Canadian Muslims protest against caricatures

CTV.ca News

Muslims in two of Canada's biggest cities took to the streets Saturday to add their voices to worldwide protests against the caricatures of the prophet Muhammad.

The peaceful protests were a contrast to the riots that have broken out in some Middle Eastern in response to the cartoons of Muhammad that first appeared in a Danish newspaper last September.

At least 11 people have died. The Danish embassies in Beirut, Lebanon and Damascus, Syria, were torched in violence last weekend, as was the Norweigan embassy in Damascus.

In Montreal, about 250 Muslims gathered near McGill University chanting their love for Muhammad, while about 1,500 people gathered in Toronto.

"We're here firstly to denounce the insult against the Prophet and also any insults against any Prophet," declared Said Jazeri, the imam of Montreal's Al-Qods mosque.

A minor confrontation occurred when a small group of people advocating free speech tried to inflame the crowd by joining the protest.

"I'm just as free as everybody else," said one protester carrying a placard with one of the cartoons before police removed him. "It's insulting."

About 25 police officers kept a circle around the protest and arrested a man who was shouting profanities against Islam.

A group of seven Montreal mosques opened their doors to the public instead of participating in the protest, out of fear of a violent demonstration.

"We find it's the only constructive way to respond to this issue of the caricature, present the Muslim community and who is Muhammad," said Mohamed Kamel of the Al-Ommah Al-Islamiah Mosque.

Protest in Toronto

Muslims in Toronto clogged a busy downtown street outside the Danish Consulate, carrying signs and chanting praise of Allah and Muhammad.

Speakers said the cartoons were the worst possible insult to Muslims and Canadians should understand why they are so offended and hurt.

"We want to include all our members and friends in Canada to be part of what we are feeling today," one speaker told the crowd.

"To understand the hurt that we feel, to understand the injury that we feel."

Dozens of police in riot gear and others on horseback were ready to step in, but weren't needed at the end. The police presence was beefed up because similar demonstrations around the world have turned violent.

Reproducing the cartoons

In Canada, most major newspapers haven't reprinted the cartoons, and newscasts have only shown fleeting images of them or just described the cartoons.

Earlier this week, a student paper at the University of Prince Edward Island reproduced them, but the university's Students' Union decided against distributing the 2,000 issues containing them.

In Calgary, the Jewish Free Press, an independent newspaper, reprinted three of the 12 cartoons alongside paintings of Muhammad found in books and museums in its Thursday edition. The paper also printed some anti-Semitic cartoons supposedly produced by Muslims.

Richard Bronstein, the newspaper's publisher, said he was trying to let readers inform themselves and wasn't trying to insult the Islamic community.

Ezra Levant, publisher of the conservative Western Standard magazine, said he will print the cartoons on Monday. He described the cartoons as "innocuous."

International protests

Anger against the cartoons continued around the world with protesters in Indonesia burning the Danish flag.

Denmark warned Danes to leave Indonesia because they faced "significant and imminent danger" from an extremist group and announced it had withdrawn embassy staff from Jakarta, Iran and Syria.

Hundreds of people protested in Baghdad. They chanted anti-Danish slogans and called for a ban on all Danish goods.

The authorities arrested several Palestinian youths in Jerusalem when they tried to burn Danish flags.

Thousands of people took to the streets in London in the city's biggest protest on the issue.

"Muslims were incredibly offended by the cartoons and more offended by the republication of the cartoons despite the offence caused," said Anas Altikriti of the Muslim Association of Britain.

Noisy, but peaceful rallies also took place in countries including Turkey, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland.

The caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad caused further controversy when newspapers in France, Norway and Germany republished them as a free speech exercise.

One of the cartoons depicts the Prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban with a burning fuse. In another, an Islamic star and crescent moon are superimposed over his face.

Islam strictly forbids any depiction of the Prophet, and many Muslims have reacted with violent outrage at the irreverent cartoon.

However, Danish imams also showed Middle Eastern Islamic leaders cartoons that were much worse than any of the ones published, and those cartoons have often been cited in countries where some of the worst unrest has occurred.

In addition, some rumours -- like right-wing Danes planning to burn copies of the Koran, or the Danish government planning to censor the Koran -- that inflamed Middle Eastern Muslims were untrue.

With reports from CTV's Denelle Balfour, Stephane Giroux, Janice Golding and files from the Associated Press

Published February 11, 2006, CTV

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20060211/muslim_rallies_060211/20060211?hub=CTVNewsAt11

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