I’m more than a little troubled/confused by the story of Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist who survived an attack this Friday from an axe-wielding critic by hiding in a semi-fortified panic room. (Westergaard drew one of the controversial Muhammad cartoons in 2005). I mean, there are any number of complexities about the story, but here’s the one that I’m most perplexed by.
At the time, Westergaard was looking after his five-year-old granddaughter, Stephanie. He was confronted with a terrible choice: risk being killed in front of his granddaughter, or trust that the PET, Denmark’s security and intelligence service, knew what they were talking about when they had told him terrorists usually don’t harm family members but stick to their target.
Westergaard chose to escape into his bathroom, which had been specially fortified as a “panic room”, while Stephanie was left sitting in the living room. From the bathroom he alerted the police as his assailant reportedly battered the reinforced door with the axe, shouting, “We will get our revenge!”
Both survived unscathed, although God knows how a 5-year-old processes something like that, and you’ve got to imagine her folks aren’t going to be letting Grandpa babysit again anytime soon. Still, how does one even make that choice? Was it really a rational process, as implied above? I could not even begin to say. Or judge. But the article ends with a statement Westergaard made before the attack:
I do not see myself as a particularly brave man. If the country was occupied, I don’t think I would be running around doing sabotage; I would probably be sitting somewhere doing my drawings. But in this situation I got angry. It is not right that you are threatened in your own country just for doing your job. That’s an absurdity that I have actually benefited from, because it grants me a certain defiance and stubbornness. I won’t stand for it. And that really reduces the fear a great deal.
Which puts me in mind of nothing so much as another cartoon by a different artist. Human potential indeed.