'Moderate' Egyptian president Mubarak "warns" Europe of terrorist backlash' for "insulting the noble Prophet"
February 2, 2006
Backlash over cartoons incresases over further publications
GAZA CITY, Feb 2 (MASNET & News Agencies) - An international backlash over newspaper cartoons gathered pace on Thursday as more European dailies printed controversial caricatures and Muslims stepped up pressure to stop them.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned that the insistence of European newspapers on printing the cartoons of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) risked provoking a terrorist backlash, as protests escalate from a trade embargo by consumers, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Two armed groups threatened to target Danes, French and Norwegians in the Palestinian territories after the cartoons were published in their respective countries and gunmen besieged E.U. offices in Gaza.
Foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers began leaving Gaza as gunmen there threatened to kidnap citizens of France, Norway, Denmark and Germany unless those governments apologize for the cartoon, reports the Associated Press (AP).
"All nationals and those who work in the diplomatic corps of these countries can be considered targets of the Popular Resistance Committee and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades," the two Palestinian groups warned.
Militants in Gaza said they would shut down media offices from France, Norway, Denmark and Germany, singling out Agence France-Presse, reports the AP.
Newspapers in various European countries have published, in the name of freedom of expression, sketches with the prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban and as a sword-wielding nomad flanked by two women shrouded in black.
The 12 cartoons published in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten last September depicting the founder of the Muslim faith have damaged Danish trade relations with the Islamic world.
Editors at Jyllands-Posten and a Norwegian Christian magazine that became the first to republish the drawings this month have also received death threats.
The trade boycott picked up pace in the Gulf Arab states, with France's Carrefour chain of supermarkets in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and other countries removing all Danish products from their shelves.
The owner of France Soir, a Paris daily that reprinted them on Wednesday along with one German and two Spanish papers, sacked its managing editor to show "a strong sign of respect for the beliefs and intimate convictions of every individual."
But the tabloid staunchly defended its right to print the cartoons. Le Temps in Geneva and Budapest's Magyar Hirlap ran another offending cartoon showing an imam telling suicide bombers to stop because Heaven had run out of virgins to reward them, reports Reuters.
The government of Norway announced the closure of its West Bank mission to the public and said it was taking the threats "very seriously".
Palestinian gunmen associated with Fatah besieged the Gaza Strip headquarters of the European Union and scrawled "Closed Until Apology is Made to the Muslims" on the gate to the building, which had not opened for business for fear of violence, and called on Palestinians to boycott the products of these countries.
"European provocations have placed the offices and European churches in our line of fire," the gunmen said in a statement. "We give the Danish, French and Norwegian governments 48 hours to present their apologies."
The governments at the center of the confrontation between the Muslim world and Europe have said the decision to publish the cartoons was the newspapers' responsibility.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the issue had gone beyond a row between Copenhagen and the Muslim world, and now centered on Western free speech versus taboos in Islam, which is now the second religion in many European countries, reports Reuters.
"We are talking about an issue with fundamental significance to how democracies work," Rasmussen told the Copenhagen daily Politiken. "One can safely say it is now an even bigger issue."
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei, from the outgoing Fatah administration, condemned the caricatures, saying they "provoke all Muslims everywhere in the world," and said European governments should formally condemn the cartoons.
"What has been published was an attack on Islam and it has affected the feelings of all Muslims," he said.
"We hope that the concerned governments are attentive to the sensitivity of this issue," said Qorei.
He asked gunmen not to attack foreigners. "But we warn that emotions may flare in this very sensitive issues."
Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, which defeated Fatah in last week's Palestinian parliamentary election, also demanded an apology from European countries. However, he said foreigners in Gaza must not be harmed in the protests, reports the AP.
Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet to prevent idolatry.
The furor over the drawings cuts to the question of which is more sacred in the Western world - freedom of expression or respect for religious beliefs, the news agency reports.
The director of media rights group Reporters Without Borders, Robert Menard, called for calm. "We need to figure out how to reconcile freedom of expression and respect of faith," he said.
