Denmark: European Papers Join Danish Fray

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By Alan Cowell COPENHAGEN In a remarkable escalation of a dispute over cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, newspapers in several European countries reprinted the images on Wednesday, supporting a Danish newspaper that triggered a huge outcry in the Islamic world by publishing them initially. The newspapers’ action fed into a sharpening debate here over freedom of expression, human rights and what one Danish editor, Flemming Rose, called a “clash of civilizations” between secular Western democracies and Islamic societies. Indeed, said Rose, culture editor of Jyllands-Posten – the newspaper which first published the cartoons last September – “this is a far bigger story than just the question of 12 cartoons in a small Danish newspaper.” “This is about the question of integration and how compatible is the religion of Islam with a modern secular society – how much does an immigrant have to give up and how much does the receiving culture have to compromise,” he said in an interview. In recent days, Denmark has become the target of a widespread boycott of its goods, like dairy products and pharmaceuticals, in the Muslim world, its diplomats have been summoned to be dressed down in Tehran and Baghdad, and protesters have taken to the streets of Gaza. While Jyllands-Posten has apologized for giving offense, it has not apologized for publishing the cartoons, one of which depicts the prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban. Images of Muhammad are regarded as blasphemous by many Muslims. The Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has rejected demands by Arab governments for an official apology, saying, “A Danish government cannot apologize on the part of a Danish paper. I can’t call a newspaper and tell them what to put in it. That’s not how our society works.” Rose called the decision not to apologize “a key issue of principle.” In support of the Danish position, newspapers in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland reprinted some of the cartoons on Wednesday. A small Norwegian evangelical magazine, Magazinet, also published the cartoons last month. The dispute has been likened to a string of earlier cultural confrontations between Islam and the West, beginning with the death sentence declared in 1989 on the British author Salman Rushdie by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran after the publication of “The Satanic Verses.” In 2004, the Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh was murdered after making a film called “Submission” that dealt with violence against women in Islamic societies. Robert Menard, secretary general of Reporters Sans Fronti_res, a Paris-based body that monitors media developments, said: “All countries in Europe should be behind the Danes and Danish authorities to defend the principle that a newspaper can write what it wishes to even if it offends people.” Arab regimes “do not understand there can be a complete separation between what is written in a newspaper and what the Danish government says,” he said in a telephone interview. “I understand that it may shock Muslims, but being shocked is part of the price of being informed.” He noted, too, that many attacks on Denmark came from countries like Libya and Saudi Arabia, “where there’s no press freedom” and where governments routinely steered newspapers. Several Muslim leaders in Copenhagen have said they accept the apology from Jyllands-Posten, but in the Middle East, Arab and Islamic governments continued to express outrage. On Wednesday, Syria became the latest Arab country after Saudi Arabia and Libya to withdraw its ambassador from Denmark, saying publication of the cartoons “constitutes a violation of the sacred principles of hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims,” according to SANA, Syria’s state press agency. The Danish Embassy in Damascus was evacuated after a bomb threat on Wednesday, but no bomb was found. On Tuesday, the offices of Jyllands-Posten were evacuated under similar circumstances. The contentious cartoons include one showing the Prophet Muhammad telling dead suicide bombers that paradise has run out of virgins – a reference to the 72 virgins accorded a Muslim martyr. In Paris, the newspaper France Soir, printed all 12 cartoons, saying it did so “not from an appetite for gratuitous provocation, but because they constitute the subject of a controversy on a global scale which has done nothing to maintain balance and mutual limits in democracy, respect of religious beliefs and freedom of expression.” The French newspaper ran a headline declaring: “Yes, We Have the Right to Caricature God.” It published a cartoon showing Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian gods on a cloud. The Christian god was depicted saying: “Don’t complain, Muhammad. We’ve all been caricatured before.” The newspaper declared: “No religious dogma can impose its view on a democratic and secular society.” Arnaud Levy, editor-in-chief of France Soir, said there had been no coordination between European editors. Asked if they had been in touch to publish the cartoons simultaneously, he said in a telephone interview: “Absolutely not.” A commentary in France Soir declared: “Enough lessons from these reactionary bigots! Just because the Koran bans images of Muhammad doesn’t mean non-Muslims have to submit to this.” The decision by France Soir to publish the cartoons drew a sharp response from French Muslims. Dalil Boubakeur, head of the French Council for the Muslim Religion, called the publication of the cartoons a “provocation” and an abuse of press freedom, adding that it reflected “Islamophobia” and was disrespectful of the world’s more than one billion Muslims. “The publication of the cartoons can only revive tensions in Europe and the world at a time when we are trying to unite people,” he said. In Germany, the conservative Die Welt daily printed one image on its front page and declared in an editorial: “The protests from Muslims would be taken more seriously if they were less hypocritical. When Syrian television showed drama documentaries in prime time depicting rabbis as cannibals, the imams were quiet.”

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