Religious and political leaders around the world appealed for respect, dialogue and an end to violence this week, as protests continued in many countries against publication of caricatures depicting the prophet Muhammad as a terrorist.

Initially published in September in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and then in a Norwegian publication last month, some or all of the cartoons were reprinted last week, largely in right-wing newspapers in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. The resulting outrage among Muslims has taken many forms, from vigorous street protests to diplomatic sanctions, economic boycotts, and a wave of violent attacks against Danish, Norwegian and other diplomatic facilities in several countries. Several protesters have been killed and others injured as authorities sought to put down the actions.

Jyllands-Posten’s culture editor, Flemming Rose, claimed the cartoons were in the tradition of satirical caricatures and were not meant to be offensive. Newspapers and others defended their publication, citing freedom of the press. But observers pointed out that the cartoons were published in a climate of rising anti-immigrant agitation and pressure by far-right parties in Europe, including in Denmark. In a Feb. 6 article, the London Guardian pointed out that three years ago, Jyllands-Posten refused to run cartoons lampooning Jesus Christ, saying they would offend readers and were not funny. In a Feb. 3 statement, bishops from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark joined their Norwegian counterparts in urging increased dialogue with the Muslim community. “To provoke and offend the individual’s faith for the sake of provocation in itself serves no purpose,” a church committee stated. “We should dissociate ourselves from the drawings as well as from the burning of the Danish flag,” the Bishop of Copenhagen, the Rev. Norman Svendsen, said on the same day.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he shared Muslims’ distress over the cartoons, adding that freedom of speech “entails responsibility and judgment.” Annan called on Muslims to accept the apology offered by Jylland-Posten, and urged “everybody not to take any measures that will inflame an already difficult situation.”

“I share the anger of Muslims following this publication,” France’s chief rabbi Joseph Sitruk said Feb. 2, after France Soir published the cartoons. “I understand the hostility in the Arab world,” Sitruk added. “One does not achieve anything by humiliating religion. It’s a dishonest lack of respect.” Le Soir’s owner dismissed its main editor after the paper carried the drawings.

In a Jan. 6 statement, the French Communist Party said that while freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, “is one of the pillars of democracy,” it nonetheless has limits, “notably concerning publications with a defamatory character or inciting to hatred.” The FCP said the cartoons “legitimately arouse indignation and anger among Muslims,” which they “have a right to express freely.” But, the party said, this does not justify violence and threats, which it “condemns … with the greatest firmness.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Chirac issued a statement Feb. 3 defending free speech but also appealing for “respect … to avoid anything that could hurt other people’s beliefs.” But Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said he preferred “an excess of caricature to an excess of censure.”

In Jerusalem, the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH) said it “views with grave concern and alarm the recent wave of hostilities by Palestinian activists” protesting the cartoons. Emphasizing that it “fully appreciates the sensitivity of the issue,” MIFTAH urged activists to “refrain from taking matters into their own hands.” While upholding press freedom, MIFTAH also condemned publication of material disparaging any faith.

In Washington, D.C., leaders of American Muslim organizations met Feb. 7 with Danish Ambassador Friis Arne Petersen to discuss the cartoons. Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, called for listening to local Danish Muslim community voices, to understand what he called an anti-immigration backlash in Europe, as immigrants are scapegoated for joblessness and lowered living standards. Bray emphasized, however, that responding with violence “does not uphold the dignity of our faith,” adding, “Muslims united and using their economic leverage, now that’s something the world can respect.”

The Bush administration said Feb. 3 that it understood the anger of Muslims over the images. However, it defended the right of the papers to publish them.

Most U.S. newspapers, with the exception of the Philadelphia Inquirer, did not publish the caricatures, and the only television network to show an entire cartoon was ABC.

Comments

comments

MOST POPULAR