Reaction in Middle East countries has been scathing, reports Reuters.
"In the West, one discovers there are different moral ceilings and all moral parameters and measures are not equal," wrote the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
"If the Danish cartoon had been about a Jewish rabbi, it would never have been published."
In Iraq, Shiite worshippers trampled Danish flags in the southern holy city of Najaf. Last week, Sunni Arabs in Fallujah, western Iraq, set fire to piles of Danish products collected from local shops.
Denmark has 530 soldiers posted in Iraq, mainly stationed in the south under British command. The troops have been put on higher alert.
In the more reactionary camp in the Middle East, the head of Lebanon's Hezbollah claimed that if Muslims had executed British novelist Salman Rushdie, others would not have dared to insult Islam.
Iran's late revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa, or religious opinion, in 1989 demanding Rushdie's execution over his best-selling novel the "Satanic Verses," which was deemed blasphemous.
"If there had been a Muslim to carry out Imam Khomeini's fatwa against the renegade Salman Rushdie, this rabble who insult our Prophet Mohammed ... would not have dared to do so," Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said.
Egypt's Mubarak warned "of the near and long term repercussions [of the] campaign of insults against the noble Prophet," his spokesman said in a statement.
"Irresponsible management of these repercussions will provide further excuses to the forces of radicalism and terrorism," it said.
Iran's conservative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and emphasized the "need for a vigorous" reaction to the caricatures.
In other diplomatic moves, Saudi Arabia and Syria have summoned their ambassadors from Copenhagen, while Libya has closed its embassy in the Danish capital.
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef said Riyadh considered the cartoons an insult to Mohammad and all Muslims. "We hope that religious centers like the Vatican will clarify their opinion in this respect," he told the state news agency SPA.
In Pakistan, more than 300 Islamic students protested, chanting "Death to Denmark" and "Death to France."
Morocco and Tunisia barred sales of France Soir's Wednesday issue. French publications are normally widely available in the largely Muslim countries, formerly French colonies, reports the AP.
Leading newspapers in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland carried all or some of the 12 cartoons on Wednesday to express their support of freedom of expression.
Defending its decision to publish the cartoons, France Soir wrote: "Imagine a society that added up all the prohibitions of different religions. What would remain of the freedom to think, to speak and even to come and go?
"We know societies like that all too well. The Iran of the mullahs, for example. But yesterday, it was the France of the Inquisitions, the burning stakes and the Saint Bartholomew's Day [massacre of Protestants]."
Other European dailies printed cartoons mocking the row. Le Monde in Paris ran a sketch of a man whose beard and turban were made up of lines saying, "I must not draw Mohammad."
Newspapers in Cairo chastised the European press. "It is a conspiracy against Islam and Muslims which has been in the works for years," said Al-Gomhurriya, a top state-owned daily.
Going against the flow, however, a Jordanian tabloid defiantly published three of the cartoons, saying it was reprinting them to show readers "the extent of the Danish offense."
Next to the drawings, the Arabic weekly Shihan said in a headline: "This is how the Danish newspaper portrayed Prophet Muhammad, may God's blessing and peace be upon him."
"Muslims of the world, be reasonable," said Al-Shihan's editor-in-chief in an editorial alongside the cartoons, one of which showed Mohammed with the bomb-shaped turban.
Jihad Momani told AFP he decided to publish the offending cartoons "so people know what they are protesting about ... People are attacking drawings that they have not even seen."
Momani told the AP that he decided to run the cartoons to "display to the public the extent of the Danish offense and condemn it in the strongest terms."
"But their publication is not meant in any way to promote such blasphemy," he added.
Jyllands-Posten has apologized for any hurt the caricatures may have caused, but police said the paper's offices in Aarhus were evacuated on Wednesday evening for the second time in two days after a bomb threat. Workers returned after the all-clear, reports Reuters.
Denmark says it cannot tell free media what to do, the news agency reports.Danish police said on Wednesday they had told the country's imams they were "highly aware of the risks of an escalation of the case, including the calls to burn the Qur'an, which these days flourish on the Internet and via SMS [phone messages]".