BERLIN — Flags burned and protesters chanted as outrage over satirical cartoons of the prophet Muhammad spread today from the Pakistani parliament to the streets of Gaza to a meeting between Danish leaders and Muslim diplomats.
The cartoons reprinted this week in European newspapers lampoon Muhammad, with one showing him as a jihad warrior wearing a turban shaped like a bomb. The caricatures have been condemned by imams as an attack on Islam and have underscored the widening suspicions between Europeans and millions of Muslim immigrants.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen met with ambassadors from Middle East countries in an effort to calm the furor that began in September when the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten first published the cartoons. The 12 drawings have since appeared in newspapers across the continent, becoming emblems in a battle between Western values of free speech and Islamic reverence for the prophet.
"Neither the Danish government nor the Danish nation as such can be held responsible for drawings published in a Danish newspaper," Rasmussen said following the meeting with envoys. "A Danish government can never apologize on behalf of a free and independent newspaper This is basically a dispute between some Muslims and a newspaper."
The prime minister added there could be "unpredictable repercussions" if the protests escalate.
The Egyptian ambassador to Denmark, Mona Omar Attiah, indicated that Rasmussen should do more to diffuse passions. "I want the prime minister to speak with Jyllands-Posten about getting them to give a real apology," she said after the meeting.
The Pakistani parliament today condemned the cartoons as "blasphemous and derogatory This vicious, outrageous and provocative campaign cannot be justified in the name of freedom of the press."
Danish flags have been burned and protests, some of them violent, have been staged at European institutions in Indonesia, Gaza, Afghanistan and other countries. Protesters marched today following prayers in Baghdad and Tehran. Boycotts of Danish products across the Middle East are costing Arla Foods, which has operated in the region for nearly 40 years, an estimated $1 million a day, according to the company.
Preaching at Iraqi mosques today, Muslim clerics called on their followers to condemn the cartoons and for the Danish government to issue an apology.
"We tell our Christian brothers: those who don't respect others, do not deserve respect. And yet we still respect the followers of Jesus," said Sheik Mahmoud Sumaidaie at Umm Qura Mosque in Baghdad. "We should boycott Denmark, France and Norway ideologically, commercially, politically and diplomatically. To do otherwise is a sin."
European officials are concerned that Muslim anger could lead to just such extremist attacks, strain nuclear talks with Iran and further trouble relations with the newly elected militant Hamas party in the Palestinian territories. Sermons and speeches by religious and radical leaders called for bloodshed against the West.
At a demonstration organized by Hamas, tens of thousands of protesters marched in the streets, some of them chanting: "Those responsible should have their hands cut off."
"It's certainly true, with the disturbances in the Palestinian areas, that this dispute over the cartoons has influence on the mood in Arab countries," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "We are making every effort to damp that down in coming days."
The drawings, including one that quotes Muhammad as running out of virgins for his suicide bombers, sparked brief protests in Denmark when they were published in September.
The controversy grew in recent months after Danish Muslim religious leaders traveled to the Middle East to call attention to what they claimed was an atmosphere of discrimination and insensitivity in Europe. The group delivered copies of the cartoons to clerics in Egypt and Lebanon.
The cartoons are the latest tension between Muslim immigrants and Europeans after decades of failed integration policies. Strains have intensified since the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and last year's attacks on the London transit system.
In Denmark and other countries, rightist anti-immigration political parties have gained in the polls as imams, Christian clerics and government leaders have sought to better bridge religious and cultural divides.
The integration debate has turned increasingly raw, however, as Europe finds itself navigating between its espousal of multiculturalism and its insecurities over a rapidly growing Muslim population.
Even left-leaning publications and politicians are exasperated. This was evident when Rasmussen and Jyllands-Posten attempted to give a Western civics lesson to Muslims, apologizing if the cartoons gave offense, but not for the newspaper's right to print them.
"Muslims between Copenhagen, Riyadh and Gaza have showed us again what we already knew: They take our Nikes and Cokes but they don't accept our culture of fun which ironically mocks," wrote the leftist German newspaper Die Tageszeitung. "And when an editor in chief and a prime minister apologize for the cartoons, it has become clear again that Westerns are all mollycoddled cowards kneeling down in front of the enemies of freedom."
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw told reporters that newspapers in Germany, Italy, Spain, France and other countries that published the cartoons in a show of freedom of press solidarity acted irresponsibly.
"I believe the republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong," he said.
Times staff writers Solomon Moore in Baghdad and Laura King in Gaza City and special correspondent Helen Hajjaj in Copenhagen contributed to this report.
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-020306muhammed_lat,0,1904376.story?coll=la-home-headlinesCategory: Race, class, ethnicity, and stereotyping