Four more people died in Afghanistan during the violent protests that broke out in reaction to the controversial cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
Heads of nations, human rights organizations and religious groups are calling for an end to the violence that has brought embassies and churches under attack, national flags to ashes and 11 people to their deaths.
"There is nothing in Islam that encourages killing or terrorizing innocent people,” said Basma Fakri, president and co-founder of the Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq. “And the reaction to the cartoons that started this recent string of protests is not helping matters."
Christian Solidarity International, a human rights organization based in the United States, released a statement Wednesday deploring the continuing use of violence and threats of violence in Islamic states.
“… especially last weekend's demonstrations for the restriction of freedom of opinion and expression regarding Islam as a religion and political ideology,” it added.
On Tuesday, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) joined the United Nations and the European Union in expressing "deep alarm" over the aggressive repercussions and appealing for "restraint and calm."
"These events make the need for renewed dialogue, among and between communities of different faiths and authorities of different countries, all the more urgent," they said the joint statement.
Deep concern, however, hovers over the OIC as the organization representing 57 Islamic countries had described the caricatures last week as acts of "blasphemy," which is punishable by death according to Shari’a law. The OIC asked the U.N. General Assembly to "pass a resolution banning attacks on religious beliefs."
"The role of the Jeddah-based OIC ... in creating a climate for violent confrontation and press censorship is a cause of deep concern," said the CSI.
Nina Shea, director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, expressed similar concerns over blasphemy laws that could cause further repression in the Middle East.
"Blasphemy laws are among the greatest impediments to democratic evolution in the greater Middle East," she said. "Carrying the death penalty or other harsh punishment and inviting vigilante retribution, the crime of blasphemy has become an indispensable tool of repression in that region."
While Muhammad cartoon opponents directed criticism at both the Western newspapers and their governments, the Danish and Norwegian prime ministers backed off from assuming responsibility for the cartoons that were published and reprinted. Such calls for the cartoonists to be punished by the state would assume that government should control the media, said Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, in The Weekly Standard.
The twelve caricatures that sparked the violence first appeared last September in the daily Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. Several Western publications followed beginning in January with reprints of the cartoons.
Amid the calls for "toleration" and "respect for belief," Marshall points out the need to distinguish between religious toleration and religious freedom.
"Religious toleration means not insulting somebody else's religion, and it is a good thing. But religious freedom means being free to reject somebody else's religion and even to insult it," he said. "Government should want and encourage its citizens to be tolerant of one another, but its primary responsibility is to protect its citizens' rights and freedoms. The fact that people are sometimes insulted is one cost of freedom.
"The Jyllands-Posten affair calls us to uphold that principle internationally as well as domestically."
While many show understanding for the indignation aroused across the Muslim countries, Islamic organizations and religious groups say the violence must stop.
"Islam says it's all right to demonstrate but not to resort to violence," said senior cleric Mohammed Usman, a member of the Ulama Council – Afghanistan's top Islamic organization, according to the Associated Press. "This must stop."
Published February 08, 2006, The Christian Post