Cartoon uproar threatens to blow up in Europe's face

2nd February 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 2, 2006 (AFP) - Two armed Palestinian groups threatened Thursday to target European nationals in the Middle East in the escalating furor over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, as a French newspaper editor was sacked for printing them.

PARIS, Feb 2, 2006 (AFP) - Two armed Palestinian groups threatened Thursday to target European nationals in the Middle East in the escalating furor over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, as a French newspaper editor was sacked for printing them.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committee warned that "all nationals and those who work in the diplomatic corps" of Denmark Norway and France "can be considered targets."

The two groups threatened to destroy all local offices and consulates of the three states unless they closed, and called for a Muslim boycott of Danish merchandise to be extended to France and Norway.

Gunmen besieged the European Union's Gaza City headquarters early Thursday, scrawling the words "Closed Until Further Notice" on its door.

Norway announced that it had closed its West Bank mission in response the threats, and was taking them "very seriously".

Newspapers in several European countries — first Denmark in September, then Norway and this week France — have published, in the name of freedom of expression, a set of sketches of the prophet, deemed blasphemous by Muslims.

Outrage over the newspaper images — which notably depict Mohammed wearing a bomb-shaped turban and as a knife-wielding nomad flanked by two women shrouded in black — has boiled over into a crisis threatening European relations with the Muslim world.

A spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committee, suggested to AFP that the Palestinian threat could extend to nationals from all countries that had published the caricatures.

Single cartoons have also been printed in newspapers in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland — as the diplomatic dispute fuels an impassioned debate on freedom of expression.

The French-Egyptian owner of the Paris daily France Soir, which reprinted the images on Wednesday, sacked the paper's managing editor overnight out of "respect for the intimate beliefs and convictions of every individual."

In a written statement, owner Raymond Lakah offered an apology to "the Muslim community and all people who were shocked by the publication."

But an editorial in Thursday's edition of France Soir staunchly defended the decision to publish.

"Islam forbids any representation of the Prophet ... The question is, are all those who are not Muslims obliged to honour that prohibition?" the paper asked in an editorial.

"Can you imagine a society that added up all the prohibitions of the different religions? What would remain of the freedom to think, to speak, or even to come and go freely?" it asked.

France Soir also printed images that have shocked Christians in the past, including the poster of the 2002 film 'Amen', which depicts a hybrid of a Christian cross and a Swastika, and parodies of Christ on the cross.

France Soir, a once successful daily which is now fighting to survive, said it had intended to illustrate the controversy sparked by their initial publication in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten paper in September.

The French paper said it had acted "not from an appetite for gratuitous provocation, but because they constitute the subject of a controversy on a global scale which has done nothing to maintain balance and mutual limits in democracy, respect of religious beliefs and freedom of expression".

According to France Soir, "these 12 drawings could appear harmless (but their publication), which has tested the limits of the freedom of expression in Denmark, has engendered a wave of indignation and anger in the Muslim world."

The French government has kept its distance from the dispute, reaffirming its attachment to the freedom of the press while stressing that the decision to publish was the "sole responsibility" of France Soir.

However, the spokesman added, press freedom "should be exercised in a spirit of respect for beliefs and religions."

The head of the official French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM), Paris mosque rector Dalil Boubakeur — who criticised France Soir's decision — met on Thursday with Denmark's ambassador to Paris to discuss the crisis.

Meanwhile, anger showed no sign of abating in the Arab and Muslim world.

In Egypt, the state-owned Al-Gomhurriya newspaper decried the cartoon's publication as a "conspiracy" and warned that "any attack against our prophet will not go unpunished."

The head of Lebanon's fundamentalist Hezbollah movement, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, drew a link to the 1989 fatwa, or Islamic sentence, issued against British writer Salman Rushdie by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini.

"If there had been a Muslim to carry out the fatwa of Imam Khomeini against the renegade Salman Rushdie, the scum who are insulting our Prophet Mohammed in Denmark, Norway and France would not dare do so," he said.

The Danish authorities should be aware that "there are millions of Muslims who are ready to defend the honour of their religion and their prophet," he warned.

Tunisian authorities Thursday seized a French newspaper with cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed that have set off a firestorm of criticism in the Muslim world.

"The minister of interior and development has decided to seize the February 1 edition of France Soir, the contents of which are offensive to Muslims and insult the noble character of the prophet," the ministry announced, according to the local TAP news agency.

Pakistani Islamists, meanwhile, chanted "Death to Denmark", burned an effigy of the Danish prime minister and torched Danish and French flags to protest against cartoons portraying the Prophet Mohammed.

The fiery demonstrations in the eastern city of Lahore and the central city of Multan came amid a growing outcry in the Muslim world over the drawings published in a Danish newspaper and in other European dailies.

Hardline Islamic parties and Pakistan's controversial madrassas also demanded that Pakistan, the world's second biggest Muslim nation, withdraw its ambassadors from Denmark, France and Norway.

"The publication of derogatory caricatures of (the) Holy Prophet has hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims," Muhammad Bashir, who led the protesters in Multan, told AFP. "It is no justification that press is free."

Morocco meanwhile forbade all sales of France Soir on its territory, officials said in Rabat.

"Wednesday's edition of France Soir was banned from the Moroccan territory because of the publication by the French newspaper of cartoons of the Prophet Sidna Mohammed on the fallacious pretext of freedom of the press," said the Moroccan ministry of communications in a statement made available to AFP.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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