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Theological Notebook: More on the Current Europe/Islam Debate

Some telling remarks in this article. Another article, "Protests Over Muhammad Drawings Intensify" follows, with further over-the-top calls for destruction.

Mohammad cartoons row resembles dialogue of deaf

Feb 3, 11:25 AM (ET)

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - The row over caricatures of Islam's Prophet Mohammad resembles a dialogue of the deaf, with many European spokesmen defending the right to free speech and many Muslims insisting Islam must be treated with respect.

Calls for moderation, both from Muslim leaders and European politicians, risk getting lost in a public debate dominated by Europeans afraid of losing a core right of their culture and Muslims struggling to win more recognition for theirs.

Centuries of tradition stand behind both viewpoints, which may account for the virulence of the reactions aroused by the publication -- first in Denmark, then across Europe -- of cartoons depicting Mohammad as a terrorist.

The Europeans can date their long struggle for free speech to the 18th century Enlightenment and consider the liberty to criticize all authority a cornerstone of modern democracy.

Muslims look back on centuries of Western hostility toward, and misunderstanding of, their religion and say the time is ripe -- with the higher profile for Muslims in the Middle East and Europe -- for Western countries to treat them as equals.

Egypt's ambassador in Copenhagen, Mona Omar Attia, highlighted the stalemate in comments after she heard Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen say his government could not apologize for anything that Danish newspapers had printed.

"This means that the whole story will continue and that we are back to square one again. The government of Denmark has to do something to appease the Muslim world," she said.

In separate statements, the French and German interior ministers defended their traditions against Muslim taboos.

"Why should the government apologize for something that happened in the exercise of press freedom?" Germany's Wolfgang Schaueble asked. "If the state intervenes, that is the first step toward limiting press freedom."

In Paris, Nicolas Sarkozy said: "Given the choice, I prefer too many caricatures to too much censorship."


The word "respect" repeatedly pops up in Muslim comments, revealing how much the cartoons linking Mohammad and terrorism hurt the feelings of people who feel humiliated by the West.

Mohamed Mestiri, head of the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Paris, said respect was the main issue for Muslims outraged by the images they consider blasphemous.

"It's all about creating a culture of respect, of wanting to live together under the roof of a plural citizenry," he said.

The head of France's Muslim Council saw the cartoons as the latest in a history of Western affronts to Muslims who only in recent years have mustered enough political clout to fight back.

"Yesterday, the world's Muslims were unable to react to critics who for centuries constantly dumped truckloads of slander on their religion, sacred books and Prophet," said Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Paris Grand Mosque.

While insisting European Muslims accept the separation of church and state, Mestiri warned against assuming Islam would ever tolerate criticism of what it held most sacred. "One must not judge Islam by the standards of Christian culture," he said.


Muslim spokesmen resent the way non-Muslims argue they cannot dilute press freedoms just for one religion but make an exception for Jews.

"Why do they say that Muslims have no right to condemn the publishing of those cartoons, when they fight tooth and nail against those who even talk negatively about the Holocaust?" asked Sheikh Hussain Halawa, secretary general of the European Council for Fatwa and Research.

These arguments seemed to have little influence at Liberation, the Paris daily that joined the European media's solidarity wave on Friday and reprinted two Danish cartoons.

It called the Danish caricatures "The Satanic Drawings," referring to "The Satanic Verses" whose criticism of Islam earned British author Salman Rushdie death threats in 1989.

"Rushdie's novel would be almost impossible to publish today," it wrote.

Hundreds of Morrocan Muslims protest against the Danish and Swedish publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, in front of the Parliament in Rabat, Morroco, Friday, Feb. 3, 2006. Incensed Muslims filled squares and streets across the Middle East on Friday to condemn Europe's publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, trampling and burning Danish flags, and even calling on al-Qaida to carry out revenge attacks. (AP Photo/Jalil Bounhar)

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All right reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Protests Over Muhammad Drawings Intensify

Feb 3, 10:45 PM (ET)


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Outrage over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad erupted in a swell of protests across the Muslim world Friday, with demonstrators demanding revenge against Denmark and death for those they accuse of defaming Islam's holiest figure.

In Iraq, the leading Shiite cleric denounced the drawings first published in a Danish newspaper in September, one of which depicted the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb. But the cleric also suggested militant Muslims were partly to blame for distorting the image of Islam.

Some European newspapers reprinted the caricatures this week, prompting protests Friday in Britain, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Palestinian areas. In Sudan, some even urged al-Qaida terrorists to target Denmark.

"Strike, strike, Bin Laden," shouted some in a crowd of about 50,000 who filled a Khartoum square.

The U.S. and British governments criticized publication of the caricatures as offensive to Muslims, raising questions about whether the line between free speech and incitement had been crossed.

The Danish government tried to contain the damage. Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller called Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and said the Danish government "cannot accept an assault against Islam," according to Abbas' office.

On Monday, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said his government could not apologize on behalf of a newspaper, but that he personally "never would have depicted Muhammad, Jesus or any other religious character in a way that could offend other people."

Many Muslims consider the Danish government's reaction inadequate.

Clerics in Palestinian areas called in Friday prayers for a boycott of Danish and European goods and the severing of diplomatic ties. Tens of thousands of incensed Muslims marched through Palestinian cities, burning the Danish flag and calling for vengeance.

"Whoever defames our prophet should be executed," said Ismail Hassan, a tailor who marched in the pouring rain with hundreds of other Muslims in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "Bin Laden our beloved, Denmark must be blown up," the protesters chanted.

Foreign diplomats, aid workers and journalists began pulling out of Palestinian areas Thursday because of kidnapping threats against some Europeans.

In Iraq, about 4,500 people protested in the southern city of Basra, burning the Danish flag. Some 600 worshippers stomped on Danish flags before burning them outside Baghdad's Abu Hanifa Mosque, Sunni Islam's holiest shrine in Iraq. Demonstrators also burned Danish journalists in effigy and torched boxes of Danish cheese.

Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, condemned the publications as a "horrific action."

But in remarks posted on his Web site, al-Sistani referred to "misguided and oppressive" segments of the Muslim community whose actions "projected a distorted and dark image of the faith of justice, love and brotherhood."

Islamic law, based on clerics' interpretation of the Quran and the sayings of the prophet, forbids any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, even positive ones, to prevent idolatry.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw criticized European media for reprinting the caricatures. While free speech should be respected, Straw said "there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory."

The State Department called the drawings "offensive to the beliefs of Muslims" and said the right to freedom of speech must be coupled with press responsibility.

"Inciting religious or ethnic hatred in this manner is not acceptable," State Department press officer Janelle Hironimus said.

In Damascus, Syria, entrances to the Al-Murabit mosque were strewn with Danish, Israeli and American flags so worshippers could trample them as they entered. Banners outside called for a boycott of Danish, European and U.S. products "until Denmark is brought to its knees, regretting this farce of freedom of expression."

Some 1,500 worshippers in Jordan marched in the northeastern city of Zarqa, demanding that Denmark prosecute the cartoonist who drew the caricatures.

Pakistan's parliament unanimously passed a resolution condemning the cartoons as a "vicious, outrageous and provocative campaign."

And in Jakarta, Indonesia, more than 150 Muslims stormed a high-rise building housing the Danish Embassy and tore down and burned the country's flag.
Tags: cultural, ethical, europe, historical, islam, legal, media, philosophical, political, theological notebook

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