Tensions continue to rise in Middle East over "Mohammad Cartoons"

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Friday, February 3, 2006

The publishing of a series of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a Copenhagen newspaper sparked a string of harsh and in some places violent reactions in the Middle East, forcing European leaders to try to calm the situation.

This backlash started in late September 2005, when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a dozen cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad. The images ranged from serious to comical in nature; a particularly controversial cartoon portrays Mohammad with a bomb wrapped in his turban. The Jutland-based newspaper states that the images were meant to inspire some level of public debate over the image of Islam in Europe, and had no direct aim of offending anyone.

However, many Muslims follow the doctrine of aniconism concerning the portrayal of Mohammad. This tenet of Islam states that the Prophet Mohammad should not be depicted in any type of art, regardless of the intent of the piece. This belief, along with the potentially insensitive nature of some of the caricatures, have caused offense to many Muslims in the Arab world.

In the past month, the controversy over these cartoons escalated. The cartoons were re-published last month in Spain, Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands (where the latter two nations have large Muslim populations), and have begun to re-circulate throughout the Middle East.

Many Danish companies have been targeted for boycotts. As Wikinews reported last week, Arla Foods, Denmark's top dairy company, has seen their sales fall to zero in some Middle East nations. Carrefour, a French retail chain, has pulled all Danish products from its shelves in the region. Earlier this week, protests were held throughout the region, including the Gaza Strip in Jerusalem, where Hamas supporters led an assault and protest that surrounded the European Union offices for Israel.

Hamas members, some armed with guns, stormed the EU office (which is primarily staffed by Arabs) and demanded apologies from EU member states, saying they would otherwise face serious consequences. "It will be a suitable reaction, and it won't be predictable," said Abu Hafss, a member of the Al Quds Brigade (an affiliate of the group Islamic Jihad), in a press conference outside the EU offices. And the Abu al-Reesh Brigades, a group related to the late Yassir Arafat's Fatah party, warned that EU member states had 10 hours to apologize for the cartoons or their citizens would be "in danger".

Jamila Al Shanty, a newly elected Hamas legislator, stated that more rallies will be planned in protest of the cartoons. "We are angry - very, very, very angry," Al Shanty said today, adding that "No one can say a bad word about our prophet."

The Iranian newspaper Hamshari daily has stated that on February 8 it will publish anti-semitic cartoons in response to the Danish cartoons, apparently failing to notice that Denmark has only a tiny Jewish population, since most escaped to Sweden during the World War II Holocaust. The newspaper says that the cartoons will lampoon the Holocaust despite denials by the Iranian government that the Holocaust even happened.

Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that first published the cartoons did issue an apology to Arab countries on Monday, shortly after the EU office incident. But with the support of the government of Denmark, the newspaper had earlier defended its actions fiercely, citing the universal right to free press, and its duty to serve democratic traditions by inspiring debate. Indeed, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Prime Minister of Denmark, said "We are talking about an issue with fundamental significance to how democracies work." In fact, some European pundits have placed more fault on Muslims for refusing to "accept Western standards of free speech and pluralism". When the cartoons were originally published in 2005 they were intended to highlight and redress the unequal restrictions applied to Islamic content in European newspapers in comparison with content referring to other religions. The cartoons are also self-referential, with one character in the cartoons writing in Arabic on a blackboard "Jyllands-Posten's journalists are a bunch of reactionary provocateurs", and another cartoon showing a cartoonist having to work in hiding because one of the cartoons he is drawing includes an image of the Prophet Mohammad. The text around the cartoons stated:

"The modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where you must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule. It is certainly not always equally attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price, but that is less important in this context. [...] we are on our way to a slippery slope where no-one can tell how the self-censorship will end. That is why Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten has invited members of the Danish editorial cartoonists union to draw Muhammad as they see him. [...]"

However, some world leaders have elected to help defuse what could be a major social crisis in Europe and the Middle East. France's foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said that freedom of the press should be exercised "in the spirit of tolerance", sentiments which were echoed by United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan. Ursula Plassnik, foreign minister of Austria, said that the European community must "clearly condemn" acts which insult religion. And Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, warned Europe that "any insult to the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) is an insult to more than one billion Muslims and an act like this must never be allowed to be repeated."

Rasmussen, in an interview with Arabic TV Al arabia, said that "...Danish government condemns any expression and any action which offends people's religious feelings..." and also said that he does not understand why, as the cartoons were originally published in September, the situation has only truly started to deteriorate in the past week.

In Denmark, there are counter-demonstrations by moderate Muslims saying they don't want the images banned. Munira Mirza commented that many Muslims "want to be able to say: 'Hey we're not children, we can handle criticism, we don't need special protection - we're equal'. Many don't want to be treated as a special group, seen as worthy of more protection from criticism than other groups because of their apparent victim status."

Religious satirist Stewart Lee commented that Jyllands-Posten had "tried to deal with a subject they don't know enough about, and this is one of the teething problems of the cross-over of cultures in the world. I'm sure the level of offence is far greater than would have been intended."

In France

The director (Directeur de publication) of "France Soir", a French national newspaper was fired in response for publishing a cartoon titled: "Yes, we have the right to (joke about) characterise God" (Oui, on a le droit de caricaturer Dieu). The "France-Soir" web site is presently offline. The cartoon is partially visible on a nouvelobs.com website.

Today, Libération, another French national newspaper, is publishing two of the "Mohammad Cartoons". Other newspapers across France are asking for their rights to freedom of the press to be defended.

Charlie Hebdo, a well-known satirical newspaper, will publish articles to support cartoonists, freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

The general reaction in France seems to be that most citizens except religious people (Catholics, Muslims,...) are astounded by the level of anger against the "Mohammad Cartoons".

In Australia

On February 9 2006 Queensland Premier Peter Beattie gave The Courier Mail Newspaper his blessings in publishing the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons/depictions of Muhammad stating that he is a firm believer in free speech and ones freedom of expression. On the very same day he got his legal representative to write to the author of this site photoduck.com demanding he censor material relating to him and his Government.

Online

Although many newspapers have not republished the cartoons in order to avoid backlashes, the drawings have appeared on the Internet and are being revealed at a number of Web sites and blogs. On January 30th, Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin placed the drawings on her blog, and encouraged others to do the same.

Related news

Sources

Wikipedia Learn more about freedom of speech in France on Wikipedia.

External links

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