Tens of thousands protest prophet drawings

Saturday, February 4, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Tens of thousands of angry Muslims marched through Palestinian cities, burning the Danish flag and calling for vengeance Friday against European countries where caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad were published.

Early Friday, Palestinian militants threw a bomb at a French cultural center in Gaza City, and many Palestinians began boycotting European goods, especially those from Denmark.

Angry protests against the drawings spread in the Muslim world.

In Washington, the State Department criticized the drawings, calling them "offensive to the beliefs of Muslims."

In Iraq, thousands demonstrated after Friday mosque prayers, and the country's leading Shiite cleric denounced the drawings. About 4,500 people rallied in the southern city of Basra and burned the Danish flag.

Muslims in Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia demonstrated against the European nations whose papers published the caricatures, including one depicting the Muslim prophet wearing a turban fashioned into a bomb.

The drawings first appeared in a Danish paper in September but were reprinted this week in papers in Norway, France, Germany and even Jordan after Muslims decried the images as insulting.

Dutch-language newspapers in Belgium and two Italian right-wing papers reprinted the drawings on Friday. The Italian papers also ran editorials criticizing European media for giving in to pressure over the drawings.

Islamic law forbids depictions of the Prophet Muhammad and other major religious figures -- even positive ones -- to prevent idolatry.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in a meeting with Egypt's ambassador, reiterated his stance that the government cannot interfere with issues concerning the press. On Monday, he said his government could not apologize on behalf of a newspaper, but that he personally "never would have depicted Muhammad, Jesus or any other religious character in a way that could offend other people."

While recognizing the importance of freedom of the press and expression, U.S. State Department press officer Janelle Hironimus said these rights must be coupled with press responsibility.

"Inciting religious or ethnic hatred in this manner is not acceptable," Hironimus said. "We call for tolerance and respect for all communities and for their religious beliefs and practices."

Early Friday, Palestinian militants threw a bomb at a French cultural center in Gaza City, and many Palestinians began boycotting European goods, especially those from Denmark.

"Whoever defames our prophet should be executed," said Ismail Hassan, 37, a tailor who marched through the pouring rain along with hundreds of others in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

"Bin Laden our beloved, Denmark must be blown up," protesters in Ramallah chanted.

An imam at the Omari Mosque in Gaza City told 9,000 worshippers that those behind them should have their heads cut off.

"If they want a war of religions, we are ready," Hassan Sharaf, an imam in Nablus, said in his sermon.

About 10,000 demonstrators, including gunmen from the Islamic militant group Hamas firing in the air, marched through Gaza City to the Palestinian legislature, where they climbed on the roof, waving green Hamas banners and chanting "Down, Down Denmark!"

Thousands protested in Nablus and Jenin, burning Danish flags and dairy products.

Fearing violence, Israel barred all Palestinians under age 45 from praying at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam's third holiest site.

Nevertheless, about 100 men chanting Islamic slogans and carrying a green Hamas flag demonstrated outside Jerusalem's Old City on Friday afternoon. The crowd scattered when police on horseback arrived, and some of the protesters threw rocks.

In Iraq, both Shiite and Sunni preachers spoke out against the drawings during Friday prayers, with many calling for a boycott of Danish goods. In Baghdad's Sunni Arab stronghold of Azamiyah, about 600 protesters outside a mosque burned a Danish flag and boxes of Danish cheese.

The country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, decried the drawings but did not call for protests.

"We strongly denounce and condemn this horrific action," he said in a statement posted on his Web site and dated Tuesday.

Al-Sistani, who wields enormous influence over Iraq's majority Shiites, suggested militant Muslims were partly to blame. He referred to "misguided and oppressive" segments of the Muslim community and said their actions "projected a distorted and dark image of the faith of justice, love and brotherhood."

The drawings were first published in September in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. The issue reignited last week after Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Denmark and many European newspapers reprinted them this week.

The Jyllands-Posten said it had asked cartoonists to draw images of the prophet "to examine whether people would succumb to self-censorship, as we have seen in other cases when it comes to Muslim issues."

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying the caricatures are an attack on "our spiritual values," adding they had damaged efforts to establish an alliance between the Muslim world and Europe. Hundreds of Turks emerging from mosques following Friday prayers staged demonstrations, including one in front of the Danish consulate in Istanbul.

In the Indonesian capital Jakarta, more than 150 hardline Muslims stormed a high-rise building housing the Danish Embassy and tore down and burned the country's white and red flag. The government ordered police to upgrade security at embassies across the capital.

Pakistan's parliament unanimously voted to condemn the drawings as a "vicious, outrageous and provocative campaign" that has "hurt the faith and feelings of Muslims all over the world." About 800 people protested in Islamabad, chanting "Death to Denmark" and "Death to France." Another rally in the southern city of Karachi drew 1,200.

Fundamentalist Muslims protested outside the Danish Embassy in Malaysia, chanting "Long live Islam, destroy our enemies."

In Europe, senior British, French and Italian officials criticized the drawings. Austria, which holds the European Union presidency, expressed concern over the escalating crisis.

"I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said.

In London, hundreds of demonstrators converged on Denmark's Embassy and burned the Danish flag. Women wearing headscarves chanted and held banners proclaiming: "Kill the one who insults the Prophet."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: