The European Union has backed Denmark in the row over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, but leaders of its legislature differed over the limits of free speech. The cartoons, first published in Denmark, caused outrage in the Muslim world, and Danish and other European diplomatic missions have been attacked in Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia. Political leaders from all groups rallied behind Copenhagen in a special debate in the European Parliament, declaring that an attack on Denmark was an attack on all member states and condemning the resort to violence by some protesters. However, libertarians warned against any attempt to make the media adopt self-censorship. “I want here today to send my solidarity to the people of Denmark,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said, calling Danes “a people who rightly enjoy the reputation as being amongst the most open and tolerant not just in Europe but in the world”. Danish goods have been subject to boycotts in some Muslim countries, and Barroso was applauded when he said such action was by definition a boycott of European goods. Companies slammed Greens leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit condemned companies such as French hypermarket chain Carrefour and Swiss food giant Nestle for issuing notices in Muslim countries saying they were not Danish or did not stock Danish goods. He and liberal spokeswoman Karen Riis-Joergensen urged the European Commission to drop the idea of encouraging the media to adopt a voluntary code of conduct that would avoid offending religious sensibilities. “If we start undermining freedom of expression, our right to analyse any religion critically, our fundamental right to speak freely and express ourselves will be violated,” Riis-Joergensen said. However, Austrian President Heinz Fischer, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, appeared in an address to the EU legislature to call for media self-restriction. “If a ban on pictorial representation constitutes an essential element of a religion, one ought not and must not offend against this principle twice – not only by disrespecting this ban, but also by reinforcing this hurtful violation of a taboo in the form of a caricature,” he said. Islamic tradition forbids depicting the prophet. Reverse condemnation The leader of the centre-right European People’s Party, Hans-Gert Poettering, called for a commission of experts chosen by the EU and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to review schoolbooks for ethnic and religious prejudice. Brandishing magazines published in Muslim countries, he said: “We have documents of hundreds of cartoons and caricatures which make a mockery of our values and our religion. So these cartoons exist in the Islamic world too.” The socialist and liberal groups each symbolically chose a Danish EU member as its speaker in the debate. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the Socialist former prime minister of Denmark, said he was shocked to see people attacked, flags burned and embassies damaged. He criticised his centre-right successor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister, for refusing to meet ambassadors from Muslim countries when they asked to see him last year after the cartoons were first published. Dialogue Fogh Rasmussen was quoted in Algeria’s al-Watan newspaper on Wednesday as saying he, too, was horrified to see Danish diplomatic missions attacked. “All countries have an obligation to ensure the security of diplomatic missions on their territory,” he said, adding that Iran and Syria had failed in that obligation. Parliament leaders, the European Commission and the Austrian EU presidency vowed to strengthen dialogue with moderate Muslims and not to let extremists disrupt their relations. “Extremists cannot be allowed to triumph,” said Hans Winkler, the Austrian State Secretary for Foreign Affairs. EU foreign ministers would take new steps to strengthen dialogue at their next meeting on 27 February, he added.
A prominent Italian government figure planned on Wednesday to wear a T-shirt sporting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that have sparked violent reactions from Muslims around the world. Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli denied that the T-shirts are meant to provoke, but said there is no point in promoting dialogue with Muslim extremists.
By Guled Mohamed Nairobi — Kenyan police shot at hundreds of people demonstrating against cartoons of Muhammad, wounding at least one, as protests across the Muslim world showed no sign of abating. Police in Bangladesh beat back about 10,000 people marching on the Danish embassy in Dhaka. Demonstrators also took to the streets in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and, for the first time, Latin America. The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad threatened more violence. A leading Saudi Muslim cleric called for no mercy in punishing anyone mocking the prophet. “So far we have demanded an apology from the governments. But if they continue their assault on our dear prophet Muhammad, we will burn the ground underneath their feet,” Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib said. At least 11 people have been killed this year in protests over the cartoons, one of which showed Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. They were first published in Denmark and then in other European countries and elsewhere. Muslims consider any portrayal of the prophet blasphemous. European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said religious sensitivities and freedom of speech had to be respected but the violent reaction was unjustified. With tensions high and the cartoons appearing in more newspapers around the world, some tried to calm believers. The imam at the heart of the row appeared to backtrack, saying Denmark was a tolerant country. “As a Muslim, I am heavily indebted to this country,” Imam Abu Laban said. In Indonesia, police questioned an editor after his tabloid, Peta, published a caricature of Muhammad. And Malaysia banned circulating or possessing cartoons of the prophet.
