Saturday, February 04, 2006

Mohammed Cartoon Crisis Escalates

Irish Newspaper defends Mohammed cartoon decision

The Dublin based tabloid, The Star is the latest media organisation to show the caricature of Mohammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb, and today was forced to defended its decision to publish a controversial cartoon which has offended Muslims across the world. The paper claimed it printed the image to defend freedom of the press and to explain to its readers what had sparked the controversy.

Columnist Joe O’Shea, who wrote an article accompanying the cartoon, said: "We wanted to give our half a million readers a chance to actually see this infamous cartoon. There has been a huge international story about it but not a lot of people have seen it. We thought it would be a good idea to make a stand for freedom of the press and democratic rights. We thought our readers deserved to see this infamous cartoon."

O’Shea admitted that some of his newspaper’s readers may be offended or hurt by the cartoon, but added, "All religions are entitled to respect but in a secular society in which we live, religious dogma should not be allowed to override the most basic principle that we have – freedom of speech.Islam should be at least strong enough to allow debate about what is going on in the religion and what is going on in the wider world. While we respect Islam and we would hate to inflame passions in this any further, we think it has gone beyond the issue of the cartoons and has become a much wider story and people have a right to see what kick-started this whole international affair. The reaction from the Muslim world has been totally over the top and it is only damaging Muslim interests."

O’Shea denied that the lives of Irish aid workers in the Middle East would be under threat by The Star’s actions. "We are, in truth, a very small part of this huge international story. I think all Westerners in the Middle East seem to be under threat in any case from the total over-reaction to what has gone on."

A spokesman for Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern said that the minister fundamentally believed in democracy and freedom of speech. "Editors are entitled to publish what they want, but in expressing these rights, it must also be recognised that not everybody in the world would necessarily share Western points of view. We must all be tolerant and respectful of other religion."

The BBC, Channel 4 and ITV – as well as several European newspapers – have re-run the cartoons, although no British newspapers have published them.

Further afield the furore was escalating to the point that the European Union took the extraordinary step of asking the help of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to overcome the crisis.

Javier Solana, the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, called OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu last night and asked help from Ihsanoglu and suggested cooperation to end the crisis. Solana labeled the publishing of the cartoons a misfortune and expressed he is displeased with it, adding that he respects the Muslims and their beliefs.

Solana emphasized he does not want relationships with Muslim countries to be damaged and both agreed to make a joint effort.

However branches of the European media were in a less conciliatory mood. In Germany, Ibrahim Mohamad has written a piece for Deutsche Welle, claiming that the crisis is being used by governments in the Arab world to fan hatred of the West for political purposes. He called the reaction to the Mohammed cartoons "exaggerated".

These people just don't seem to get it, do they? Every time they try and shift the blame for the offence, no matter how sophisticated their language, they add insult to injury. While it is undeniable that both sides are capable of playing politics with the issue - the ordinary people in the Arab world are disgusted by the cartoons. Nobody jokes about the holocaust - neither should they publish cartoons that are known to cause distress. Even the UN is now calling for no further publications.

Here is an excerpt from the rather flimsy German justification for publication:

In more than 25 countries, enraged Muslims took to the streets to protest the caricature. They burned Danish flags and called for a boycott of Danish products. There were even numerous threats, including bomb threats targeting western citizens and diplomatic missions. Some, such as the Kuwaiti Islam scholar Sheik Nasem Almisbah, even called for the death of the cartoonist.

The majority of Arab governments only made matters worse by adding fuel to the fire of angry protestors rather than seeking to calm them. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Libya, for instance, recalled their ambassadors to Denmark and demanded a severe punishment for those responsible as well as an official apology from the Danish government.
Such demands show that Arab governments are incapable of understanding the relationship between the state and freedom of expression as it is practiced in Europe. While the right to free speech is anchored in European constitutions and a clear separation between church and state defines daily life, Islam dominates daily life in the Arab world. As a result many Muslims cannot comprehend the differentiation in Europe. They feel personally offended as soon as their religion is presented in a hurtful manner. They also do not understand that politicians in the western world have no direct influence over the media, as is commonly the case in the Arab world.

Calculated reactions

However, the harsh reactions to the cartoon overstep the boundaries of acceptable protests. Even though the Mohammed caricature provokes, it by no means justifies an incitement to murder or a call for boycotts. It is also not reason enough for the Arab world to instrumentalize the protests for political purposes.

Islamist groups are attempting to channel the hatred against the West to bolster their own political influence. Through their apparent solidarity with the wave of protest Arab governments can detract from domestic failure and discredit western calls for reform. Most likely they will also take advantage of the situation to cut back on freedom of the press in their countries.

The editorialist for the Jordanian newspaper al-Shihan was one of the exceptions. In an opinion piece, he provoked readers by asking: "What damages Islam the most: these drawings or pictures showing hostage takers decapitating their victims in front of running cameras, or a suicide bomber who decides to detonate himself at a wedding in Amman?"

Difficult dialogue

Europe -- and Germany in particular-- have gone to great extents in recent years to intensify their dialogue with the Arab and Islamic world. But now the dispute over the cartoon threatens to reverse any progress in bringing the two sides together. It is the view of many Arab commentators that such publications only help the extremist groups who are not interested in interacting with the West. According to Abd Albari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the pan-Arabic newspaper al Quds Al-Arabi, targeted offenses such as the caricature only serve to poison the relationship between Islam and the West. Further publications in other European countries will only widen the rift between the two sides.

Read the entire article here: Arab Protests are Calculated Political Response

  • Link to our earlier coverage: Cartoon Debate Heats Up

  • The right to caricature God?

  • Link to an interesting Danish site offering both sides of the debate - An open discussion site and information source regarding freedom of speech as it applies to the current situation after the Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten published carciatures of the Islamic prophet Mohammed (pbuh)

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    Anonymous said...

    Two of the comments that were lost during the Blogger outage:
    Recovered from email notification:

    The caricatures of Mahomet : Who is really culpable?

    The polemic provoked by the publication of the caricature of the prohet Mohomet is considered to be a barometer of the tensions and the many latent misunderstandings between the muslim and the western worlds.

    It is an affaire taken completely out of all proportion, say the Agence France Presse, but the question must be asked whether that was not what they wanted to unleash in the first place. It does not take too much brains to know what the reaction would be to an insensitive cartoon like this one. In particular in todays climate of tension between the many religions and specially the muslim religion and the rest of the world.

    Must we not take this opportunity to ask the press and the media to come forward and own up to a perfect example of manipulating a very volatile situation? We do not see cartoons anywhere of people dying of the cold because of political games politicians play in the eastern bloc. We do not see even black homour cartoons of people suffering in detention centers or in refugee camps and there is no one who will try to be funny about the tens of thousands of people who are abused horrifically by human traffickers all over Europe.

    All those things are in the news and are happening around us, but no cartoons about them appear because it would be considered very offensive to many people.

    So why would the press not know that this cartoon would be offensive to many people?I don't think the Danish newspaper editor and most certainly neither the France Soir editor did not know what they were doing.

    Let the press stand trial for this unforgivable action. Not the whole western world.

    Posted by Kalila to THE VIEW FROM FEZ at 2/04/2006 12:03:07 PM

    I'm glad you wrote this up here ... it's so difficult to discuss with anyone because, while I believe in freedom of speech, I'm saddened by what may be lost in terms of deeper understanding between the two 'sides' supposedly represented in this debate.

    At the moment it feels as though a chasm has opened. I hope I am wrong.

    Posted by a wandering woman writes about her world to THE VIEW FROM FEZ at 2/04/2006 01:10:20 PM

    hujaina said...

    you may not be a muslim u may not have any religion which is your own choice but have respect to the best Humain being of all, the world has known great people true,
    napoleon; great in war
    plato, great in philosophy
    shakespear, great in drama
    ghandi; great in peace and diplomacy
    but Prophete Mohamed (peace be upon him) was great in all these and more, he could be the best father, husband, he never lied, never cheeted, never kept anger, never had revenge for himself while he was exiled from his town 'mecca' he never blamed any and kept praying god to forgive them who exiled him, hit him, and threw rubish on him
    can you show me any man who does this?? who Forgives this way???

    at least when you write your title do put between parentheses Prophete Mohammed(peace be upon him).
    thank you for respecting the man to whom Allah prays.
    صلى الله على محمد
    صلى الله عليه و سلم

    Anonymous said...

    Flemming Rose born 3/14/1956 into a Jewish family in the Ukraine has a major in Russian language and literature from University of Copenhagen. From 1990 to 1996 he was the Moscow correspondent for the newspaper Berlingske Tidende. Between 1996 and 1999 he was the correspondent for the same newspaper in Washington, D.C.. In 1999 he became Moscow correspondent for the newspaper Jyllands-Posten and January 2005 the cultural editor of that paper (KulturWeekend). He fled Denmark where he was under police protection to Miami, Florida in fear for his life where he is currently in hiding.