Mensa club wannabes Annan and Solana "Agression against life and property can only damage the peaceful image of Islam"
February 7, 2006
By ALAN COWELL
LONDON, Feb. 7 — As Islamic protests grew against the publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, a small but vocal Muslim immigrant organization responded with a drawing on its Web site of Hitler in bed with Anne Frank. "Write this one in your diary, Anne," Hitler was shown as saying.
The intent, said the group, the Arab European League, was "to use our right to artistic expression," just as the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten did last September when it published 12 cartoons showing Muhammad, several of them satiric.
"Europe has its sacred cows, even if they're not religious sacred cows," said Dyab Abou Jahjah, the founder of the organization, which advocates for immigrants' rights in Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark.
After days of violent protests that have claimed several lives, the conflict has pushed both sides across an unexpected threshold, where they view each other with miscomprehension and suspicion.
As the protests have spread, some Europeans have come to realize that relatively small Muslim minorities — 3 percent in Britain, 4 percent in Denmark and around 5 percent in the European Union — can wield power across the Islamic world.
"No longer is the issue merely that of belittling an immigrant group," wrote Jürgen Gottschlich, a German journalist based in Istanbul. "Just as there are heroes of free speech in Denmark, there are also heroes from the Arabian peninsula to North Africa to Indonesia who are ready to take to the barricades to defend their prophet's dignity."
Ibrahim Magdy, 39, an Egyptian Coptic Christian with a florist business in Rome, said, "The problem now is that when you say something or do something, you are not just talking to the Egyptians or to the Syrians or to the Saudis, but you are talking to the entire Muslim world."
The cartoons have set off a profound debate about freedom of expression and supposed double standards. And the spreading protest signified a hardening of extremes that left little room for moderation. "The moderate Muslim has again been effectively silenced," said Tabish Khair, professor of English at the University of Aarhus, Denmark.
For decades European nations have wrestled with an influx of immigrants who came for economic and political reasons, primarily from lands where Islam is the dominant faith — from Bosnia and Turkey, from Iraq, Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East, from North Africa and Somalia. But many feel they have never been fully welcome.
The catalog of Islamic terrorism — from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, to the March 2004 bombings in Madrid and the July 2005 attacks in London — has challenged governments and societies to distinguish between moderates and extremists, like the four British-born Muslims who killed themselves and 52 other people in London.
Ostensibly, said Timothy Garton Ash, an Oxford professor of European history, the clash has pitted two sets of values — freedom of expression and multiculturalism — against each other. Muslim immigrants, initially seen in the 1960's as temporary laborers, have formed permanent and expanding communities.
But beyond that, there is a seething resentment among some Muslims that they are treated as second-class citizens and potential terrorists in lands that deny the importance of their faith, even though the number of Muslims in Europe totals 20 million, and possibly many more.
"If you have black hair, it is really difficult to find a job," said Muhammad Elzjahim, a 22-year-old construction worker of Palestinian descent whose parents moved to Denmark when he was 2 years old. He said he had studied dentistry for three and a half years only to find that "it was for nothing, because I couldn't find a job in my field."
That mistrust is mirrored by a gnawing sense among some Europeans that their generous welfare states have become home to an unwelcome minority that does not share their values and may even represent a fifth column of potential insurgents, who project themselves as the victims of Islamophobia and discrimination in housing and jobs.
"The radicals don't want an agreement, they don't want the round table," said Rainer Mion, a 44-year-old German insurance agent in Berlin. "What they want is to spread their Islamic beliefs all over the world."
Giulio Cordese, a 50-year-old salesman in an Italian specialty deli in Berlin, added: "We have to make a point here. Personally, I would expel all Muslims in the concerned countries, because they simply don't accept democratic rules here."
But that goes to the core of the debate: which rules apply to which people?
In London on Tuesday, Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian who is wanted in the United States on terrorism charges, was sentenced to seven years for incitement to murder. Five days earlier, Nick Griffin, chairman of the anti-immigrant British National Party, was acquitted on race hate charges relating to assaults on Islam as a "vicious, wicked faith."
The different outcomes provoked fresh accusations that British justice — like British society, by this argument — discriminates against Muslims. "We seem to have different standards when we deal with these issues from different communities," said Massoud Shadjareh, a founder of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London.
Flemming Rose, the culture editor of Jyllands-Posten, which first published the cartoons, insisted last week that his interest lay solely in asserting the right to free speech over religious taboos. "When Muslims say you are not showing respect, I would say: you are not asking for my respect, you are asking for my submission," he said.
Yet, The Guardian reported Monday that three years ago, Jyllands-Posten rejected several cartoons satirizing the resurrection of Jesus, saying they were not funny and would "provoke an outcry." The editor who rejected those drawings, Jens Kaiser, dismissed comparisons with the Muhammad cartoons, saying the paper had never asked for the cartoons of Jesus.
Many here echoed Mr. Rose's apprehension that European values and freedoms are under threat.
"In America, few people fear that they will have to live according to the norms of Islam," an editorial in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad read. "In European countries, with a large or growing Muslim minority, there is a real fear that behind the demand for respect hides another agenda: the threat that everyone must adjust to the rules of Islam."
In 2005, a Moroccan-Dutch painter, Rachid Ben Ali, went into hiding after receiving death threats related to an exhibit showing "hate imams" spitting bombs. Most infamously, in 2004, the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered for committing what his confessed killer called blasphemy in his film, "Submission," about violence against Islamic women.
In the Netherlands, where the population of 16 million includes a million Muslims, some people wonder whether their secular values can guarantee social peace.
In earlier periods of European history, NRC Handelsblad said, "a small religious dispute could lead to large- or small-scale wars."
"The Muslim immigration has thrown Europe back to the religious conflicts of the past."
In Britain, some analysts argue that the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair has shown itself ready to promote self-censorship when dealing with Islamic militancy in the interest of averting further terrorist attacks. "Islam is protected by an invisible blasphemy law," said Jasper Gerard, a columnist in The Sunday Times. "It is called fear."
In some assessments, the situation rewards those at the extremes. "Islamic fundamentalists and European right-wingers both enjoy a veritable gift that can be used to ignite fire after fire," said Janne Haaland Matlary, professor of international relations and former deputy foreign minister of Norway.
Many Europeans draw distinctions, suggesting different responses across the Continent.
In Germany, where two newspapers published some of the cartoons, arson attacks directed at Turkish and other immigrants in the early 1990's conjured the specter of Nazism, and some people believe that memory has built a degree of caution.
"We must de-escalate the situation," said Ayyub Axel Köhler, a convert to Islam who heads the Central Council of Muslims in Germany. "It might be easier to do that in Germany than in other countries."
A joint statement released Tuesday by Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations, Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and Javier Solana, the foreign policy representative of the European Union, sought to re-establish a common ground.
"We fully uphold the right of free speech," the statement read. "But we understand the deep hurt and widespread indignation felt in the Muslim World. We believe freedom of the press entails responsibility and discretion, and should respect the beliefs and tenets of all religions.
"But we also believe the recent violent acts surpass the limits of peaceful protest.
"Aggression against life and property can only damage the image of a peaceful Islam."
Reporting for this article was contributed by Marlise Simons in Paris, Mark Landler and Petra Kappl in Frankfurt, Victor Homola and Sarah Plass in Berlin, Renwick McLean in Madrid, Elisabetta Povoledo in Milan, Peter Kiefer in Rome and Ivar Ekman in Copenhagen.