish authorities of threatening the murder of Mr Westergaard. Two years later, a Somali Muslim intruder armed with an ax and a knife broke into the cartoonist’s home in Aarhus, though it was fitted with steel doors, bulletproof glass and surveillance cameras.
At the time, Mr. Westergaard and his 5-year-old granddaughter were huddled in a reinforced bathroom. The intruder was shot by police and later sentenced to 10 years in prison and deportation.
In 2015, three Islamist militants stormed the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo magazine, which had reprinted the cartoons, and killed 12 people, most of them staff members.
In an interview with The National Post of Denmark in 2009, Mr. Westergaard expressed disappointment at the reaction of many newcomers in his country to his cartoon.
“Many of the immigrants who came to Denmark had nothing,” he said. “We gave them everything: money, apartments, their own schools, a free university, health care. In return, we asked for one thing: respect for democratic values, including freedom of expression. Do they agree? This is my simple test.”
He was born Kurt Vestergaard on July 13, 1935 in Jutland, Denmark, the peninsula flanked by the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.
Raised in a conservative Christian family, as a high school student he experienced what he described as religious liberation. He later enrolled at the University of Copenhagen to study psychology and then taught German and worked at a school for disabled students in Djursland. He joined Jyllands-Posten in 1983 and retired in 2010 when he was 75.
His survivors include his wife, Gitte; their five children; 10 grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.
In 2008, Mr. Westergaard won the Sappho Award from the Free Press Society of Denmark. In 2010, he received the M100 Media Award from German Chancellor Angela Merkel for his contributions to freedom of expression.
“I want to be remembered as the one who dealt a blow to free speech,” he once said. “But there is no doubt that others will instead remember me as a Satan who has offended the religion of a billion people.”
Mr Westergaard and his wife lived under tight security after authorities foiled the first assassination attempt on him in 2006, though it was difficult to hide a man who was so often smartly dressed in red trousers, a wide-brimmed black hat and walking with a giraffe head stick.
He chose to live openly in Aarhus in recent years.
“I don’t see myself as a particularly brave man,” he told The Guardian in 2010, adding: “But this situation made me angry. It is not right that you are being threatened in your own country just because you does work. That’s an absurdity that I actually took advantage of, because it gives me a certain rebelliousness and stubbornness. I won’t stand for it. And that really reduces the fear a lot.”