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Anger in the Muslim world over cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad

Translated by Bianca Jacobsohn

Translated Tuesday 14 February 2006, by Bianca Jacobsohn

The publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad by a Danish conservative daily newspaper, and then by several other European newspapers, sparks anger and populist outcry, all obligingly relayed by the media.

Condemnations of the cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad which first appeared in a Danish newspaper (which obtained the cartoons from Norwegian media) have multiplied throughout the Muslim world in rhythm with the media hype surrounding the affair. From Morocco to the Middle East and further to Indonesia, the world has witnessed an onslaught of official declarations demanding apologies from the Danish government. In addition, protests - some violent - have taken place worldwide, although most of the time they are made up of just a few hundred people.

The incident, in which the services of a political cartoonist - liberal and excessive by definition (sketching Muhammad wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb, for example) - were employed without forethought by a conservative daily newspaper, should not have been anything more than an overrated occupational hazard of Danish media and politics. But it is significant that this pro-government newspaper is also allied to Pia Kjaersgaard’s extreme right party - one which is not shy of xenophobic gaffes. A number of Muslim leaders have unscrupulously risen to the occasion, riding on the turmoil which they believe the cartoons could provoke, due to Islam’s prohibition of any representation of the Prophet. Some hope to assert their authority, while others hope to restore their public image.

Moroccan Prime Minister, Driss Jettou, condemned “these cartoons which are an attack on the Prophet” while Iran - currently in the hot seat due to its nuclear plans - reacted virulently. President Ahmadinejad even contacted Saudi King Abdullah proposing a two-fold Islamic response representing Shiites and Sunnis, for which the two countries are considered to be mouthpieces. And in Lahore and Multan, Pakistan, a handful of Islamic protestors burnt Danish and French flags.

Continuing in this proactive vein, leaders of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) called for mass action yesterday morning in Djakarta. However, no more than 300 people participated. But the hall in a building housing the Danish embassy was vandalised. More serious was the assembling of armed protesters - members of Fatah - in front of the French embassy’s cultural centre on Thursday in protest of the publication by "France Soir" of the said cartoon. It is difficult not to make the connection between this sudden frenzied reaction on the part of Palestinian "activists" and the massive electoral defeat of their party, which was the result of their discredited reputation among the population. However, these protests, which have so obligingly been relayed by media worldwide, were just a drop in the ocean.

“We have noted France’s position on this matter and we warn that the consequences are dire for any attack on our Prophet Muhammad”, Abu Haroun, spokesperson of this subsidiary of Mahmoud Abbas’ party, thought good to declare. A grenade was even thrown from a car and exploded near a building. No one was injured. Earlier, the “basic commandment” of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which is also linked to Fatah, was stated in a communiqué: “all Norwegian, Danish, and French citizens in our country are targets”. Moreover, it called for French nationals to “evacuate the Gaza Strip” and threatened to “bomb EU headquarters, other European offices and churches” should “provocations” against Islam continue.

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