By Guled Mohamed Kenyan police opened fire at hundreds of people demonstrating against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad on Friday, wounding at least one, as protests across the Muslim world showed no sign of abating. Police in Bangladesh beat back about 10,000 protesters marching on the Danish embassy in Dhaka and demonstrators took to the streets in Afghanistan, India, Iran, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Turkey. The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, which has carried out several suicide bombings in Israel, threatened more violence and a leading Saudi Muslim cleric called for no mercy in punishing anyone mocking the Prophet. “So far we have demanded an apology from the governments. But if they continue their assault on our dear Prophet Mohammad, we will burn the ground underneath their feet,” Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib told supporters after Friday prayers. Riot police in Kenya, where about six percent of the population are Muslim, fired live rounds and tear gas to prevent hundreds of stone-throwing protesters from reaching the Danish embassy. One man was shot in the thigh, a witness said. In Morocco tens of thousands of people joined a government-sponsored march that went off peacefully. At least 11 people have been killed this year in protests across in the Middle East, Asia and Africa over the cartoons published first in Denmark and then elsewhere. One cartoon showed the Prophet Mohammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. Muslims consider any portrayal of the Prophet blasphemous, let alone one showing him as a terrorist. “We demand stiff penalties without leniency against those who deride the Prophet Mohammad,” Abdel-Rahman al-Sudeis, a prominent Saudi Arabian cleric in Islam’s holiest city of Mecca, told worshippers. “With one voice, millions of Muslims around the world are defending the Prophet of God.” “PRETEXT FOR VIOLENCE” EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said both religious sensitivities and freedom of speech needed to be respected and the violent reaction was not justified. “I do think that, unfortunately, these cartoons have been used as a pretext for violence and for showing that some Arabic countries could be manipulated or at least the radical parts there could be manipulated,” she told journalists in London. With tensions running high and copies of the cartoons cropping up in newspapers around the world, some tried to calm believers as authorities moved to clamp down on the media. The imam at the heart of the row appeared to backtack, saying Denmark was a tolerant country after helping organize a delegation to the Middle East last year which presented a dossier of alleged Danish insults to Muslims. “As a Muslim I am heavily indebted to this country,” Imam Abu Laban told worshippers at his Copenhagen mosque. In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, police were questioning an editor after his tabloid, Peta, published a caricature of the Prophet and Malaysia slapped a ban on circulating or possessing cartoons of the Prophet. The Danish newspaper editor who commissioned the cartoons was sent on holiday after suggesting he would print Iranian cartoons on the Holocaust. And a source from France’s Muslim Council said it would take legal action against a French satirical weekly that reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad and ran one of its own. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia demanded an apology from the Danish government, but urged protesters to refrain from violence. In Tehran, where protesters threw petrol bombs at the French embassy and stones at the Danish and British missions, a senior cleric said Iran’s arch enemy the United States was responsible. “The anger shown by Muslims is a holy anger,” Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Friday prayers, while urging worshippers not to attack embassies. MISUNDERSTANDING The Danish government has expressed regret over the publication of the cartoons, but has refused to apologize saying that is a matter for the newspaper. As well as worldwide protests, the cartoons have ignited a debate over the limits of freedom of speech and exposed a gulf of misunderstanding between the Western and Islamic worlds. “We’re dealing with two types of ignorance, about Islam and about the freedom of speech,” said Sohaib Bencheikh, a prominent Islamic theologian in France. “We’re paying the bill for September 11 and all the tension and misunderstanding that arose after it,” complained Mohammad Bechari, head of the National Federation of French Muslims. He criticized protesters who demanded the Danish government apologize for the cartoons. “Frankly, that shows that the idea of genuine free speech has not taken root in Muslim countries.”
