02/02/2006

The twelve Muhammad cartoons

A survey of the European press

Are cartoons of Muhammad permitted? One would think that the answer to this question would be yes. But the debate in Europe shows that this opinion is anything but universal.

Below you will find various positions in this debate. Many commentaries from non-German papers have been taken from the eurotopics-Newsletter, which Perlentaucher Medien GmbH produces together with Courrier International in three languages daily for the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. The website for this newsletter will go online soon, you can subscribe here for the German, English or French version. For those who would like to see the pictures being talked about, click here.


February 24, 2
006

France/Italy.
The limits of the freedom of opinion may not be defined by the religious feelings of any particular social group, writes Italian philosopher Paolo Flores d'Arcais in Le Monde. "If you establish the prinicple that it is illict to offend any given faith, you put the keys of liberty in the hands of the believer. With the added paradox that the more intense his susceptibilites, the more freedom of expression will have to curb itself to avoid becoming sacrilege! The even graver psychological consequence is that if religious sensibility became the criteria for defining the limits to the freedom of expression, everyone would be encouraged to give free reign to their desire for power and let the natural displeasure at being criticised become first resentment, then rage, then fanaticism."

Spain.
In La Vanguardia, Walter Laqueur, director of the Washington-based Institute for Strategic Studies, is surprised at some views on Denmark in the wake of the controversy over the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. "I have read articles in the world press that claim the far right has taken over the government without anyone realising and even that a semi-fascist regime is now in place. (...) Fascism does not rule in Denmark, and populism even less - at least not through any fault of the government. The current situation is a sorry one. An old friend, the former editor of one of Denmark's leading dailies, asserted that the government should appease Muslims by building a big mosque in downtown Copenhagen. If that could ease the situation, the ten mosques should be built. But would that work?"

Germany. In an interview with the Berliner Zeitung, Yoko Ono sends a message of freedom towards Denmark. "I don't want to criticise the caricaturists, because they were certainly not aware of the pain they would cause other people. But I think it was wrong to publish those drawings. An apology is necessary. The most important thing is to show understanding for other opinions and ways of life."


February 23, 2006


Germany.
In Der Tagesspiegel, author Peter Schneider writes on Islam, the West and the promise of freedom: "With over 20 million Muslim migrants, Europe has brought the conflict with Islam onto its home turf. And now it is challenged to defend its values and principles both at home and abroad. The inner lines of conflict which we are seeing in current discussions on integration, forced marriage, the 'Muslim Test' (more here) and the cartoon conflict display three broad themes: equality and sexual self-determination of women and homosexuals; freedom of opinion and the press; and the rights of the secular vis-à-vis the sacral world. In a nutshell, the conflict puts in question some of the major achievements of the Enlightenment, the foundation of secular Western societies. The West can only negotiate these questions at the risk of repudiating its soul." Schneider concludes: "Islam doesn't need a protective clause against caricatures and critique. What it really needs is an escape clause, a readiness to open itself up to the modern world in which Muslims have also been living for a long time – and a commemoration of the heroes of its own betrayed Renaissance."


February 21, 2006

France. Writing in Liberation, sociologist Rachid Amirou states that the worst thing about the conflict is that in forcing people to take sides it is effectively dumbing down the debate. "By focussing on oppositions and the 'ethno-religious' ruptures, the conflict is not helping Muslim intellectuals to debate how it is possible or desirable to reform Islam.... In this way the caricatures represent a vulgarisation of thought, an intellectual poverty which can in no way hide under the blanket of 'liberty of expression'. Oversimplification is an infantile disease of both neo-conservatism and Islamism, and it is the real scourge of this century."

USA. The Nation interviews cartoonists Art Spiegelman and Joe Sacco on the cartoon conflict. Sacco's first reaction was, "'What a bunch of idiots those Danes were for printing those things.'" Spiegelman exercises a little more restraint: "If there's a right to make cartoons, there has to be a right to insult, and if there's no right to make cartoons, well, I'm in big trouble. And I think America might be too."

USA. Like the Christian ban, the Islamic ban on images of the Prophet was always the subject of infringement down the ages, writes Jane Kramer in The New Yorker. Kramer believes the tumultuous protests in the Arab world have less to do with the caricatures than with the 25 million Muslims living in Western Europe. At the heart of the "power struggle in the Gulf Region" is not oil, but "control over the Islamic diaspora, or what you could call international Islam. It was clear to everyone involved that if the diaspora in Europe produced a modern, critical, democratic Islam, the Islamist regimes of the Middle East would begin to fall."

Germany. Kerstin Holm describes in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung what a cartoon conflict looks like in Russia. The newspaper Gorodskije westi recently published a drawing showing Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha and Yahweh in shock as they saw hordes attacking one another on television. The paper was then closed down. "The party 'United Russia', which backs President Putin, called on the Volgograd population to boycott the newspaper. In a time when Russia seeks a role as arbitrator in the conflicts with Iran and the Middle East, it keenly anticipates Muslim susceptibilities and tolerates nothing other than silent submissiveness. In such a milieu, an independent voice of secular reason quickly becomes a provocation. As a Christian country, Russia is part of Europe. But as an illiberal society based on subordination, it is closer to some Islamic countries."


February
20, 2006

Hungary. In Elet es Irodalom, essayist Peter Niedermüller asserts that the cartoon dispute is not a "battle between cultures", but rather a battle between a people taking refuge from poverty in religious fundamentalism on the one hand, and the considerably better-off Europeans on the other, who are concerned about losing their current prosperity. According to Niedermüller, both sides appear incapable of attaining a more in-depth understanding of the other's culture and religion. "For many, the concept of a 'battle between cultures' is an ideal explanation which, however, is an extreme over-simplification of the fundamental conflicts in this ever-changing world. The lesson to be learned from the cartoon row - if there is one at all - is that the time of simple truths is over. Thinking in terms of 'blocks' and clichés, cultural essentialism, the lack of differentiation and objectiveness - all this does not offer a solution, but rather leads to increasingly aggressive confrontation." Niedermüller points out that in our highly complex and - for an increasing number of people – ever more confusing world, the "ideology of anti-modernity" is becoming more and more attractive. "Its assertion of long-term, even eternal values and its perception of the different cultures and religions as homogeneous, timeless systems offer an escape from ontological insecurity."


February 17, 2006

Estonia. The question of cohabitation with Muslims in Europe seems to be gaining an existential angle, writes Mihkel Mutt in Eesti päevaleht. The cartoon controversy is leaving run-of-the-mill Europeans at a loss, because they have a hard time understanding the Muslims' anger. "What has this conflict taught us? Among other things that Muslims are very good at boycotting Danish dairy products, while we cannot answer with an oil boycott. Europe is a long way from any kind of united response."

Finland. The old distinction between "us in the West" and "them in the East" has disappeared, writes Dennis Rundt in Vasabladet. "There can be more common ground between a fundamentalist Christian and a fundamentalist Muslim than between liberal and conservative representatives of the same religion... Since the fall of communism, religion, or cultural behaviour which is determined by religion, has become an increasingly important factor in global politics. Conflicts and terrorist attacks are motivated by religious rather than ideological beliefs. And in the West, too, religion plays a fundamental role, even if its expression is more reserved... If, however, Muslim immigrants in Europe can develop a form of Islam that is compatible with multicultural society and can coexist with other religions and attract devotees in their countries of origin, this could contribute to greater democracy in the West, too."

France. The author Mohamed Kacimi writes in Liberation that after the taking of Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad left intact a fresco in the Kaaba showing the Virgin Mary and child: "If the sacred sanctuary had not burned in 693, a billion Muslims would be praying today with their faces turned toward a temple containing the icons of Mary and Jesus." In Kacimi's view, Islam has no shortage of humour: "What to do with the caricatures? The best thing is just to laugh, as it is written in the Koran VIII, 30: 'They (the infidels) mock, but when it comes to mocking, Allah is unsurpassable.'"

France. In the Nouvel Observateur Mahmoud Darwish, the best-known Palestinian poet, sees two equally fateful forces at work in the cartoon conflict: "I'm afraid that the famous 'war of cultures' has in fact really flared up. The opponents are the fundamentalists in each camp. American world dominance its fundamentalist form has forced the poor and oppressed into a violent and blind opposition, as if the search for a more just solution – absolute justice is impossible – no longer made sense. We are seeing the general defeat of intelligence, the triumph of unbridled stupidity, the farewell to reason."

Germany. The caricature controversy has nothing to do either with culture or religion, writes Ulrich Speck in a blog for the weekly paper Die Zeit. Spreck sees in the affair a conflict between totalitarian powers and Western liberalism: "Under the cloak of religious indignation, totalitarian movements and states are attempting to win Muslims to their cause. By painting the West as an Islamophobic enemy, they try to prevent Muslims from being tempted by Western freedoms, while at the same time making the totalitarian alternative look more attractive. The image of 'the West' as an enemy aims to immunise Muslims against liberalism. The cartoon controversy campaign is being used to further this goal."

Germany. It is not the caricatures that are making Europe the "hate object of the Islamic world", writes Mariam Lau in Die Welt. It is also Europe's growing self-confidence. "But for the despotic regimes, the biggest danger comes from all that increasingly permeates across their borders in the form of 'Euro-Islam': the insistence that Islam and democracy are not irreconcilable opposites, that the sharia and the Koran are separate realms, that women with drivers' licenses and ballots do not mean the decline of the Orient, and that the educational deficits and economic backwardness of many Muslim countries are just as much a blemish for the ummas as torture, corruption and superstition. Even if European friends of the Third World don't want to admit it: what is all too often labelled cultural imperialism by self-hating Westerners has in fact long been standard fare for an increasing number of Muslims: individual freedoms, personal integrity and political legitimation."


February 16, 2006

France. Le Monde publishes the speech held by Dutch politician and Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali in Berlin, in which she spoke in with her usual directness about the cartoon conflict. Berlin, she said, was a very appropriate place to make her speech:"This is the city where a wall kept people within the boundaries of the Communist state. It was the city which focalised the battle for the hearts and minds of citizens. Defenders of the open society educated people in the shortcomings of Communism. The work of Marx was discussed in universities, in op-ed pages and in schools. Dissidents who escaped from the East could write, make films, cartoons and use their creativity to persuade those in the West that Communism was far from paradise on earth." Ayaan Hirsi Ali refuses to endorse Western appeals for consideration of "religious sensitivities:"I do not seek to offend religious sentiment, but I will not submit to tyranny. Demanding that people who do not accept Muhammad’s teachings should refrain from drawing him is not a request for respect but a demand for submission." Her speech is available in English in the weblog of Die Welt newspaper.

Belgium. "It is in the name of free speech, and with an utter disregard for the sensitivities of the Muslim community, that blasphemy is becoming trivialised today," argues Yacob Mahi (more), a professor of Islamic religion in La Libre Belgique. "We need to thoroughly reflect on the absolute or relative nature of this liberty, as well as on its consequences, because to build a communal society based on derision and hatred is to destroy any possible hopes of forging a shared future. True freedom of expression implies the right to say something that might shock without being insulting, defamatory or inflammatory. Irony, caricature and derision are hallmarks of our democracies, but the cartoonist who ignores the sensitivities and rules of civility turns this freedom into abuse."

