U.S. blasts European newspapers for printing Prophet caricatures

Daily Star staff
Egypt criticizes denmark's response as inadequate

The United States on Friday blasted the publication by European newspapers of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad as unacceptable incitement to religious hatred and Egypt criticized Denmark's response to the controversy as inadequate. In the first reaction to the furor sparked by the cartoons, a State Department spokesman said: "These cartoons are indeed offensive to the beliefs of Muslims." He added: "We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility."

"Inciting religious or ethnic hatred in this manner is unacceptable," he added.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen met with more than 70 ambassadors to detail the government's position and actions in the matter. He reiterated his stance that the government cannot interfere with issues concerning the press.

Egypt's Ambassador to Denmark, Mona Omar Attiyya, said after the meeting that she will urge diplomatic protests against the Scandinavian country to continue.

Attiyya said Denmark's response had not been enough.

"We are at the same square one," Attiyya said, adding that Fogh Rasmussen should have demanded a more forceful apology from the newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, which published the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in September.

Jyllands-Posten did apologize, but said it stands by the decision to publish the drawings as a matter of freedom of speech.

"Any prime minister, any government anywhere in the world would interfere just to ask for a clear apology from the newspaper so we can go to our population and say this newspaper already apologized, there is no reason to continue this," Attiyya said. "I mean, the government of Denmark has to do something about what is happening to appease the whole Muslim world."

The cartoons, which have been reprinted in newspapers in other European countries, sparked Muslim anger across the Middle East and Asia after Friday prayers as crowds emerging from mosques torched European flags and vowed revenge.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Friday attacked European newspapers for reproducing the cartoons, while praising the British press for showing restraint.

"There is freedom of speech, we all respect that," Straw told a press conference in London with Sudan's visiting foreign minister Lam Akol.

"But there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory. I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary. It has been insensitive. It has been disrespectful and it has been wrong."

In Friday's meeting, Fogh Rasmussen urged diplomats to help calm the uproar and said the tense situation is threatening to "grow into a more global problem" as more countries reprint the cartoons.

Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, who also took part in Friday's meeting, said the government had reached out to political and religious leaders and trade associations in the Islamic world but also tried to speak to ordinary people via the news media "in order to explain the government's view." "We have tried to reach the 'Arab street' through interviews on satellite networks and the printed press in the Arab world," Moeller said.

In an interview with the Arab satellite network Al-Arabiyya that aired Thursday evening, Fogh Rasmussen said he was "deeply distressed that many Muslims have seen the drawings in a Danish newspaper as a defamation of the Prophet Mohammad."

Up to 300 hard-line Islamic activists in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, went on a rampage in the lobby of a building housing the Danish embassy in Jakarta.

Shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest), they smashed lamps with bamboo sticks, threw chairs, lobbed rotten eggs and tomatoes and tore up a Danish flag. No one was hurt.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, hundreds of Palestinians attended a Hamas-organized rally, tearing up a French flag and holding up banners reading: "The assault on the Prophet is an assault on Islam".

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy condemned the protests in a television interview.

"I am totally shocked and find it unacceptable that - because there have been caricatures in the West - extremists can burn flags or take fundamentalist or extremist positions which would prove the cartoonists right," he said.

In Bahrain, several thousand protesters marched with banners that read: "Down, down with Denmark", "Down, down with France."

More than 1,000 worshippers at Cairo's Al-Azhar mosque also burnt the Danish flag and carried banners that read "Down with the enemies of Islam."

A Jordanian editor was sacked for reprinting them, despite saying his purpose had been only to show the extent of the Danish insult to Islam. "Oh I ask God to forgive me," Jihad Momani wrote in a public letter of apology.

Jordan's King Abdullah II said that insulting the Prophet was "a crime that cannot be justified under the pretext of freedom of expression," the king said in a statement carried by the official Petra news agency.

A former Vatican foreign minister also criticized the publication of caricatures of religious figures.

Cardinal Achille Silvestrini said in an interview published Friday in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera that Europe should not accept the practice of mocking religious symbols.

"Freedom is a great value, but it must be shared, it can't be unilateral," said Silvestrini, who no longer speaks for the Holy See.

Silvestrini did not advocate censorship, saying instead there should be more "self-censorship." - Agencies

Published February 04, 2006, The Daily Star

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=2&article_id=21945

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