Danish Cartoonist Cancels on Copenhagen Atheist Conference

In June I’ll be speaking at the Gods & Politics conference hosted by the Danish Atheist Society and Atheist Alliance International. You know who won’t be speaking? Kurt Westergaard, the guy who drew this (slightly edited for the protection of Skepchick writers):

I'm just a bear with a beehive behind me! Please don't murder me!

Apparently Westergaard is still under threat from violent extremists, and he felt that the risk of appearing at this public event was just too high. It’s a potent reminder that this isn’t just about making a hard choice of whether to speak or risk a death threat – it’s about whether to speak or actually be killed. Murdered. Dead. Because of a group of extremists who believe that their belief system is more important than your life.

There’s an interesting conversation already happening in Sam’s AI thread from yesterday, but if you want to talk about issues like this in person, you could do worse than come to Copenhagen in June. Westergaard is out, but I’ll be there along with James Randi, PZ Myers, AC Grayling, Richard Wiseman, Robin Ince, and many more. Tickets are still available. BYO flak jacket!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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  1. What’s terrifying is that a death threat has actually been followed through when Theo Van Gogh was murdered in 2004. Furthermore, the cartoons from 2005 caused enough controversy that two Danish embassies were torched.

    Maybe there’s still some time for Westergaard to change his mind. More people need to stand up to this nonsense.

  2. This is sad, I was looking forward to hearing him speak. But I can’t blame him he is after all 74 years old, and its only been 4 months since a deranged man was trying to kill him with an axe. Still I am looking forward to the conference and all the beers I plan to drink there.

    /Maagaard, delurking at Skepchick.

  3. I’m starting to think that there should be an organized movement, in which people just start drawing pictures of Mohamed all the time and posting them everywhere. Online, on telephone poles, on street signs, on buildings, everywhere. It’s certainly dangerous, but after a while, they won’t feel that they can do anything about it anymore. That’s kind of how every offensive thing becomes mundane. People just give up trying to stop it.

  4. It’s a bit expensive for me but I’m considering.
    I’d probably stop considering if Kurt Westergaard were coming, to be honest. I wouldn’t be interested in hearing his thoughts on any topic before and him coming under a death threat from islamists doesn’t really make him any more interesting in my eyes.

  5. I really, really want to go. Denmark. Atheism. Awesome speakers. Legoland. Plus, my birthday is the 19th. Sadly, I can’t afford to lose my job right now, and they definitely won’t give me a week off in June. Sad face.

  6. I, for one, am going to badmouth that stupid Mo every chance I get from now on. Bastard. How dare they threaten us, now that IS war.

  7. It’s been a while since the whole Mohammed cartoon debacle, but if I understand correctly, the string of cartoons that circled the internet contained at least three or four more than the ones published in the Danish newspaper. I.e. the most offensive ones were added by the people forwarding the e-mail. So it’s possible that the cartoon in question wasn’t even created by Westergaard. At least not the ones that sparked the outrage.

    Of course, the outrage was entirely out of proportion with the “offence” commited. In other words, it illustrated perfectly just how eager some muslims are to find anything to be offended by and justify killing themselves some infidels.

    In that sense, I suppose pasting the cartoons everywhere is an interesting way to show them just how pointless their hatred is …

  8. I’m a little confused about why this conference has so many scientists scheduled to speak, but apparently not a single one whose specialty is in cognitive or evolutionary theories of religion. Shouldn’t that be a topic of interest for a bunch of skeptical atheists? Especially considering that the University of Aarhus, Denmark, hosts in its religion department the center for Religion, Cognition, and Culture run by my former supervisor Dr. Armin Geertz. Geertz knows the literature on evolutionary and cognitive theories of religion probably better than most people in the world, and has studied atheism from a cognitive perspective as well. It just seems kind of bizarre to me that someone like him wasn’t asked to speak. Daniel Dennett would also be a good choice to discuss what he wrote in Breaking the Spell, but getting him might be difficult both logistically and financially.

    Unless there’s something I’m missing– such as the idea that religious beliefs and behaviors might be innate and/or adaptive is so unpalatable to atheists that they don’t even want to consider it. But virtually everyone I know of who studies religion from this perspective is also a non-believer, so that doesn’t seem right. Nor does that seem like a fitting approach for a skeptic to take. And the back-and-forth about whether a particular belief or behavior should be more properly viewed as an adaptation or a by-product (or neither) can actually be a lot of fun– we did a lot of it at the Evolution of Religion conference in 2007, often over fruity drinks.

  9. Correction: Lone Frank, one of the presenters, is a noted science writer in Denmark and has a PhD in neurobiology, so she may address the cognition of religion. Hopefully.

  10. @Rillion, if those people aren’t speaking, it’s very likely they were asked but couldn’t, or wouldn’t, or already did last year or something. If it seems so obvious to you to get these people, I find it hard to believe it wouldn’t have seemed obvious to the people organising the conference as well.

    Your comment reminds me of the “why are there no women speakers at TAM” complaint, only to find out from the organisers that they had actively tried to get more women but got little to no response.

  11. @Rebecca. Hi Rebecca, as a cartoonist and skeptic I’m saddened that you’ve decided to self-censor another artist’s work in your post.

    Your post is a news item, and the cartoon is meant for information purposes not to provoke people.

    The unnecessary use of self-censorship—in this context—only contributes to the violence and threats, when cartoonists and artists like myself do want to express their right to free speech.

    — Jeffrey
    A science vs. religion comic strip

  12. @apenotmonkey: I appreciate your opinion but disagree. First of all, it’s not self-censorship as I didn’t draw the original. Second of all, it’s not even actual censorship since what I posted is my own artwork, which is intended to be humorous. I didn’t post it for informational purposes – everyone here knows what the cartoon looks like by this point and if they don’t it’s just a mouseclick away.

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