France. Antoine Casanova, a historian and editor of La Pensee magazine, tells L'Humanite that "nobody who has any regard for the truth has the right to say or suggest that every Muslim is a terrorist. ... But beware: if committing blasphemy is to become a crime, we are in danger of taking a giant step backwards. ... How many centuries did it take for the French to rise up against the Ancien Regime – a socially and politically hierarchical society in which there was a State religion? It took a long struggle, in France as well as Europe, to achieve the right to criticise religions within the framework of freedom of speech and expression – including religious expression – as stipulated in article 10 of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. It is therefore an inalienable and indefeasible right. It is this precious, yet ever fragile, victory that must be safeguarded."

Denmark. Only 22 of a total of 80 writers asked to sign a manifesto for freedom of speech have done so. Those who refused to sign explained either that they didn't want to add further fuel to the conflict, that they didn't want to be associated with the cartoons, or quite simply were afraid of the consequences. Jyllands-Posten expresses its shock: "Have the authors who refused to give their signatures still not understood that what we are witnessing is a global attempt to restrict freedom of speech? We are living in a situation in which 12 Danish cartoonists have received death threats. A medieval Taliban warlord is offering a reward for their heads. A sinister Ayatollah did the same thing when Salman Rushdie published 'The Satanic Verses'... Back then, writers were united in their condemnation and support for Rushdie. Today, they're making weak excuses. It's deplorable. It's disgraceful. It's despicable."

Hungary. The young political scientist Zoltan Miklosi writes in Heti Vilaggazdasag that the Western European media should not have reprinted the cartoons. "If an extreme right-wing newspaper were the subject of persecution, our solidarity would only extend to the right to freedom of speech, but not to the content. Printing anti-Semitic cartoons would not be the only means to express solidarity. By reprinting the cartoons, the Western European media has either intentionally or unintentionally given the impression that their solidarity extends to the cartoons' content. If they had made it clear they were expressing solidarity with the position of the newspaper's editors only, and had established clear limits, they could have prevented this misunderstanding. Now we are seeing the consequences: the media has every reason to have a guilty conscience."

Germany. Iraqi author Hussain al-Mozany, who lives in Germany, points out in the Berliner Zeitung that the Prophet Muhammad did not take action against blasphemy: "Of course, the Koran strictly forbids the insulting of God, the Book of Revelations or the Prophet. He who does so is guilty of blasphemy and punished according to Muslim law. However, Muhammad did not set fire to the house of Abu Lahab, but instead called on God to punish him. In this respect, the Prophet behaved very differently to the raging mob that has attacked and torched the buildings of European embassies."

Switzerland. According to an article by Geneva Islamic scholar Silvia Naef in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, there is no absolute law against portraying Muhammad in Islam. "If you can talk about an 'ban on depictions' in Islam, then it is only relevant in a religious context: houses of prayer, books of the Koran and other religious writings never feature any figurative images. In profane life however, figuration has developed since the earliest times and has kept itself alive over the centuries." More information in Naef's book "Y a-t-il une 'question de l'image' en Islam?".

Germany. In Die Welt, the moral theologian Friedrich Wilhelm Graf interprets the violent protests in the Arab world against the cartoons as a phenomenon of globalisation. "Everywhere in modern pluralistic societies the message is: you must sharpen your profile, make your identity visible, emphasise your USP (unique selling proposition). This has long been the case in the world of business and in the competition between religions this is exactly what is taking place right now. For most people – and there are plenty of proactive Christians among them - this means drawing a strict division line. This is the religious pressure of globalisation."

Germany. A cartoon conflict is raging in Turkey too, reports Kai Strittmatter in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has just lost a court case against the satirical magazine Penguen, which portrayed him "sometimes as a cat, sometimes as a horse, sometime as an entire zoo". "In Tayyip Erdogan's opinion, he should not be portrayed as an animal. And he said this as a human being and not as Tayyip Erdogan. After the court's decision against him this week, he sharpened his tone. 'Freedom of opinion and freedom of the press do not include the freedom to insult.' This is interesting because nothing is being more hotly discussed in Turkey this week than the TV clip which shows Erdogan insulting a Turkish farmer. ... The farmer had forced his way up to Erdogan and told him what he thought of his politics. The exchange of words before the running cameras climaxed in an outburst from the prime minister: 'Pack up your mother and piss off, fool'."


February 15, 2006

Czech Republic. Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy and security chief, is currently trying to appease the anger of the Arab states over the Muhammad cartoons: "You can be sure we will do our utmost to prevent such a thing from happening again", he says. Jiri Pehe, a political scientist and advisor to former president Vaclav Havel, wonders in Dnes who the politician is really speaking for. "How can Solana promise that the EU will not tolerate any further insults to Islam? How is he supposed to keep his promise? After all, the European media is a free media. ... If the EU had any real courage, Solana would have asked what the Muslim states are going to do to put an end to the Holocaust denials of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and what the said states think about the Hamas representatives who deny Israel's right to exist. Are representatives of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference touring Europe and apologising for these comments?"

Poland. Rzeczpospolita reprinted the Muhammad cartoons on February 4 and was promptly criticised by the Polish government for having done so. Foreign Minister Stefan Meller apologised to Muslims. In today's edition, the paper publishes a commentary by Zbigniew Nosowsk, editor-in-chief of the monthly review Wiez: "The publication of the cartoons was a provocation that was compounded by increasingly numbers of papers reprinting them. Journalistic provocation can be very useful when there is no other way to reveal unpleasant facts. But the only new information supplied by the cartoons was how ignorant people are regarding religion."

Spain. The Palestinian philosopher Said Zeedani argues in an interview with La Vanguardia that "neither Pakistan nor Syria, nor any other government or religious representative, have enough legitimacy to capitalise on this supposed indignation. ... What we are seeing here is nothing more than politics. The insult to the prophet is merely a catalyst for all the anger that's been building up in the Arab world year after year due to the way it is treated by the West. Yes, I find this treatment offensive, and it offends any Arab citizen more than any cartoon could. ... The truth is that, following colonisation, the Western powers started off by supporting dictatorships out of fear of pan-Arab nationalism, and subsequently because they were afraid of Soviet, and finally, Islamist influence. They preferred to lend their backing to anything other than to Arab democracy."

Estonia. According to Andres Arrak of Postimees, the Muhammad cartoon dispute touches on the fundamental question of which rules people in the West are willing to live by. "Nowadays immigration is forcing different peoples and cultures to mix, and information circulates very quickly. Just a hundred years ago, the Arabs would never have found out if somebody in northern Europe made a joke about them. But nowadays immigrants bring their own culture into an unfamiliar environment, and certain cultures and religions are more aggressive than others... It's not yet clear who will win this war. Communism collapsed because the Soviet Union was unable to offer resistance to the powerful President Reagan, but the war on terrorism can't be won with money and an efficient economy."

USA. In the Washington Post, the historian and columnist Anne Applebaum picks up on the cartoon conflict: "The controversy has exposed a few less attractive political undercurrents in America, too." These include "Schadenfreude - or, rather, Americans feeling just a teensy bit relieved that Europeans are the object of flag burnings and riots instead of themselves.... Hypocrisy of the cultural left. Dozens of American newspapers, including The Post, have stated that they won't reprint the cartoons because, in the words of one self-righteous editorial, they prefer to 'refrain from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols'. Hypocrisy of the right-wing blogosphere. Remember the controversy over Newsweek and the Koran? Last year Newsweek printed an allegation about mistreatment of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base that -- although strikingly similar to interrogation techniques actually used to intimidate Muslims at Guantanamo -- was not substantiated by an official government investigation. It hardly mattered."

Hungary. After Hafid Ouardiri, imam at the Geneva mosque, demanded a ban on Voltaire's 1740 play 1740 "Fanaticism, or the Prophet Muhammad", and after the French satirical magazine Charlie-Hebdo published a new series of cartoons, historian Janos Pelle wonders in the Hungarian HVG whether we are not seeing a clash of cultures after all: "Perhaps the Western European media are only getting involved in this completely meaningless and extraordinarily dangerous conflict just to up their profits. But the West must take a stand in this controversy, even if it would be more comfortable to remain neutral. Are human rights universal? Are the UN Agreements on Human Rights valid for Muslim countries? One thing is certain: The basic democratic principles of democracy can not be enforced in the Western world and recognised by all political parties if at the same time they do not hold for Allah's followers."

In Germany:

"So now it's here, too. A cartoon in Friday's edition of Berlin's Tagesspiegel races round the world and the result is Molotov cocktails being thrown at the German embassy in Tehran and death threats for the cartoonist, Klaus Stuttmann, who is now too afraid to return to his apartment," writes Mariam Lau in Die Welt, describing the violent reactions to the cartoons depicting the Iranian football team dressed up as suicide bombers. "And yet again, it's patently obvious that it's not blasphemy that has triggered the row, although Iranian footballers are worthy of adoration. The anger has been provoked by associating Islam with terrorism, something which, as everybody is aware, was not invented by Stuttmann. The freedom of self-irony also provokes anger, because the caricature was also aimed at state power in the form of the armed forces – you can't get away with that in most Islamic states."

Also in Die Welt, sociologist Wolfgang Sofsky comments on the cartoon conflict and the angry protests in the Islamic world: "The actions may come at the right time for unloved dictatorships, but the effect of a historical event must not to be confused with its cause. The crowds are by no means after democratic freedom. In all the excitement they've simply mistaken a Western embassy with their own interior ministry. The impulse they are acting on goes back much further than the current conflict. What the pious masses really want is to get hold of their unbelieving sworn enemies. They want to ritually butcher and burn them and they have the entire West in their sights. The sole freedom they are after is the freedom to kill." He adds: "The pious are generally less taken by holy anger than the half-believers. Theorems, maxims, ceremonies and taboos are but the mausoleum of a religion."

Der Tagesspiegel publishes a letter of solidarity signed by a long list of German cartoonists for their colleague Klaus Stuttmann, who has been receiving death threats since his drawing was printed in this paper on February 10. After the furore over the Muhammad cartoons, now it seems even the Iranian football team is too holy for mockery. "It shows what a dangerous path we're on, if we just sit back and watch while the taboo zone for satire and expression of opinion is steadily extended according to political calculation and interests. As cartoonists, it is our duty to comment on all problems and conflicts which affect the public of which we ourselves are a part, whether they be political, social or cultural. And in doing so, we use the tools which define the very nature of caricature: criticism, polemic, exaggeration and irony. Were the pressure from outside or precautionary self-censorship to result in our feeling compelled to make ever more concessions in our choice of topic or means of expression, we and the medium


February 14, 2006

France. Eleven authors demand the right to blasphemy in an open letter published in Le Monde: "What is at stake is not just being free to make mistakes. The truth is that we are free to commit blasphemy. There is something rather disconcerting about having to remind people in France in 2006 that we have the right to commit blasphemy, that picking on the parish priest has long been a national sport." (here the entire declaration in English).

Great Britain. "In a democracy no one, however powerful or impotent, can have a right not to be insulted or offended", writes jurist Ronald Dworkin in The Guardian, admitting the rights of readers are also limited: "The public does not have a right to read or see whatever it wants no matter what the cost, and the cartoons are in any case widely available on the Internet."

