(by Patrick Goodenough, Jan. 3, 2006, CybercastNewsService.com) – For the government of one small European nation, the new year begins with a deepening crisis: growing anger in the Islamic world over a newspaper’s decision to publish cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammed.
The Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten last fall published 12 caricatures of Mohammed, causing an uproar that continues to build more than three months later.
Muslims consider any images of the prophet who founded Islam in the seventh century to be blasphemous.
The published cartoons showed “Mohammed” in various settings. One depicts him wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with its fuse lit, while another has him with eyes blacked out and carrying a large, curved knife, flanked by two women in top-to-toe burqas.
In another, the prophet is shown telling a line of suicide bombers seeking entry to paradise: “Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins.”
The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), representing 57 Muslim states and territories, issued a memorandum on January 1 accusing the Danish government of “indifference” after Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen declined to intervene in the dispute.
Rasmussen called it a matter of freedom of speech, echoing the reasoning of the newspaper at the center of the row. Jyllands-Posten had said it wanted to test the limits of free speech at a time it was under threat because of the influence of radical Islam.
The OIC dismissed the free speech argument, saying in its statement this week that the publication of the cartoons “was meant to disturb and infuriate Muslims, and could not be considered as an innocent behavior falling within the scope of freedom of expression in which everyone believes.”
Claiming that the publication “has offended hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world,” the organization announced that the governments and cultural organizations in all OIC member states had been asked to boycott a forthcoming cultural project on the Middle East, partly funded by the Danish government.
Last week, foreign ministers of the Arab League mandated the 22-nation bloc’s secretary-general, Amr Moussa, to take up the issue directly with the Danish government.
In a declaration, they voiced “surprise and indignation over the Danish government’s reaction, which was disappointing, despite the political, economic, and cultural bonds with the Muslim world.”
Not only did Rasmussen refuse to take up the matter with the newspaper, he also declined to meet with a delegation of ambassadors from 11 Muslim nations who wanted to discuss the “tone” of the debate over Islam in Denmark.
“As prime minister I have no tool whatsoever to take actions against the media, and I don’t want that kind of tool,” he said at the time.
The growing pressure – the U.N. and European Union have also waded in, while a group of former Danish ambassadors said the premier was wrong to refuse to meet with the Muslim envoys – appears to have left the government cold.
“Now it is important to stand our ground and say that we have a separation of powers in Denmark and something called freedom of expression,” the Copenhagen Post quoted the ruling party’s foreign affairs spokesman Troels Lund as saying in response to the Arab League complaints.
Denmark’s Ritzau news agency noted that while other Muslim groups had previously criticized the government over the cartoon issue, “the declaration from the Arabic League is seen as the most serious response so far.”
An Egypt-based Muslim interfaith group is planning a conference for Danish journalists next March on what it calls “the ignorant and inflammatory portrayal of Islam in the media.”
Fadel Soliman of the Bridges Foundation told Islam Online that the Mohammed issue showed the need for such a briefing.
“The cartoons are becoming worse, as if someone is trying to provoke the Muslim community and youth to do something crazy.”
The newspaper first asked caricaturists to submit ideas after three artists turned down a request by a Danish children’s author to illustrate a new book on Mohammed. The artists had refused, fearing that doing so would put them in danger.
The reaction from Muslims, both in Denmark and elsewhere, was swift. Protest demonstrations in November drew thousands of Muslims, who account for three percent of the country’s 5.4 million people.
Jyllands-Posten reported receiving death threats and several of the cartoonists went into hiding.
As far away as Pakistan, local media carried reports saying Islamists were offering rewards to anyone who killed the cartoonists. The reports prompted the Danish government to amend a travel warning, advising citizens planning visits to Pakistan.
The Morocco-based Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization says its 51 member states will boycott Denmark because of “the aggressive campaign waged against Islam and its Prophet.”
After being approached by the OIC, U.N. high commissioner for human rights Louise Arbour told the Islamic bloc in a letter that she had asked U.N. experts in religious and race issues to investigate.
“I understand your concerns and would like to emphasize that I regret any statement or act that could express a lack of respect for the religion of others,” Arbour said.
Franco Frattini, the vice president of the European Union’s executive Commission, told the Jyllands-Posten in the run-up to Christmas that while he “fully” respected freedom of speech, the cartoons were adding to “growing Islamophobia” in Europe.
The daily’s editor-in-chief, Carsten Juste, said after Frattini’s criticism that the situation had become “absurd.”
Earlier, Juste said: “If we apologize, we go against the freedom of speech that generations before us have struggled to win.”
Reprinted here with permission from Cybercast News Service. Visit the website at www.cnsnews.com.
1. What recent cartoons in a Danish newspaper angered Muslims? Why did the newspaper publish the cartoons? (para. 20 and 7)
(View the cartoons here.)
2. How is the Muslim world reacting? [OIC, Arab League, Bridges Foundation (17-19), Islamic Educational…Organization (24), average Muslims (21-23)]
3. Re-read the statements made by the OIC in para. 8 and by Bridges in para. 19. Do you think that these Muslim leaders believe in true freedom of speech? Explain your answer.
4. What do you think of the Danish government’s reaction to the complaints by various Muslim groups? (7, 12, 13, 15)
5. How do the reactions of Christian and Jewish groups differ from those of Muslim groups when they believe that their religions have been blasphemed?
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