Muhammad cartoon row intensifies

Newspapers across Europe have reprinted caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to show support for a Danish paper whose cartoons have sparked Muslim outrage.

France Soir, Germany's Die Welt, La Stampa in Italy and El Periodico in Spain all carried some of the drawings.

Their publication in Denmark has led to protests in Arab nations, diplomatic sanctions and death threats.

Islamic tradition bans depictions of the Prophet, but media watchdogs defend press freedom to publish the images.

Reporters Without Borders said the reaction in the Arab world "betrays a lack of understanding" of press freedom as "an essential accomplishment of democracy."

'Sense of sacred'

In Berlin, the prominent daily Die Welt ran a front-page caricature of the prophet wearing a headdress shaped like a bomb.

The paper argued there was a right to blaspheme in the West, and asked whether Islam was capable of coping with satire.

"The protests from Muslims would be taken more seriously if they were less hypocritical," it wrote in an editorial.

France Soir said it had reprinted the full set to show that "religious dogma" had no place in a secular society.

Under the headline "Yes, we have the right to caricature God", the daily carried a front-page cartoon of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian gods floating on a cloud.

It shows the Christian deity saying: "Don't complain, Muhammad, we've all been caricatured here."

Responding to France Soir's move, the French government said it supported press freedom - but added that beliefs and religions must be respected.

French theologian Sohaib Bencheikh spoke out against the pictures.

"One must find the borders between freedom of expression and freedom to protect the sacred," he wrote in a column accompanying the cartoons in France Soir.

"Unfortunately, the West has lost its sense of the sacred."


The publication in Denmark of the images last September has provoked diplomatic sanctions and threats from Islamic militants across the Muslim world.

Dozens of protesters from a small Islamic party demonstrated in front of the Danish embassy in Ankara on Wednesday, the Associated Press reports.

Ministers from 17 Arab countries on Tuesday urged Denmark's government to punish Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that first published the caricatures, for what they described as an "offence to Islam".

Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated this week in the Gaza Strip.

Syria and Saudi Arabia have recalled their ambassadors to Denmark, while Libya said it was closing its embassy in Copenhagen and Iraq summoned the Danish envoy to condemn the cartoons.

The offices of Jyllands-Posten, had to be evacuated on Tuesday because of a bomb threat.

The paper had apologised a day earlier for causing offence to Muslims, although it maintained it was legal under Danish law to print them.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the paper's apology, but defended the freedom of the press.

Published February 01, 2006, BBC

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