In Germany:

On February 10, Der Tagesspiegel published a cartoon by Klaus Stuttman which portrays the Iranian football team as suicide bombers. (What the cartoon is really about however, is the debate on whether the German army should be deployed as a security force during the World Cup - in breach of the constitution.) Stuttmann has since received several death threats and moved out of his home. Der Tagesspiegel interviews him today. Asked whether one should be allowed to caricature something which other people hold as holy, he replies: "You should. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to draw at all. Everybody has something they consider holy. And in the age of globalisation it's getting increasingly difficult. A few years ago I had a good sense for how far you could push things with people. Now a drawing is transported round the world in an instant and the different cultures all have a very different sense of humour. It's going to get really complicated."

The West finds the Islamic ban on images of the Prophet hopelessly backward, yet this ban is in fact an instrument of enlightenment, writes Christian Schneider in die tageszeitung. "It has to do with the basic difference between the secular and the divine, by insisting that the divine power cannot be represented without secularising it."


February 12/13, 2006

France. In Le Point, Elisabeth Levy puts in her word both on the reactions to the cartoon controversy and the hefty debate over French laws on how the colonial past is to be portrayed. These show above all one thing, she writes: "In France it is becoming increasingly difficult to escape the thought police". "Bans on talking, bans on laughter, bans on shocking people, bans on being critical: France was always proud of being a cradle of critical thought, a country where differing perspectives tussled it out with one another. Now the country seems to have a banning fit. Today the way to knowledge is paved by laws reflecting the official truth and publicly approved beliefs. Dissenters are threatened with an opinion tribunal – or they are dealt with summarily." Levy also criticises the way the French government has buckled in face of Islamic protest at the caricatures: "Can every minority now demand not only that it controls its own history, but also that it should be free from criticism?"

Egypt. The weekly Al-Ahram prints a thick dossier on the Muhammad cartoons. In an exclusive interview, Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen tries to play down the damage: "We very often consider cartoons - for instance cartoons of a politician - a big honour. Very often drawings and cartoons are used to convey a message in a more modified way; that's how we think. But politicians are very different from prophets, I would say, of course, and this is the other side of it."

Egypt. For Salama A Salama, "the tension is easy to explain. Europe has failed to integrate its ethnic minorities in a meaningful manner. In Denmark, there was no reason whatsoever for the offending drawings to be published. But the recent elections have seen the rise of the far-right People's Party, known for racism and xenophobia. The People's Party has managed to turn public opinion against Muslims and foreigners in Denmark - an easy task considering frequent hostage-taking incidents in Iraq."

India. The Muhammad cartoons – a matter of taste? In Outlook, India Sanjay Suri documents the legal implications: "From a debate within the media, the controversy is now moving to a debate over a conflict between laws that guarantee freedom of expression, and others against blasphemy. Many of the laws intended to restrain religious provocation were meant against fiery imams like Abu Hamza, who was sentenced in London this week. Courts in Denmark—and maybe elsewhere—could now face the piquancy of peaceful Muslims in legal pursuit of a provocative European media in the dock. Material for a future cartoon, possibly."

Italy. With recourse to the Byzantine Iconoclastic debate, Sandro Fusina emphasises in Foglio how happy Christianity should be that the iconoclasts, who in his opinion were influenced by Islam, lost. "Christianity can certainly not be credited with having created occidental figurative art out of nothing, but it did save the classical figurative tradition from the radical Islamist furore, from the disastrous Byzantine attempt to destroy all icons. But its main achievement is that it created a lively tradition that was able to appropriate other directions and opinions. It was from this point of departure that a figurative art developed, which is of of the most influential and characteristic features of the occidental identity." Part 1 and part 2 of this article can be downloaded as pdf.)

Great Britain. The Spectator takes on both sides of the cartoon debate. The leader defends its not having printed the drawings, preferring to criticise the foreign press. "It would be nice if the German and French newspapers which have reprinted the cartoons — in many cases several times over, supposedly in a high-minded mission to defend the right to free speech — would assert that right a little more strongly against their own governments and against the EU. Where were these great defenders of free speech in the French press when it came to revealing that Francois Mitterrand, far from having been the Resistance hero he claimed to have been, had in fact been an apologist for Vichy? Nowhere to be seen. The former president survived 14 years in office without a single French newspaper daring to reveal his true past."

Great Britain. Theodor Dalrymple is of a very different opinion: "The reaction of Britain and the United States will have taught Muslim extremists that if they are thuggish enough, they can intimidate powerful states, and that professions of belief in freedom of expression are hollow; in other words, that the terrorist tactics of the weak can impose censorship on the strong. Muslim extremists will have come to the not altogether mistaken conclusion that the men who control Western governments don’t believe in anything strongly enough to risk their own skins; in short, that they are decadent. "

Germany. "This country is no longer the sole domain of the religiously indifferent", comments playwright Botho Strauß in this week's edition of Der Spiegel. For this reason, he states, the violation of the sacred feelings of others now has a different significance than it did in the former West Germany. "It should be just as punishable as the violation of one's honour." Satire and poking fun will not be of any help to us in the conflict with Islam, Strauß writes, because we now live in a "preparatory society". Today we are more dependent on the state, society, and public life than we are on our own family. And this 'preparatory society' teaches us that it is possible to avoid social collapse, that it is possible to be non-blase and that not all values are always valid. It teaches us how to measure our words, it teaches us the gradations of social responsibility, and how to stay together in times of adversity and affliction." For Strauß, Islam has brought the "prevailing arbitrariness" of the West into a crisis. "Perhaps I could even say: We have put that time behind us. It was a time of weakness!"

France. The Nouvel Obs interviews French philosopher Regis Debray, who calls on the West to voluntarily limit freedom of opinion out of consideration for Islam: "We must be careful not to transfer our system of social perceptions and thought categories onto other cultures with a different history, where religious factors play the same structural role they did here 300 years ago."

Great Britain. The Muslims who protested peacefully against the cartoons in London on Saturday demanded respect for their religion and culture. But this involves a misunderstanding, writes Minette Marrin in the Sunday Times: "Of course in any civilised society, most people do generally avoid insulting other people's beliefs, but that is not necessarily out of respect for them, or for their beliefs. It is very often out of an overriding respect for something impersonal — for the benefits of civility in a civil society and above all for the ideal of tolerance ... Respect cannot be demanded, or imposed by a free state. It can only be freely given."

Great Britain. The Times also features opinions on the role of the press and the Internet. Andrew Sullivan complains bitterly that English and American press suffered a breakdown in the cartoon controversy: "Yes, in this new war of freedom versus fundamentalism I always anticipated appeasement. I just didn't expect the press to be among the first to wave the white flag." And today Clive Davis calls on Europeans to follow the example of American bloggers: "Pardon my franglais, but the time has come to say 'Aux keyboards, citoyens!'"

Great Britain. In the Sunday Telegraph, Nonie Darwish describes how her upbringing in Palestine was steeped in a climate of hate – against Jews, Christians and the West. This hatred is the problem, she writes, not the cartoons. "We must stop allowing our leaders to use the West and Israel as an excuse to distract from their own failed leadership and their citizens' lack of freedoms. It's time to stop allowing Arab leaders to complain about cartoons while turning a blind eye to people who defame Islam by holding Korans in one hand while murdering innocent people with the other. Muslims need jobs - not jihad."


February 11, 2006

Poland. In the Gazeta Wyborcza, the Polish-English author and activist Lisa Appignanesi argues against laws meant to protect religions, especially Islam, from attack. "You can't live in today's multicultural world without being insulted several times a day! If every single insult is met with censorship, soon we'll have no free art, free press, or free thought at all." Asked how far freedom of speech may go, Appignanesi answers: "Free societies should fight hurtful opinions by spreading good ones – not with the help of prosecutors and prisons."

In Germany:

Contrary to popular belief, there is no ban on humour in Islam. Katajun Amirpur sets the record straight in the Frankfurter Rundschau with a series of excellent links to a collection of Iranian cartoons, the work of the (exiled) Iranian satirist Ebrahim Nabavi, and a collection of Muhammad depictions. Allah and the Mullahs do not escape mockery, but Muhammad clearly does.

In Die Welt, the Turkish writer Elif Shafak gives her contribution to the cartoon conflict: "The two sides in the cartoon conflict might seem to be talking two different languages, but in fact they are speaking the same one: invective. A cartoon which shows the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb for a turban is invective. A Muslim demonstrator brandishing a sign which says 'behead those who insult Islam' is propagating invective." Shafak therefore demands: "We need a lot more Muslims prepared to express their belief in democracy and to criticise those Muslims whose reaction to people in the west is pure invective. We need a lot more people in the west who express their support for Muslim cultures and criticise the western powers that use invective to react to Muslims."

In die tageszeitung, Achim Frenz, director of the Caricature Museum in Frankfurt, affirms: "With caricatures it just happens to be the case that they insult people per se."

In the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Israeli historian Moshe Zimmermann is amazed that Europeans are so astonished about Muslim reactions to the Muhammad cartoons. "One would like to ask whether people on the island of Europe didn't hear the warning signals from the periphery. Didn't they notice the rekindling of old religious wars on their own territories in former Yugoslavia?"


February 10, 2006

France. Le Figaro's lead editorial defends the traditions of the French. "We are the children of Montesquieu, who poked fun at the state religion in his 'Persian Letters'. We are the children of Voltaire, who fought for the freedom of expression not only of his followers, but also of his enemies. We are unconditionally bound to the freedom of the press, which we defend against all its foes. Like all freedoms of course, freedom of the press is subject to conditions. We all know: the freedom of the individual stops short of the freedom of others. Attacks on private life are punishable by the judiciary. And judges have no shortage of opportunities as regards the freedom of the press. But this must be the task of the judiciary, and not of the government."

France. Le Figaro features a second call to "Resiste!", this time from Ivan Rioufol. "The 'moderates' are standing up in solidarity with their 'brothers' and 'sisters' to demand all-round respect for their religion. But this show of unity is the first victory for the Islamists, who have taken it upon themselves to test the determination of the West to defend its laicism and freedom of expression. Their second victory would be the repentance of the democracies. The challenge is clear: either old Europe resists or it apologises anew. But its inherent 'spirit of Munich' leads one to fear the worst."

France. Henri Tincq, religious commentator for Le Monde, describes a "clash of ignorances" in which both sides fail to see the other's qualities. He sums up: "Bin Laden is an old hand at the art of mobilising this suffering, humiliated Islam. And in the absence of intellectual contradiction, the extremists' game consists in keeping alive this clash of civilisations, cultures and religions with reference to the historicity of the actions of the Prophet, basing themselves on a brute reading of the most bellicose Koranic verses and a total absence of historical or critical interpretation. A race has started between them and the so-called moderate Islam, which seeks to re-appropriate the best of its classical humanist tradition. Today it no longer has the means to do so, but it would be perilous to confine it to the realm of tasteless cartoons."

France. Also in Le Monde, Gilles Kepel, professor at the Institut d'etudes politiques in Paris, describes how the cartoon controversy has been used by Middle Eastern countries to deflect criticism and pose as defenders of European Muslims: "These populations are portrayed as a community of believers threatened in their faith. This gets us to the centre of the battle for Europe: Will European Muslims help democratise their countries of origin by setting a shining example of integration and success in liberal, pluralist societies? Or will they be taken hostage by authoritarian Muslim states or Islamic movements seeking to use them as a Trojan horse to destabilise the old continent by radicalising confessional antagonisms? This is one of the major stakes in the current controversy."

Great Britain. Who needs absolute freedom of opinion? asks Anas Altikriti in the Guardian. "Religion no more restricts freedom of speech than secularism promotes it. Is it so difficult to digest that Islam considers insulting the prophets of God a profound violation of what is sacred, just as Europe rightly regards denial of the Nazi Holocaust? Indeed, if freedom of speech were really the non-negotiable absolute in the west it is now claimed, then we would expect there to be uproar at legal bans on Holocaust denial or laws against incitement to racial hatred."

Denmark. The Danish government under Anders Fogh Rasmussen has always stressed it will not apologise for anything published by a private newspaper. People who are offended can take them to court, the government had maintained. But why shouldn't it apologise? asks Politiken in its lead article. "It is not so unusual for political leaders to regret things they themselves are not personally responsible for. Thousands of Danes who have nothing to do with the caricatures are apologising over the Internet these days. No doubt that in the Middle East irrational and aggressive powers are using the events to make demands Danish diplomats neither can nor may accommodate. But why not give stronger arguments to those who want peace, and with whom we normally cooperate? Until now problems have never disappeared by themselves."

Sweden. The Swedish government is afraid of being drawn into the controversy over the Muhammad cartoons, writes the paper Dagens Nyheter. The right-wing party Sverigedemokraterna (SD) published the Muhammad cartoons from the Jyllands-Posten on their homepage, together with other offensive cartoons. The site has now been blocked by the authorities, but not before an Arab television station reported the publication.

Switzerland. In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Islam scholar Ralph Ghadban sees in the cartoon dispute primarily a demonstration of power on the part of Islamicists. "A marked retrogression is observable in the Islamic world. The result of progressive Islamisation has been that stricter blasphemy laws are being introduced in an increasing number of countries. The aim of these laws is less to protect Islam than to combat and displace other religions. Fanaticised Muslims are attempting to use terror and violence to export their norms for blasphemy beyond the borders of the Islamic countries, and to gag or even kill people. Salman Rushdie, Theo van Gogh and now the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten are the best-known examples. This throws a shadow over the Islamic world, and the blame for this is often laid on Islam as a religion. But those who think that way, especially the Muslims, forget that a flourishing, open civilisation prospered for centuries under the rule of Islam. And much that falls under today's blasphemy laws was discussed openly."

And from the German press:

Die Welt prints an interview with Günter Grass from yesterdays El Pais on the cartoon conflict. The writer, who at the time of the Rushdie affair was of a very different opinion, believes the West is entirely to blame and recommends that Islamic taboos be heeded. "We have lost the right to seek protection under the right to the freedom of expression. The days of lese-majeste are not so far behind us and we should not forget that there are places in the world where there is no of separation Church and State. Where does the West get this arrogance to want to decree what one can and can't do? I recommend that everybody take a closer look at the caricatures: they are reminiscent of the famous newspaper of the Nazi era, the Stürmer, which published anti-Semitic cartoons of a similar style."

Also in Die Welt, Zafer Senocak warns that the West's ignorance about Islam is playing right into the hands of Islamists. "The Islamophobia which is trying to make itself heard in the West is nothing more than the other side of Islamism. It's long been common practice to file away practices such as forced marriages and honour killings, practices which are not legitimised by the Islam religion, under the category of Islam. This plays right into the hands of those who claim to have the exclusive right to the sources of the religion of Islam – a premise which is untenable according to Islamic belief. Are they acting out of pure stupidity? Or is it because globalisation and the coming together of people of different cultural backgrounds and nationalities is more than even people in Europe can cope with?"

In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, theologian Klaus Berger favours the Pauline solution and suggests Muslims should technically be treated as members of the Christian faith, and that they should be shown inner-Christian respect and reserve. "In cases of doubt you must renounce the use of opinion, before your free acts of piety lead you into trouble. And you must do this to further peace."


February 9, 2006

France/Algeria/Denmark. The online service of the Nouvel Obs presents a new letter of apology by Carsten Juste, editor in chief of the Jyllands-Posten, originally printed in the Tribune d'Alger, in which he once more expresses his dismay at the controversy caused by the cartoons, and begs the Muslims of the world to accept his apologies, ending with the words: "May God be with you".

France. Rather than calling itself a "journal satirique", the French Canard enchaine comes out today as a "journal satanique": The first page with the paper's selection of caricatures on the controversy can be seen online here.

France. The other French satirical paper, Charlie Hebdo, also publishes its own cartoons, plus those originally published in the Jyllands-Posten. The paper has no Internet edition, but the online service of the Nouvel Obs reproduces the pages.

Hungary. In Nepszabadsag, European Member of Parliament Gyula Hegyi criticises European schools and media that have sparked off a global conflict by giving a discriminating image of Islam: "The Western world is making a very big mistake by straying into the dead end of fundamentalism and reverting to the logic of the crusades. When we portray Islam as inferior to our own religion and culture, when we prefer orders to dialogue, we play into the hands of the fanatics. Behind Islamic terrorism is above all the delusion that the West and Israel want to humiliate and destroy the Islamic world. We must forgo all gestures that might be taken as humiliating by a Muslim. To fully appreciate this, Europeans must get to know and understand Islam. Here the responsibility lies with the education and media in all of Europe.

Spain. The German writer Günther Grass, winner of the Nobel prize for literature, bemoans in an interview with El Pais the arrogance of the West. "The West is acting smugly in this debate, with its reassurances that we enjoy freedom of the press. But anyone who is disabused understands that newspapers live or die by advertising and getting them out requires taking into account the opinion of certain economic powers. The press is a part of those giant groups that hold a monopoly over public opinion. We have lost our right to hide behind the right of free speech: it has not been that long since the offence of high treason was abolished and we must not forget that the separation of Church and State still does not exist in some places. Where does the West come by all this arrogance in dictating what is right and wrong?"

France. "We now find ourselves facing the globalisation of hatred," observes the French philsopher Alain Finkielkraut in Liberation. "An uninvited guest has shown up at the banquet of Those Without Borders: after doctors, pharmacists, nurses, lawyers and reporters, it is now the turn of fanatics without borders. ... Only a tiny minority of those who, from Pakistan to Algeria, are demonstrating against the cartoons published in the Copenhagen daily Jyllands-Posten would be able to locate Denmark on a map! But why should geography matter! In the age of the Internet, everyone is everywhere, we are all angels. It's the pits". He also points out that "those who fight free speech in the name of respecting their beliefs scorn the beliefs of others and do not shy away from making it known".

Portugal. "Christians in the West are forced to put up with incredible insults every day: Christ depicted as a homosexual, Mary as a prostitute, etc. And if they show the slightest indignation, they are subjected to a hailstorm of criticism from those who invoke the sacrosanct principle of free speech," writes Luciano Amaral, a professor at the New University of Lisbon, in Diario de Noticias. "And all it takes is for a Danish newspaper to publish a few mediocre cartoons of Muhammad and you have half the intellectuals in the Western world discovering the religious sensitivity of Islam, doing penance, excusing the acts of violence by Muslims and reminding us how important it is to try to understand them, they who are taking a direct hit from the West's arrogance. ... The hatred that certain Western intellectuals harbour towards their own culture is one of the most fascinating phenomena of the contemporary world. If a civilisation is no longer even capable of arousing the instincts necessary for its own survival, perhaps it no longer deserves to live."

And from the German press:


In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Robert von Lucius talked with one of the Danish Muhammad caricaturists who has been living "under death threats and police protection". "No one has really understood them, say the cartoonists. Their major interest was not in Muslims or Islam. What they were really interested in was the self-censorship of Danish illustrators, authors and journalists. That was their principle target."

Die Welt prints excerpts of an essay by Canadian columnist Marc Steyn originally published in the Wall Street Journal and partially in the New Criterion. "The progressive agenda – lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism – is collectively the real suicide bomb," writes Steyn. "But unlike us, the Islamists think long-term, and, given their demographic advantage in Europe and the tone of the emerging Muslim lobby groups there, much of what they're flying planes into buildings for they're likely to wind up with just by waiting a few more years. The skyscrapers will be theirs; why knock 'em over?"

Daniel Cohn-Bendit says in an interview with die tageszeitung, that when the German newspaper Die Welt printed the cartoons, it had little to do with defending freedom of expression. "If the caricatures had been insulting to Christianity or Judaism, the paper would never have printed them. A paper like Charlie Hebdo, that showed Christ on the cross with an erection and a condom saying 'I only fuck with condoms' as part of its anti-Aids campaign, can print the cartoons. This whole chest thumping in the name of the freedom of opinion reeks of hypocrisy."

Die Zeit features a six-pages dossier on the cartoon controversy. Palestinian journalist Akram Musallam explains why he finds the caricatures insulting – and false. "Comparing terrorism with Islam and Islamic societies is superficial. Islam is a religion like any other."


February 8, 2006

Poland.
In the Polish Rzeczpospolita, which also printed the Muhammad cartoons, Janusz A. Majcherek sees the debate not as a conflict between cultures but between European societies. "At issue is the way that religion is treated in the publicity sphere. (...) Even if religion doesn't belong in the public eye, that doesn't make it immune to criticism. Religious convictions, like the results of free elections, must protect human characteristics that are not subject to personal choice or decisions: gender, skin colour, age. Racism and sexism are far worse offences than criticism of a religion. The majority of Muslims seem not to understand that, but even many Catholics have trouble with it."

Hungary. In the weekly magazine Elet es Irodalom, columnist Istvan Vancsa criticises the Council of Europe for criticising the Danish government for its handling of the cartoon dispute. "The Council of Europe is acting just like the Kremlin did in the 1970s, when the leadership of one or the other of its satellites was regularly stood in the corner on account of a certain literary reportage, essay or book review. The only difference is that the behaviour of the Kremlin in those days was more rational, because the press was in fact dependent on the country's leadership. But Jyllands-Posten is not dependent on anyone. So the Council of Europe is presumably mixed up. What is at stake in this controversy is not two pounds of potatoes, but a basic value of Western societies, the sine qua non of Western life, the freedom of the press."

Hungary. Writing on Thursday in Magyar Hirlap, columnist Julianna R. Szekely reminds readers how often caricatures and other ironic or grotesque depictions of Jesus have led to scandal in the West: "We reply to the protests in the Muslim world that we are neither real terrorists nor terrorists in the name of good taste, and that we condemn terrorism across the board. Why then is there still a storm of indignation whenever Jesus, Christianity or Judaism is portrayed in an unusual or sarcastic way? Martin Scorsese's film 'The Last Temptation of Christ' angered the entire Western world: it was banned in many countries and a broadcast on Hungarian television was cancelled because a bishop saw in it the humiliation of the world's Christians. An Austrian caricaturist was given a suspended sentence for his comic strip about Jesus."

Spain. Olivier Roy, a French specialist of the Middle East, proposes in the Spanish newspaper El Pais a geopolitical reading of the protests sparked by the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. "The map of protest movements shows that the countries where violence has occurred are those in which the regimes or certain political forces have bones of contention with Europeans. The violence has been abetted by states or political movements that reject the European presence in a certain number of crises in the Middle East. ... It would be laughable to see the Syrian regime presenting itself as a defender of Islam if the consequences were not so tragic! A regime that has exterminated tens of thousands of Muslim Brothers spearheading the defence of Muslims! What we are seeing is a strictly political manoeuvre aimed at allowing it to regain some influence in Lebanon by allying itself with those who feel ignored, or threatened, by Europe's policies."

Great Britain. Writing in the Times, Alen Coren, former editor in chief of the legendary satire magazine Punch, looks at the cartoon controversy from a professional point of view: "I never permitted issues of taste, propriety or sensitivity to interfere. If a cartoon about disability or Auschwitz, Calvary or impotence, cancer or Hiroshima, made me laugh, I bought it." Coren does not find the Mohammed caricatures at all funny. He goes on to ask: "Suppose they had been funny? Not to us infidels, we don’t matter, but to Muslims. I hardly dare ask — not because I fear the tap on the door and the scimitar to the throat, only because I recognise my own ignorance on the issue — whether, notwithstanding the sacrilege of any representation of Muhammad, there could conceivably be circumstances under which a gag about him was so terrific that even the devout couldn’t suppress a grin."

Great Britain. Local elections will be held in England in less than three months. For Matthew d'Ancona, that is the sole reason for the government's mild reaction to the massive protests against the cartoons. "Nothing must be done to alienate the Muslim vote," he describes the government's attitude in the Telegraph. But this has only bolstered the self-confidence of radical Muslims, d'Anconna writes, taking as an example the appearance by Anjem Choudary, member of the al-Ghuraba Group, on one TV show. "In response to Jeremy Paxman's point that he might be happier in a country where sharia law was in place, Mr Choudary raged: 'Who said to you that you own Britain, anyway? Britain belongs to Allah.' And just to make clear what he thinks of the British, he continued: 'If I go to the jungle, I am not going to live like the animals. I'm going to propagate what I believe to be a superior way of life.'"

And from the German press:

Late night talk show host Harald Schmidt tells in an interview with tageszeitung why he doesn't make jokes about Islam: "You have to be a little on your guard, and need the right amount of cowardice. Make jokes about President Bush. That's not dangerous. In that respect Western civilisation has made some first class achievements."

Die Welt interviews Wadah Khanfar, head of Aljazeera television station, on the Danish caricature controversy and why he thinks the cartoons cannot be put under the heading of freedom of opinion: "We have a profound respect for the freedom to express your opinion. It is extremely important, especially in the Arab world. But these drawings contain no information, they express no opinion."

In the Süddeutsche Zeitung Navid Kermani, an Iranian-born author based in Cologne, sees in the controversy over the Danish Mohammed caricatures a scandal in which both sides are at fault. "The Mohammed caricatures are not a second Salman Rushdie affair. It was Rushdie's inalienable right to defame his own religion… Rushdie stands in a long line of Islamic men of letters who have picked a quarrel with Islam. Many of them paid for it with bans, imprisonment or even their lives (even if the Middle East has seen far fewer heretics than Europe). The motives of the Danish paper were entirely different however. Here a minority was being provoked to react in such a way that they would justify their own further marginalisation." (See our feature "I can't live without Europe" by Navid Kermani.)

In an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Lebanese poet Abbas Beydoun says that the roots of the violence in Beirut lie primarily in Lebanon, but that they also reflect the difficult relationship of Muslims with the West: "For me the events are evidence that developments in Lebanon cannot be separated from those in the entire Middle East. The Sunni political elite around the family of the murdered ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri is considered nationalist, pro-Western, pro-democratic and well-connected internationally. Nevertheless there were many Sunnis among the demonstrators on the weekend, but hardly any Shiites. You could even see the protests as an expression of Lebanese resistance against the policies of Iran. The anti-Western, but also anti-Shiite views of a Sarqawi are evidently also to be found in Lebanon. And that means that the anger about the caricatures is a reaction to the relations between the West and the Islamic world."


February 7, 2006


France. Abdennour Bidar, a philosophy professor in Nice, shares in Le Monde his views on "the profound democratic changes to Islam" in Europe brought about "by the daily reality of Muslims" living there. "The shift is characterised by what I call a 'self-Islam', that is to say, a culture of autonomy and personal choice, thus a culture based on diversity and differentiated identity – an Islam of individuals, and not of the community! ... 'Self-Islam' is, in fact, the expression of a culture that has radically mutated beyond its original authoritarian form, and which has become democratised via a process through which each European Muslim, looking to his conscience, has appropriated the question of his own identity. Let's acknowledge this change and adjust our understanding of European Islam by working to deconstruct this 'community' fantasy."

Italy. The lead article of Foglio calls the destructive anger of the Islamicist demonstrators a sign of "paranoid and sinister barbarity". Europe must become more religious to face up to Islam, the magazine writes. "We need less careless secularism, we need to drop the nihilism of indifferent tolerance that blurs the boundaries between the holy and the profane, which is after all an ideological project doomed to failure. It cannot be that the fight for democracy and the rule of law against armed Islamicists lies entirely in the hands of Israel and the US, two lay countries with solid religious foundations, while Europe waffles between Hamas payments and the Mohammed caricatures."

Italy. For Pierluigi Battista writing in Italian Corriere della Sera, the Danish cartoons are an unpleasant reminder of the illustrations of the "Eternal Jew" under National Socialism. "Let's have a look at how 'the Arab' is portrayed in these caricatures: a silhouette producing disgust in all literate, attentive people, sinister features, a malicious look, a dirty appearance, an endless black beard. What does this iconography of enmity, this caricature of evil remind one of? This twisted nose, this stereotypical look, these bushy eyebrows, where have we seen them before, where do we still see them?"
(The reader can have a look at the cartoons and judge for himself.)

Austria. "The Arabs and Muslims themselves are mainly responsible for the defamation of this religion and of the Prophet Muhammad's image, because they convey a distorted picture of this divine and immortal message and its revered prophet. We should all ask Muhammad for forgiveness for defacing his image," writes Arab author Baha al-Musawi in Der Standard, and asks: "Why don't we portray Mohammed as a devout, honourable and tolerant human being, instead of letting him be reduced to an image of Osama bin Laden, of a sword, of killing, of the Taliban, of beheadings and suicide? How can we permit the murder of the unbelievers when Mohammad honoured them? How can we oppress women when Mohammed revered them? How can we spill blood when Mohammed has forbidden it?"

Austria. In the Austrian newspaper Die Presse, Michael Prüller does not exactly want to speak of a clash of cultures, but he does feel there is a powerplay going on: "The whole thing is a test of strength to see if Islamic law – the ban on images of God and the Prophet – can successfully be transplanted to Europe. Europe cannot accept this attempt just like that, and for that reason it is wonderfully suited to escalation. Yet the escalation is coming from just those people who are responsible for the economic backwardness, mass poverty, military weakness and cultural insignificance of a large part of the world: the ruling cliques of the state and clergy. For them the caricature farce is a means to suggest in people's minds that the evil West is trying to destroy Islamic values, and so is the real cause of their distress."

Denmark. It was bound to come to his clash between the civilisations, says Dutch writer and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali in an interview with Jyllands-Posten. She adds that, even though it may sound cynical after the attacks on Western diplomatic buildings, the conflict still offers a great opportunity. "Thanks to these cartoons, Islam could make the progress of centuries within just a few years. It's high time there was an uprising. Had the cartoons not been published, the discussion about the Prophet Muhammad would never have arisen. It's important to remember that Islam hasn't undergone all the reforms and adjustments which Christianity and Judaism have undergone over the past thousand years. On the contrary, Islam is stagnating. Its laws are geared towards tribal society. Now all Muslims in Denmark and Europe are being forced to reflect on what their attitude should be towards Muslim taboos that are incompatible with modern democratic society."

Sweden. The Danish writer Carsten Jensen is having a hard time with his country. The Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter prints a speech given by Jensen at a demonstration in Copenhagen aimed at settling the cartoon dispute: "They burn our embassy. But I don't want to live in a country where I should be afraid of my neighbour just because his skin is not the same colour as mine, or because he is of another faith or because his Danish isn't perfect. They reduce my flag to ashes. But I don't want to live in a country that believes it can get by without the rest of the world. They burn my country's very name. But I don't want to live in a country that can apologise to the strong, but is deaf to the voice of the weak. I don't want to live in a country that sees 1.3 billion people merely as the representatives of a lesser civilisation, and is at war with one fifth of mankind."

Czech Republic. In Lidove noviny Pavel Masa reports that sculptor David Cerny is experiencing the consequences of the Muhammad cartoon dispute first hand. "For fear of the potential reaction of the Islamic world, the mayor of the Belgian city of Middelkerk has banned the exhibition of Cerny's sculpture 'Der Hai' ('The Shark'). The sculpture portrays former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein as a shark swimming in an aquarium." Masa says he can't understand the Mayor's decision. "By doing this he is showing that part of the West is willing to make great sacrifices in the face of Muslim violence."

Slovakia. "There is no doubt that the freedom of opinion is a human value we must protect and respect", write the Islamic Foundation and the Association of Muslim Students in Slovakia in a joint statement printed by the paper Sme. "But this value loses its moral worth if it is not linked to a feeling of responsibility. It becomes dangerous when hatred is preached under the banner of free speech."

Slovakia. In the same paper, Israel correspondent Jana Mikusova reports on an "anti-campaign" to the Muhammad caricatures started up by "radical European Muslims". The Arab-European League publishes caricatures on its website that consciously break taboos. The drawings are primarily anti-Jewish. "They deny the Holocaust and for example show Anne Frank in bed with Adolf Hitler. … Anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli caricatures are part and parcel of the press in Arab states. Israel, the USA and many NGOs regularly protest against this, but in vain."

USA. In the American Slate Magazine, Christopher Hitchens criticises the attitude of the American government in the cartoon dispute. The Muslim bans – on portraying images of the Prophet, eating pork and drinking alcohol – certainly don't hold for him: "Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.
I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice, which as it happens I chance to find 'offensive'."

Great Britain. In The Guardian, Tabish Khair, English Professor at Aarhus University, complains in a 867-word essay that the cartoon dispute effectively silences moderate Muslims, because they must choose between two extremes: "Between the Danish government and Islamist politicians, between Jyllands-Posten and the mobs in Beirut." The moderate Muslim "has been forced to take this side or that; forced to stay home and let others crusade for a cause dear to her - freedom - and a cultural heritage essential to her: Islam."

Great Britain. In the Times, David Aaronovitch finds it right that Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" were published. But aren't things different with the Danish caricatures? "I don't know Danish politics very well, but I do know that an anti-immigrant strand has taken hold there in recent years, that Danish citizenship laws are some of the most discriminatory in Western Europe, and I would guess that this right-wing newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, has something invested in the idea that the cultures might be unassimilable. Certainly it was being mischievous. It was interesting to discover yesterday that in 2003 the same paper refused to print some cartoons featuring Jesus, on the basis that (according to the editor): 'I don’t think Jyllands-Posten's readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them.' So this present row was, fairly obviously, provoked in the expectation of a reaction, and that — this time — the outcry was tolerable to the newspaper."

And the German press:

Irshad Manji, a Canadian and Visiting Fellow at Yale University, asks in Die Welt why people shouldn't be allowed to make jokes about Muslims. "We Muslims can't pretend to have the integrity to demand respect for our religion if we don't respect the religions of others. When have we ever demanded that Christians and Jews be allowed to set foot in Mecca? Only when they come for business reasons are they allowed to enter. As long as Rome continues to welcome non-Christians and Jerusalem welcomes non-Jews, we Muslims should be protesting against more than these cartoons."

The Islamic studies scholar Gernot Rotter reminds readers of the taz, "Years ago, I warned that Samuel Huntington's thesis of a 'clash of civilisations' could develop into a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I also referred to the fact that Huntington, obviously without realising it, was only anticipating what Islamic apologists have been demanding for a long time: the fight of Muslims against the Godless, materialistic, sexist (less than Christian) West."

In a second commentary in the taz, Dirk Knipphals explains how freedom of opinion functions: "This basic right only makes sense when exaggerations, slip-ups and faux pas are defended as well."

In the Süddeutsche Zeitung Palestinian author Hassan Khader sees the purportedly spontaneous demonstrations as pure manipulation: "Essentially this is all about how the Arab leaders can reduce their subjects' lives to religion – in an attempt to save their own regimes. But this is to treat the people as if they had no identity beyond religion, as if the rich traditions of Arab culture counted for nothing. That is why despite all its religious zeal, the current campaign seems so banal and profane."


February 6, 2006

Egypt. In Al Ahram, Gihan Shahine reports on the reactions in the Arab world towards the caricatures of Mohammed and the apology published in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten. Some people are demanding tougher boycotting and others, such as the Islamic scholar Abdel-Sabour Shahine, are preaching tolerance in the name of the prophet. "The prophet himself, Shahine argued, was constantly subject to offence during the first years of his prophecy in Mecca, and his reactions were so tolerant that those who initially opposed him ended up becoming Muslim. 'After all,' said Shahine, 'we'd rather have the Danes apologising out of conviction, rather than because they feel threatened.'"

France. In the Figaro the philosopher Andre Grjebine is worried at how governments – especially the UK and the USA – and institutions like the UN kowtow in face of calls for religious censorship. He demands that the torch of the Enlightenment should be relit to prevent governments from taking "the first step towards recognising the Sharia as the common law of humanity": "As Umberto Eco shows in 'The Name of the Rose', religious institutions fear nothing more than laughter, that caustic questioning of the revelation. And nothing is as fearsome as people who are incapable of seeing their belief as one among many, who want to force others to share their belief, or at least forbid them from casting doubt on it. This is why it is fundamental to protect the right to laugh, and to lend our support to those who seek to defend freedom and tolerance within Islam itself, like Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali in the Netherlands and Shabana Rehman in Norway."

Denmark. The Copenhagen newspaper Politiken fears that the controversy could turn into a battle of cultures. "This weekend it became clear that the dispute is no longer about the cartoons in the Jyllands-Posten. The torching of diplomatic buildings has carried the conflict to another level. Now it's about an attack on free society as such. Although at first it was about the balance between the right to publish the cartoons and the need to respect those who have different beliefs, now the conflict is about the choice between civilised dialogue and armed confrontation."

Spain. The on-line weekly El semanal digital writes in an editorial that the violent reactions being seen in various Muslim countries have prompted Western countries to question their relationships with the Muslim world. "Spain, whose culture and traditions are inspired by the Christian religion, has shown a complete tolerance toward other religions. This tolerance, linked to freedom of expression, is a distinctive sign of the civilisation in which we have lived for many centuries. And this tolerance is freely exploited by religions such as Islam to gain ground, with the result that we find many European followers of the Muslim religion. But in those places where Islam is the majority religion, and where it defines the culture, we see no tolerance. Different civilisations exist, which is why it is appropriate to ask oneself whether the 'alliance of cultures' proposed by Prime Minister Zapatero takes into account all that differentiates them."

Latvia. In the newspaper Diena, Aivars Ozolins sees a connection between Iran's nuclear programme and the caricature conflict. "No sooner had the IAEA ruled that the Iranian nuclear programme was a matter for the UN Security Council, than in Central Europe the violent protests against the cartoons published in September in a Danish newspaper flared up again. Iran announced the withdrawal of its ambassadors from Denmark, banned Danish journalists from entering the country and promised to boycott any other state who published the cartoons. It could be that these are separate chains of events but the cartoon crisis illustrates with crystal clarity why Iran should never be allowed to have atomic weapons. And the decision of the IAEA shows that the line which divides the world today does not separate military and economic blocs, or ideologies and religions, but it runs between democratic states and authoritarian regimes."

Slovenia. This weekend's Munich Security Conference was also marked by the bursts of outrage in the Muslim world. In the newspaper Dnevnik, Dejan Kovac says he sees signs of new transatlantic unity and parallels to the Cold War. "Once again we are witnessing diplomatic blackmail tactics, economic pressure, selective aid, intimidation, political propaganda, liquidations, military intervention and contrived wars. The arms race and the fear that nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction could be used are making a comeback. And once again, the advocates of this new Cold War are resorting to their traditional explanation that it is being triggered by organised resistance to the free world."

Switzerland. "This conflict is not about cultural freedom in just one country, but about cultural power all over the world - about the power to uphold certain taboos or get rid of them," says historian Thomas Maissen in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. He calls for more tolerance in this issue: "What do we really have to lose, either in terms of quality of life or possibilities for self-realisation, by voluntarily, respectfully and tolerantly refraining from caricaturing the prophets of other religions or even depicting them in any way."

German press:

The taz brings two opposing voices in the caricature debate. The writer Dilek Zaptcioglu has this to say: "This war is being deliberately and impertinently stirred up in words and drawings. Because those who are really feeling hardest hit by the Danish offensive are the moderate Muslims, who have been living a 'westernized' life for generations and who stand by peace and the ideals of the French Revolution."

Also in the taz TV journalist Sonia Mikich digs in her heels: "I am insulted. Fanatics blow up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, those wonderful cultural monuments. But art for me is an expression of universal beauty and innocence, it is a thing of value which makes the world better and more peaceful. This is the tradition in which I have grown up. I therefore demand that Hamas, the spokesman of the French Muslims and the director of the Al-Azhar university apologise to me. Otherwise I will sadly never visit the Taj Mahal on holiday, I will call for a boycott of Palestinian fruit and I will set fire to the embassies of Tunisia, Qatar and Bangladesh." (Read full article in English here)

In Die Welt Islam expert Tariq Ramadan also calls on people to exercise restraint: "This is not the predicted clash of civilisations. This affair does not symbolise the confrontation between the principles of Enlightenment and those of religion. Absolutely not. What is at stake at the heart of this sad story is whether or not the duelling sides have the capacity to be free, rational (whether believers or atheists) and, at the same time, reasonable.The fracture is not between the west and Islam but between those who, in both worlds, are able to assert who they are and what they stand for with calm – in the name of faith or reason, or both – and those driven by exclusive certainties, blind passions, reductive perceptions of the other and a liking for hasty conclusions.


February 5, 2006

The tone of the British papers – which had not published the caricatures until this point – changed in the wake of violent Muslim protests in the Middle East. In London, demonstrators – for the most part peaceful – carried signs bearing slogans like "Behead those who insult Islam", and "Britain you will pay - 7/7 is on its way".

Great Britain. Such displays are entirely unacceptable, writes the Sunday Telegraph, accusing Muslim extremists of double standards: "There is no excuse for gratuitous offence, of course. But some Muslims might like to consider how insulting their own views on women's rights, theocracy and Western practices are to many non-Muslims. The offensiveness of these views is no reason to close British mosques or Islamic newspapers."

Great Britain. The Independent also accuses extremists of not being able to take what they themselves dish out. As evidence the paper prints an anti-Semitic caricature from the British paper The Muslim Weekly.

Great Britain. In The Observer, Henry Porter writes: "When push comes to shove, I have to say that I would take a lot more notice of the outrage in the Middle East if I had not come across dozens of anti-Semitic cartoons published in the Arab press."

Great Britain. With a view to the religious hatred bill which recently failed to make it through parliament, Simon Jenkins comments in the Sunday Times that rather than protect freedom of opinion, the caricatures are a threat to it. Because if the press does not practice self-discipline, he writes, there are politicians ready and waiting to limit freedom of expression with laws. "Recent British legislation shows that a censor is waiting round every corner."

Germany. Writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Nils Minkmar says violent demonstrators should not be seen as representing all Muslims. "You have to take into account the masses of Muslims who have refused to let themselves be intimidated by decades of Islamist propaganda. The Islamic terrorists are just as radical a minority as the RAF was in West Germany in the 70s. In those days no one doubted that children from Protestant pastors' families could be integrated into society. Ideologising the debate means bringing it to a standstill."


February 4, 2006

Great Britain. In The Telegraph, Charles Moore is amazed at the "extreme tenderness" the governments and newspapers are showing at the outbreaks of anger in the Middle East: "Of course it is right that people's deeply held beliefs should be treated courteously, but it is a great mistake - made out of ignorance - to assume that those who shout the loudest are the most representative." For Moore this is as if the Muslim were to decide Ian Paisley represented authentic Christianity. Moore, a Christian, additionally promises not to mount a terrorist attack on the fashionable White Cube Gallery, which is now showing a picture by Gilbert and George with the title "God loves fucking".

Great Britain. In the Times, the atheist Matthew Parris defends his right to poke fun at any God he wants to, adding: "Writing yesterday of the decision by this newspaper and others not to publish those now-infamous cartoons poking fun at Islam, my colleague Ben Macintyre suggested that 'this is not a matter of kowtowing to pressure'. With respect, I think it is (...) A little candour is called for here. Those protesting against publication are not really doing so because they themselves do not wish to see these pictures. They do not want you or me to see them either. They do not want anyone to see them. They do not want them to exist."

Great Britain. Gary Younge asks in the Guardian why anti-Semitic statements and caricatures are almost never published in the press, while anti-Muslim cartoons apparently can be: "The question has never been whether you draw a line under what is and what is not acceptable, but where you draw it. Rose (editor of Jyllands-Posten) and others clearly believe Muslims, by virtue of their religion, exist on the wrong side of the line. As a result they are vilified twice: once through the cartoon, and again for exercising their democratic right to protest. The inflammatory response to their protest reminds me of the quote from Steve Biko, the South African black nationalist: 'Not only are whites kicking us; they are telling us how to react to being kicked.'"

Switzerland. In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Angela Schader critics the Muhammad cartoons and the Jyllands-Posten, which has dished up "a hearty meal to radical Islamicist groups, as well as to certain Arab regimes who are ever thankful for political distractions and scapegoats."

In the German papers:

In an essay published on Spiegel online the author and Muslim dissident Ibn Warraq argues that freedom of expression is our western heritage and we must defend it against attacks from totalitarian societies: "A democracy cannot survive long without freedom of expression, the freedom to argue, to dissent, even to insult and offend. It is a freedom sorely lacking in the Islamic world, and without it Islam will remain unassailed in its dogmatic, fanatical, medieval fortress; ossified, totalitarian and intolerant. Without this fundamental freedom, Islam will continue to stifle thought, human rights, individuality; originality and truth. Unless, we show some solidarity, unashamed, noisy, public solidarity with the Danish cartoonists, then the forces that are trying to impose on the Free West a totalitarian ideology will have won; the Islamization of Europe will have begun in earnest. Do not apologize."

