Denmark battles cartoon fallout

The Australian

From correspondents in Copenhagen

DENMARK'S government scrambled today to repair the damage to its relations with the Muslim world after a newspaper published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, while other European media also printed images citing freedom of speech.

The 12 cartoons, first published by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten last September, have sparked a debate on where to draw the line on freedom of expression, as Muslim anger over the drawings continues to swell.

Several newspapers in Europe entered the fray by publishing some or all of the caricatures, including the French France-Soir, Germany's Die Welt, Italy's Corriere della Serra and La Stampa, and Spain's Catalan newspaper El Periodico.

Some said they were printing the cartoons in support of Jyllands-Posten, while others said they were used to illustrate articles on the dispute.

Muslim outrage over the images depicting the Prophet Mohammed has boiled over into a diplomatic crisis threatening Danish relations with the Muslim world.

Islam considers any image of the prophet blasphemous.

Danish flags have been burnt, ambassadors have been recalled, products have been boycotted and threats of violence have been issued against Scandinavians in Muslim countries in recent days.

The sketches include a portrayal of Mohammed wearing a bomb-shaped turban and show him as a knife-wielding nomad flanked by two women shrouded in black.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has repeatedly refused to apologise for the paper's publication of the cartoons, saying that would constitute meddling in press freedoms.

He has however apologised if Muslims were offended.

After announcing a diplomatic offensive to resolve the row, Mr Rasmussen today said his government had also launched "a media offensive" in Muslim nations.

"We have to recognise that this is not only an issue between Denmark and a series of Arab governments. This is very much something that has spread to the streets in Arab countries," he told the Ritzau news agency.

"It is therefore important to come in direct contact with the Arab people," he said.

Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller postponed a trip to Africa next week in order to concentrate on resolving the dispute.

Yet despite Copenhagen's efforts, Syria announced that it had recalled its ambassador to Denmark, while Chechen guerrilla leader Shamil Basayev threatened a response to the cartoons.

And in Russia, the Orthodox Church and the Mufti Council, which represents 23 million Muslims, condemned European newspapers for reprinting the drawings.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) meanwhile voiced alarm over a call by Arab interior ministers for Denmark to punish the authors of the newspaper cartoons.

RSF Secretary General Robert Menard said he was "extremely worried by the reaction of Arab regimes, which betrays a lack of understanding of the nature of press freedom".

Arab regimes "do not understand that there can be a complete separation between what is written in a newspaper and what the Danish government says", Mr Menard said.

Press freedom extends "to include the publication of information that is shocking for the population. The European Court of Human Rights says so. It is an essential accomplishment of democracy", he said.

But in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, officials said a newspaper could not hide behind the excuse of freedom of expression.

"Freedom of expression cannot justify indignity towards a religion," foreign ministry spokesman Yuri Thamrin Thamrin said.

And Islam expert and author Malek Chebel said the cartoons reflected an "intention to offend" that was "more ideological than artistic or intellectual".

Some experts said the strong reactions by many Arab regimes may be part of a ploy to boost their Islamic credentials on the Muslim street.

The editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten, which published the cartoons after the Danish author of a book on Islam was unable to find a single cartoonist who dared to illustrate the prophet, said opponents of freedom of expression had scored a victory.

"They've won. That is what is so appalling. My guess is that no one in the next generation is going to want to draw the Prophet Mohammed in Denmark and therefore I must ashamedly admit it: they've won," Carsten Juste told the Berlingske Tidende newspaper.

Published February 02, 2006, The Australian,5744,18015014%255E7582,00.html

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