Text size
related tags

Leading Danish newspapers have reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a gesture of solidarity after police revealed a plot to kill the creator of the caricature that sparked deadly riots across the Muslim world.

Danish Muslims said Wednesday they would seek to avoid a repeat of the violence two years ago - but with a rightwing Dutch lawmaker planning to air a movie that condemns Islam as fascist, Europe pondered the possibility of a new cycle of ethnic and religious turmoil.

"I just don't want go through this again," said Mohammed Shafiq, of the Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim educational group in London. Shafiq said he had already written a protest letter to the Danish ambassador in London.

Other Muslim groups echoed his sentiments, saying they believed the Danish papers were seeking, unnecessarily, to rekindle the fiery debate over free speech and Islam that engulfed Europe during the cartoon uproar in 2006.

Some experts said that discussion never went away - it just drifted off the editorial pages of Europe's dailies.

"This conflict will remain as long as there are people who believe religion should have a greater role in society," said Magnus Norell, a Middle East expert at the Swedish Defense Research Agency.

More than a dozen papers in Denmark reprinted Wednesday what was arguably the most controversial of the 12 Mohammed cartoons that enraged Muslims in early 2006 when they appeared in a range of Western newspapers.

The drawing, by newspaper cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, depicts Islam's prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse.

The papers said they wanted to show their firm commitment to freedom of speech after Tuesday's arrest in western Denmark of three people accused of plotting to kill Westergaard.

"We are doing this to document what is at stake in this case, and to unambiguously back and support the freedom of speech that we as a newspaper will always defend," said the Copenhagen-based Berlingske Tidende.

Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

At least three European newspapers - in Sweden, the Netherlands and Spain - also reprinted the cartoon as part of their coverage of the Danish arrests.

The debate had already resurfaced recently in the Netherlands with right-wing lawmaker Geert Wilders' plans to make an anti-Quran film portraying the religion as fascist and prone to inciting violence against women and homosexuals.

In Denmark, all eyes turned toward the Islamic Faith Community, a network of Muslim groups that many Danes say provoked the riots of 2006 by embarking on a Middle East tour seeking support for their fight against the paper that first published the cartoons, Jyllands-Posten.

Group spokesman Kasem Ahmad said even though printing the cartoons was like a knife in the heart, the group would not take any action this time.

"We have no plans to travel abroad or export this problem," he told reporters at a mosque in Copenhagen. "Now we have decided to neglect and ignore any possible provocation."

In January and February of 2006, angry mobs burned the Danish flag and attacked Danish and other Western embassies in Muslim countries including Syria, Iran and Lebanon. Danish products were boycotted by many Muslim consumers. Protesters were killed in Libya and Afghanistan.

The Danish Foreign Ministry said its diplomatic missions worldwide were monitoring the situation for any signs of unrest related to the cartoon. It had not observed any strong reactions Wednesday, said Uffe Wolffhechel of the ministry's consular department.

In Egypt, one observer said there was no guarantee that violence would not break out again - and suggested Europe might be a possible stage.

"I'm against any violent reaction, but how can you control or expect to control the 15-20 million Muslims living in Europe, how can you prevent a Muslim youth there not to try to take revenge while his religion and Prophet are being insulted?" said Fahmi Howeidy, a prominent Egyptian Islamic writer.

Other experts said they didn't expect the resurgence of Westergaard's cartoon to provoke massive protests this time, partly because many of the Danish imams that solicited support from the Mideast in 2006 were no longer around.

"Many have learned lessons of what happened two years ago. Some of the key players in Denmark have disappeared, they are either dead, have left the country or have been demoted," said Helle Lykke Nielsen, of the Center for Contemporary Middle East Studies at the University of Southern Denmark.

The decision by the Danish papers to reprint Westergaard's cartoon came in response to Tuesday's news that intelligence police had arrested two Tunisians and a Danish citizen of Moroccan origin for plotting to kill Westergaard.

The Danish suspect was released Tuesday after questioning, his lawyer, Henning Lyngsbo, said. He added that It doesn't seem that the evidence is very strong.

Intelligence service chief Jakob Scharf had indicated the man could still face charges of violating a Danish terror law. "The two Tunisians are to be expelled from Denmark because they are considered threats to national security," Scharf said.

Some critics claimed the Danish papers were using the arrests as an excuse to provoke Muslims.

The British Muslim Initiative, a group devoted to fighting what it calls Islamophobia worldwide, said the republication showed the West's double standards.

"It shows the apparent disregard to Islam and Muslims in some of these liberal society," said Ihtisham Hibatullah, the group's spokesman.

"Every time they say: 'We have the right to offend,' and then they tell you don't have the right to be offended."