Author Richard Wagner writes in the Berliner Zeitung that the real issue is not the caricatures, but power who take advantage of the cartoons to further their politics of obfuscation: "While everyone is caught up with discussing the cartoons, the new Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made the denial of the Holocaust official doctrine. This is the real escalation facing the world, and a further violation of the UN Charter. When will he apologise?"

If the democratic states start chipping away at their basic freedoms, writes Andreas Platthaus in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung can , "at the same time they will endanger multiculturalism as we know it. Because in the absence of freedom, the stronger side always has the say. This should be foremost in the minds of people like Bernd Schmidbauer (CDU), former coordinator of the German secret services, who criticise people who 'bawl for freedom of the press' and who demand tolerance for all religious groups. Only those who themselves are tolerantexpect tolerance in return."

In the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Heribert Prantl calls for "the sections dealing with abuse of religious groups to be struck from the German Basic Law. What remained would be those on the incitement to violence, and that would be enough." Prantl looks back on the many court cases and violent demonstrations in Europe having to do with blasphemy against the Christian God, and concludes: "In democratic states, to say 'defining culture' is to say 'controversial culture'. Muslims have to learn. And Christians and agnostics still haven't learned enough."

Also writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, writer Georg Klein states that fundamentalism has its back to the wall: "The supporters of Islam are going to learn pretty quickly that no place and no time, neither the Prophet nor his faithful warriors nor any book of books can lay claim to the aura of unconditional holiness. At best, the sphere of the sacral can be screwed back to a rather decently furnished niche. Religion as a tolerated private affair, as a negotiable public matter. That is the extent of what the West can offer.


February 3, 2006


Denmark. Would we have published the Muhammad cartoons if we had known what the repercussions would be? asks Jyllands-Posten editor-in-chief Carsten Juste in the lead article. "Today, the answer would by 'no'. Had we known that it would result in death threats and put the lives of Danish citizens in danger, of course we wouldn't have published the cartoons. It's obvious that, in the light of what has happened, the price for this journalistic initiative is too high. But the point is that nobody could have foreseen the consequences, and that's why it's a moot question. We couldn't have known that a group of imams would travel to the Middle East to spread lies and disinformation about Jyllands-Posten and Danish society as a whole. We could handle a trade boycott and the Confederation of Danish Industries' selling out our principles, but genuine death threats mark the border between what can be accepted and what can't.

France. In an interview with Le Figaro, French philosopher Marcel Gauchet is critical of how quick the West has been to bow down to Islamic demands: "The Arab countries are upset, but do their bans really reflect the opinion of the populace? Who do the protesters active in Europe really represent? We have every right to cast doubt on this alleged insult. How good it would be to set a team onto this affair, to find out who is really behind this revolt in the name of faith. The press is naive to take the supposed unity behind Islamic indignation at face value. Is that not falling into the first trap?" Gauchet also questions the ban on images of the Prophet: "It does not extend to non-Muslims."

Czech Republic. "A battle between two civilisations is unfolding before our eyes," writes Milan Vodicka in Mlada fronta dnes "When Muslim governments start demanding apologies and for the editors to be punished, it's clear they have absolutely no idea how our part of the world functions... If the Jihad Today newspaper printed a caricature of my God, I would cancel my subscription, and perhaps write a letter to the editor in chief, but I wouldn't stop eating dried dates. The Muslim world, however, is a collective world, and therefore they see blame, too, as collective blame."

Switzerland. Dominique Von Burg, the editor-in-chief of La Tribune de Geneve, proclaims solidarity with Jyllands-Posten on behalf of his newspaper. He argues that "freedom of expression does not preclude responsibility. Not everything is necessarily fit to publish, and errors of judgement can be made. But that does not mean we should take the argument further and rule out publishing anything that may be provocative. Isn't provocation sometimes a blunt way of encouraging reflection, of triggering a debate? ... One can respect something and still disagree with it. If a caricature is offensive to someone's sensibilities, this needs to be said. Even loud and strong. But for states to intervene as they have been doing, for an entire country to be nailed to the stake for the actions of a single newspaper - this is inadmissible."

Estonia. Heiki Suurkask, writing in Eesti päevaleht, says offending minorities can't be excused by quoting the principle of freedom of expression. "Denmark regards itself as a stronghold of tolerance, in which immigrants can find a home and gays and lesbians are free to live their lives as they please. But now, a different picture has emerged, one of a country which doesn't respect people of another religion. Denmark's most important newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, has achieved global fame. By publishing these cartoons it has managed to offend a billion people, for the sake of testing the limits of tolerance. But Muslims do feel insulted when their prophet is portrayed as a terrorist. Would we Estonians really react any differently?"

Sweden. Although this affair is worrying and ominous, those who support the European project have good reason to be happy about the cartoon dispute, the newspaper Dagens Nyheter comments. For the first time we are seeing what pro-Europeans had so eagerly awaited, namely a pan-European public which acknowledges its commitment to common European values, it writes. "In Europe, God belongs in civil society. This isn't to say that people shouldn't be open about their religious affiliations. But they shouldn't try to force them on others or use them as a weapon against democratic society. Not all those who live in Europe share these values, but the vast majority do. This is why it's so crucial that the European public discuss and defend this system of values. The staggering thing about it all, however, is that it strengthens the opposition of 'us and them', of Christians against Muslims, of natives against immigrants, of West against East."

Great Britain. No British papers have printed the caricatures. Yesterday the BBC showed the first page of France-Soir where all of the cartoons had been printed. According to a report by the mediaguardian (accessible free of charge on registration), The Spectator also printed one of the cartoons on its website, but then took it down again on order of its publisher Andrew Neil.

Great Britain. In mediaguardian, Sarah Joseph, editor of the Muslim lifestyle magazine emel, reminds Spain, France, Italy and Germany of their nasty history of fascism. "The Holocaust did not occur overnight. It took time to establish a people as subhuman, and cartoons played their part. Does Europe not remember its past and the Nazi propaganda of Der Stürmer? Now the great shape-shifter of fascism seems to have taken on the clothes of 'freedom of speech'. If these cartoons were designed to provoke Muslim fundamentalists, maybe they have done more to reveal the prejudices of Europe. Europe has a history of turning on its minorities. Will that be its future too?"

Great Britain. mediaguardian further reports that the Jordanian paper al-Shihan published three of the 12 cartoons. Al-Shihans "points out that Jyllands-Posten has apologised for offending Muslims but for some reason, nobody in the Muslim world wants to hear the apology. 'Who offends Islam more? A foreigner who endeavours to draw the prophet as described by his followers in the world, or a Muslim armed with an explosive belt who commits suicide in a wedding party in Amman or anywhere else?'"

Great Britain. The Daily Telegraph reports that Jihad al-Momani, the editor of al-Shihan who published the caricatures, was sacked. "He said that he was aiming 'to show his readers the extent of the Danish offence'", the Telegraph quotes him.

Great Britain. A commentary in the Daily Telegraph explains why the newspaper didn't publish the cartoos: "Our restraint is in keeping with British values of tolerance and respect for the feelings of others. However, we are equally in no doubt that a small minority of Muslims would be offended by such a publication to an extent where they would threaten, and perhaps even use, violence. This is a problem that the whole of the Western world needs to confront frankly, and not sidestep... Those Muslims who cannot tolerate the openness and robustness of intellectual debate in the West have perhaps chosen to live in the wrong culture. We cannot put it better than the editorial in an Arab paper in which the cartoons briefly appeared yesterday (before all copies were suddenly withdrawn): "Muslims of the world, be reasonable."

Switzerland. In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, "ras" accuses the paper Jyllands-Posten of using the "mediocre" Mohammed caricatures to create a "provocation for provocation's sake." And worse, "for months, the newspaper refused to apologise for having insulted religious feelings, thus creating the basis for a full political exploitation of the affair."

Most German papers today were critical about publishing the cartoons.

Writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Rudolf Chimelli demands polite treatment of Muslim culture: "We've already seen in our papers various depictions of grim, bearded terrorists, lusty smiling oil sheiks, dumb mullahs. One hope that such pictures have meaning and comic, they are, in and of themselves, harmless. But by a sensitive minority, they will be used for purposes of cheap propaganda."

Stephan Speicher, writing in the Berliner Zeitung, finds that the caricatures in question are not worth all the hot air: "even unshakable rights can be used wrongly. And that is the case with these much-discussed cartoons. They are no clever objections to the irrational, no Voltairian critique, even though France Soir would like to portray them as such. They are – and this applies in particular to Mohammed with a bomb in his turban - evidence of a xenophobia which is now wondering why those offended are so offended."


February 2, 2006

France. The Nouvel Obs announces that the editor in chief of France Soir, Jacques Lefranc, has been fired. The French-Egyptian owner of the paper, Raymond Lakah, apologised last night "to the Muslim community and all those who were insulted by the publication."

USA. The New York Times reports on all the European papers that printed the caricatures. Whether the Times printed the caricature cannot be determined on the internet.

Czech Republic. Flemming Rose, cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten, claims in an interview with Lidove noviny that Danish Muslims travelled to the Middle East with the express purpose of stirring up the Mohammed cartoon dispute. "They deliberately spread lies about the way Muslims are treated in Denmark and about my paper there. Among other things, they used two Muhammad cartoons which have never appeared in a Danish paper. What we are witnessing here is a struggle between a modern secular democracy in which everyone has the right to say and write what they want and forces which are trying to push their religious taboos on people who adhere to beliefs other than their own."

Denmark. In an interview with Jörgen Steen Nielsen, Islam expert Tariq Ramadan describes in the Danish newspaper Dagbladet Information the recent escalation in the dispute surrounding the Muhammad cartoons as crazy. "On both sides there are people with a vested interest in an escalation of the dispute. They goad the other side with overreactions and provocations, and pull a lot of people in their wake. On the Muslim side the dictatorial regimes are using the conflict to demonstrate that they are the best defenders of Muslims and Islam. On the European side there's a right-wing bloc which has made it their business to spread an image of Muslims as undermining freedom of expression and wanting to change Western society. It will take clever and sensible people on both sides to put an end to the insults and overreactions."

Portugal. In the newspaper Jornal de Noticias editorial writer Rui Camacho is surprised that the editor of Jyllands-Posten should be amazed by the reaction the caricatures have provoked in the Muslim world. "Salman Rushdie could have explained to him what happens when one questions the Muslim prophet!" Camacho notes ironically. "But the most surprising thing is that there are still intellectuals out there ready with a justification when people react to any humourous treatment of the prophet by burning books, flags or newspapers. The editor of Jyllands-Posten was right not to apologise. This is not just about blasphemy toward a God that does not laugh and does not permit others to laugh at him, it is about higher values, those pertaining to freedom of expression and freedom to laugh. ... Fanatics may burn the Danish flag because they don't like a few drawings, but not here, not in Europe, not under the Western firmament."

