Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen … in office since 2001, gave a spirited, unapologetic defense in the interview of his actions during the cartoon affair, insisting that "a lot of misinformation" characterized the controversy from the very startwrites David R. Sands in a report on one of the Bush administration's best friends in Europe, in which we learn that Mr. Rasmussen announced plans last month to extend the country's deployment in southern Iraq by at least a year.
"At the end of the day, this so-called 'crisis' was not about 12 cartoons. It was about the hidden agendas in the Muslim world, about fundamentalists and Islamists who wanted to take advantage of this to pursue their own agendas," he said.
Mr. Rasmussen said there were always limits on free speech, but that those limits could be defined only by the courts, not by an elected government.
"The Danish government could not interfere with a free and independent newspaper, whatever we may think or feel about the content," he said. "My strong belief is that 12 cartoons cannot justify violence, the burning down of our embassies or threats against Danish citizens."
Religion, he added, "cannot be exempted from the critical debate."
Just as the controversy was dying down, however, Mr. Rasmussen sparked a fresh domestic debate with criticism of those in Denmark who, he said, had been too willing to seek a compromise with intolerant extremists.
"Now we see who are the sheep and who are the goats," he told a Danish newspaper, the biblical imagery of his comments almost as startling as the content in this thoroughly secular society.
Mr. Rasmussen said he made the remark because "there were certain voices in Denmark that tended to advocate restrictions on freedom of speech."
He added: "I consider freedom of speech the most precious civic right we have. We cannot compromise on basic principles. We have to be firm on that."