NEW YORK — The Philadelphia Inquirer, one of the few U.S. newspapers to publish a caricature of the Prophet Mohammad from a series that sparked a wave of protests by Muslims, defended the action on Sunday by saying it was just doing its job. “This is the kind of work that newspapers are in business to do,” said Amanda Bennett, the newspaper’s editor. The Inquirer on Saturday published the most controversial image, which depicted the Prophet with a turban resembling a lit bomb, and it posted on its Web site an Internet link to the rest of the cartoons.
For the first time since the international crisis began, Israeli Arabs took to the streets yesterday afternoon to protest cartoons deemed insulting to the Prophet Mohammed that were published in the European press. At least 500 demonstrators gathered peacefully in the Galilee city of Nazareth. A procession set off from the Al-Salaam mosque toward the Basilica of the Annunciation, where Christian tradition says Mary was informed of Jesus’ impending birth. Sheik Raed Salah, a radical leader of the Islamic Movement, was to address the crowd later. “Allah is the only God, and Mohammed is his prophet,” loudspeakers blared as the march began. Meanwhile in the Palestinian Authority, hundreds of Palestinians stormed European institutions and burned German and Danish flags in Gaza City. About two dozen protesters stormed the German cultural center, smashing windows and breaking doors. Down the street, about 30 Palestinians threw stones at the European Commission building, and replaced the EU flag with a Palestinian flag, before police brought them under control. About 50 schoolchildren and teenagers gathered on one corner of the street shortly after to try to resume the attacks on the two buildings, but Palestinian riot police, armed with batons, pushed them back. The youths threw stones at the police, then fled. Later in the day, about 400 protesters marched on the European Commission building, accompanied by a loudspeaker car that blared, “Insulting the prophet means insulting every Muslim,” and urged merchants to boycott Danish products: “With our blood and souls we defend you, O Prophet.” Protesters also set fire to a Danish flag. Police set up a cordon at the building to prevent stone-throwing, but protesters heeded organizers’ appeals and didn’t attack. Most of the demonstrators were merchants who called for a boycott of European goods, and many carried small books of the Koran. Elsewhere in Gaza City, armed men with links to the Fatah Party handed out red carnations to students, nuns and the priest at a Roman Catholic school to apologize for other Fatah gunmen who threatened earlier in the week to target churches as part of their protests. Danish and French members of the international observer team at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt stayed away from Gaza on Thursday, and instead worked from the group’s headquarters in the nearby Israeli city of Ashkelon, said a spokesman, Julio de La Guardia. Meanwhile in Damascus, demonstrators set fire to the building that houses the Norwegian, Danish and Swedish embassies in Syria. While no diplomats were reported injured, these attacks were the most violent so far in the protests against the cartoons. The cartoons have caused a furor across the Muslim world, in part because Islamic law is interpreted as forbidding any depictions of Islam’s holiest figure. Aggravating the affront was one caricature of Mohammed wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. The cartoons were first published in Denmark, and then in newspapers elsewhere in Europe in a show of solidarity with freedom of the press. In Brussels, the European Union called on the Palestinian Authority to protect EU buildings from attack. Danish Foreign Minister Stig Moeller called the Damascus embassy attack “horrible and totally unacceptable” on public television. He said he telephoned his Syrian counterpart, Farouk al-Sharaa, “to tell him it was totally unacceptable that Syrian authorities have not been able to protect the embassy.” He said al-Sharaa said he regretted the incident. The United States condemned the cartoons, siding with Muslims outraged that newspapers put freedom of the press over respect for religion. “We … respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable,” said State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper. Major U.S. publications have not republished the cartoons. The U.S. response contrasted with that of European governments, which have generally accepted the newspapers’ rights to print the cartoons. The furor cuts to the question of which is more sacred in the Western world – freedom of expression or respect for religious beliefs. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, applauded the U.S. position. The State Department reaction “was a strong statement in support of Muslims around the world,” he said.
Thousands of Muslims defied a ban on rallies Friday in Pakistan’s capital, joining protesters across the country in condemning the Prophet Muhammad cartoons printed by some Western newspapers. The demonstrations after midday prayers also gave angry clerics a platform to criticize President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and his government’s close relations with the United States.