Switzerland. The daily Le Temps runs a drawing by Chappatte on its front page in which the caricaturist depicts himself saying, 'I did not draw him' while holding up a sheet of paper with the words 'Muhammad with a giant schnoz'. The editorial writer Patricia Briel analyses the consequences of the dispute. "When all is said and done, the reaction of the Arab-Muslim countries reflects the urgency and necessity of launching another Ijtihad, the effort that consists of constantly revising the interpretation of Islam's precepts in order to adapt them to the contemporary world. Today, several Muslim intellectuals are urging people to maintain a healthy distance from sacred issues – the only approach that is liable to prevent Islam from being manipulated by religious extremists. Taking up Ijtihad again, interrupted in the eleventh century, would encourage a more fruitful dialogue between Western democracies and Islamic societies."

Switzerland. In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Aldo Keel reports both on the escalating controversy over the Danish cartoons, and on an initiative for reconciliation: "Herbert Pundik, former editor in chief of the Danish paper Politiken, suggests a highly visible sign of peace in the construction of a large mosque with a minaret and dome. To this day Copenhagen's Muslims must pray in back rooms and disused factories. The major papers should take it upon themsevles to collect the money for this 'popular donation'."

The German Feuilletons also took up the cartoons:

In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Christian Geyer calls for the Muhammad caricatures to be published in as many European media as possible: "Only Europe-wide solidarity can show: religious fundamentalists who do not respect the difference between satire and blasphemy have a problem not only with Denmark, but with the entire Western world."

In die Welt, Boris Kalnoky writes: "It is apparant that the demonstrations are the biggest, and the diplomatic reactions are the most vehement in countries where authoritarian regimes are under domestic pressure from Islamicist opposition forces." The boycott measures adopted also show originality. In Egypt, for example, a Danish credit is being blocked. Rainer Gatermann reports on the most recent reactions in Denmark: "Erik Svendsen, Bishop of Copenhagen, said: 'We distance ourselves both from the drawings, and from the burning of the Danish flag, which shows a white cross."

Frankfurter Rundschau correspondent Hannes Gamillscheg accuses the Danes of xenophobia: "It's no coincidence that this issue came to a head in Denmark: nowhere in Europe has the debate over immigrants been so nasty, or the immigration laws tightened so brutally. (...) In the most influential media, immigrants are consistently represented as a collective problem, never as an asset. Representatives of the Danish People's Party (DPP) have called Islam a 'cancerous abscess" and a 'terror movement'. 'War of civilisations?' asked the party head Pia Kjærsgaard, 'there is only one civilisation and it's ours.'"

Aktham Suliman, Germany's Al Jazeera correspondent, says in an interview with die tageszeitung, "I'm insulted by some things that get said and thought about Muslims here in Europe. The fact that Muhammad is being depicted is not such a problem, even if this is proscribed by the Koran. What bothers me is the lack of respect that this represents."

Also in the taz, Robert Misik regards the whole spat between the Muslims and "liberal militants" as a tempest in a teapot and suggests, "Kids, go and play outside."

Wikipedia. There is already an entry at Wikipedia on the topic. Arabic reactions on English are hard to find. Al Jazeera has had various reports but no commentaries. Die Zeit publishes a weblog of two German Journalists who report on the reactions in Yemen.

February 1, 2006

Die Welt publishes the twelf cartoons, one on its front page. Tagesspiegel and Berliner Zeitung print some of the cartoons as well.

Denmark. Even after the apology by Jyllands-Posten, the Muhammad cartoon dispute continues to rage. Yesterday a fatwa was pronounced against Danish soldiers stationed in Iraq and the Jyllands-Posten offices in Arhus and Copenhagen had to be evacuated after a bomb threat. In the commentary columns of today's edition, the paper goes on the offensive again. The newspaper points out that both it and the Danish government had extended a hand to the Muslim world, and that now it was up to the Islamic organisations and governments to calm people down. "You would have thought this crazy situation could hardly get worse, but the experiences of the past few days have taught us to be more cautious with such predictions... If the Danish imams and the diplomats responsible for setting the fire were willing to put it out, they could perhaps do so. It's up to them now to show whether they're willing to do so."

Sweden. The controversy can't simply be reduced to a discussion about freedom of expression, writes Cecilia Bornäs in Sydsvenskan. "The cartoons weren't published in a political vacuum. They were published as a token of friendship with the government. People who sought protection in Denmark are being treated in a manner reminiscent of Apartheid. The debate focuses on the cartoons, yet the reaction of the Arab world would hardly have been as strong if the Danish government didn't hold Muslims and Islam in such contempt. This is about concrete policies, not just some drawings in a newspaper. That's why this affair can't be compared with the controversy triggered by Salman Rushdie's 'The Satanic Verses'.

France. France Soir outdoes the other French newspapers by publishing the cartoons. The Online service of Nouvel Observateur interviews Serge Faubert, a senior editor at the paper: "Not everyone is obliged to share the strictures of a religion, whichever one it may be. ... I believe freedom of expression wears thin if one fails to use it. And caricature is an element of free expression. We are a republican newspaper and we fight for republican values. The moment that someone wants to forbid caricatures, that is the moment we publish them."


January 31, 2006

Denmark. Carsten Juste, editor in chief of Jyllands-Posten publishes an open letter addressed to Muslims all over the world in which he apologises for the cartoons' impact (in English and Arabic): "Serious misinterpretations of a series of drawings of the prophet Muhammad have recently led to a lot of anger and the boycotting of Danish products in the Muslim world. Perhaps owing to cultural differences, the act of publishing these 12 cartoons has been interpreted as a campaign against Muslims in Denmark and the rest of the world. I categorically deny these accusations. We have no intention of offending people because of their beliefs. If we have done so, it was unintentional. Jyllands-Posten disassociates itself from any kind of symbolic act aimed at demonising certain nationalities, religions or population groups."

France. Gilles Kepel, a professor at the Institute of Political Sciences in Paris and a specialist in the Muslim world, says in an interview in the French Liberation that "the notion of blasphemy remains an extremely sensitive one in a Muslim world that lives with the feeling of being under siege and that Islam is a religion under threat – even though many preachers and imams go around asserting that it is going to conquer the world. ... It is understandable that believers should consider themselves appalled by a drawing depicting the founder of their religion as a terrorist. While certain terrorists are islamists, that in no way means that all Muslims are."

Belgium. Jurek Kuczkiewicz observes in an editorial in the Belgian paper Le Soir, "It is at once revealing and distressing that this whole affair of the 'Muhammad drawings' has occurred in Europe. That is, in the part of the world where freedom of expression remains least burdened by the 'politically correct', but where cultural and racial diversity have raised tolerance to the status of religion. The demand for tolerance, however, cannot limit the ideal of freedom to the level of the least tolerant among us. Whatever their faith."

Germany. In the tageszeitung, Reinhard Wolff describes the publication of the cartoons as an act of "calculated provocation". "Over the past few years Denmark has gained a reputation as a country with policies overtly hostile to foreigners. This policy has left its mark not only in politics and law, but also in the public discourse. Leading Danish politicians can refer to entire groups of immigrants as second-class citizens and liken Islam to the plague without triggering major protests." Wolff nonetheless complains that the reactions of the Muslim world have been so predictable. "This reaction leaves the West no alternative but to defend the freedom of the press – even if it's a difficult task considering the unappetising nature of the cartoons."


January 27, 2006

Denmark. In response to the cartoons, the Danish paper Dagbladet Information reports that Egyptian companies have started to boycott Danish products. According to the paper's acting editor-in-chief Bent Winther, they're simply attempting to conceal the democratic shortcomings of their own country with their actions. But Winther also criticises Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "The prime minister should have agreed to attend the meeting proposed by Arab ambassadors. This would have given him the opportunity to explain the Danish government's position. As we all know, dialogue promotes mutual understanding and diplomacy is the final vent before the kettle boils over and war breaks out. Now Anders Fogh Rasmussen is stuck in a no win situation. His opportunities for dialogue have run out. If he takes action, everybody will know that Denmark's export trade takes precedence over its principles. If he doesn't react, the boycotting of Danish products will probably spread throughout the Muslim world."


January 19, 2006

Denmark. The Danish paper Kristeligt Dagblad responds to the criticism of Sweden discussion about integration policy and other awkward developments is taboo. "An open and, every now and then fierce debate can help to prevent hidden frustrations from building up. In Sweden, which is currently experiencing a new wave of Denmark's integration policies in Swedish and German newspapers. The criticism centres on the Danish government's introduction of new and tighter immigration policies and the dispute over cartoons portraying Mohammed. The author points out that in neo-Nazi violence, there are many more cases of racist violence than in Denmark. The same goes for Germany, where open discussion about the problems created by immigration was suppressed for many years."


January 17, 2006


Sweden. Writing in Sydsvenskan, Swedish commentator Tor Billgren does not understand why the Norwegian newspaper Magazinet has reprinted the controversial cartoons. Billgren sees this as a provocation as, according to him, the discussion of the past few months was not just about freedom of opinion, but also about respect for other religions and cultures. "This is the same strategy employed by the Red Army Faction in West Germany in the 1970s. The object of its terrorist attacks was to escalate the confrontation between the police and the authorities so that 'the true face of fascism' would be revealed and the nation's proletarians would rise up and revolt. In the same way, fundamental Christians are trying to provoke Islam into showing its 'true face' in order to strengthen people's opposition to Islam."


January 11, 2006


Sweden. The paper Dagens Nyheter felt the Danish government was right to side with Jyllands-Postens in the Muhammad cartoons debate and insist on freedom of the press and freedom of opinion. "The government left no room for doubt in this issue, and has therefore earned the respect and support of its EU counterparts. However, like its EU counterparts, it has also failed to accomplish the much more difficult task of establishing an open society for all its citizens. Part of the Muslim population in European countries is still having difficulties coping with an open society."


December 9, 2005


Denmark. In Scandinavia, the caricatures and the reaction were already being hotly debated in the winter. Jyllands-Posten was subject to some criticism. But the Danish paper Berlingske Tidense had had enough when the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which represents 56 Muslim states, lodged a formal complaint against Denmark with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. "The OIC has overstepped the limit of what is acceptable with this campaign," the newspaper comments. "To involve the UN in this matter is a clear abuse of the organisation. Of course, it's convenient for certain members of the OIC to make a fuss, and to get their citizens to make a fuss, about some cartoons printed in a faraway country. After all, that deflects attention from the problems these countries have in terms of respecting human rights, religious freedom and freedom of opinion."

How it all began:


On September 30, 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelve caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. These had been commissioned by the culture editor Flemming Rose, after he learned that the children's book author Kare Bluitgen had been unable to find an illustrator for his new book project: the life of the prophet Mohammed, as told for children. "He wanted to see how deep the self-censorship in Denmark lies," today's Zeit quotes Rose as saying in a detailed background article. Muslim organisations protested against the caricatures and organised a trip through Arab countries to show the pictures abroad and gain support for their cause. But in addition to the "twelve incriminating caricatures from Jyllands-Posten (...) additional blasphemous drawings, much more insulting and tasteless whose origins are unknown" were also being shown around, as Spiegel Online reported yesterday. Kaare Quist, journalist at Ekstra Bladet, explained to Spiegel Online, that "in the file, there are caricatures in which, for example, the prophet is depicted as a paedophile and a pig or a praying Muslim is being raped by a dog."

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