The Danish flag was burnt in the West Bank yesterday as Muslims protested against cartoons satirizing the prophet Muhammad published by Denmark’s biggest newspaper, the Nordic nation’s Foreign Ministry said.
Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen are boycotting Danish goods, Danmarks Radio reported Jan. 29. Libya followed its Saudi counterpart and closed its embassy in Copenhagen, Danish newspaper Politiken said yesterday, citing Libyan state news agency Jana.
The protests follow Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s Oct. 21 refusal to meet ambassadors of 11 Muslim countries to discuss censuring the Jyllands-Posten paper after it printed 12 cartoons of the prophet on Sept. 30, including one showing Muhammad wearing a bomb instead of a turban. Muslim leaders want an official apology.
“The incidents are worrying, because we usually have a good dialogue with the Arab world,” Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said in a statement on the ministry Web site late yesterday. The ministry is working “to deal with the situation in all its aspects, diplomatic, security and economic.”
Moeller will discuss the Middle Eastern boycotts with his European counterparts at a meeting in Brussels today. The foreign ministry late yesterday sent warnings to Danes living in or traveling to Israel, the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Algeria and Saudi Arabia advising them to be “particularly vigilant” because of the “strong negative feelings” in the region after the Muhammad cartoons.
Danes and Norwegians were also the target of protests in Gaza today demanding they be sent home pending an official apology for the cartoons, Agence France-Presse reported today. Norwegians were targeted because Oslo-based Magazinet on Jan. 10 republished the Jyllands-Posten cartoons, the AFP said.
A Danish umbrella group of 21 Muslim organizations late last month sent a delegation to the Middle East to rally support against Denmark. The group met Muslim leaders including the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and the General Secretary of the Arab League, Amre Moussa, said Ahmed Akkari, a spokesman for the group.
“We asked them whether they could live with something like this in their own countries, and of course they said no,” he said on Jan. 18.
The ambassadors to Denmark of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Libya, Morocco, and the Palestinian Authority on Oct. 12 wrote to Rasmussen saying the cartoons were part of a “smearing campaign” against Muslims.
“We may underline that it can also cause reactions in Muslim countries and among Muslim communities in Europe,” the ambassadors wrote. They urged Rasmussen “to take all those responsible to task under the law of the land.”
Rasmussen on Oct. 21 said it wasn’t the role of government to circumscribe freedom of the press. Still, in his New Year’s address to the nation, Rasmussen said he “condemns any expression or act that attempts to demonize groups of people based on their religion or ethnic background.”
Flemming Rose, cultural editor at Jyllands-Posten’s Copenhagen office, said the paper won’t apologize.
“An apology would imply we regret what we’ve done, which we don’t,” Rose said in a telephone interview on Jan. 23. “We do satires of Jesus, the royal family and politicians; not to do satires of Muslims would show prejudice as we would be treating them differently from all other groups.”
The 21 Muslim organizations have had their case rejected by Denmark’s High Court and are currently waiting for a decision from the country’s Supreme Court, Akkari said. The group also plans to take its grievances to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, he said.
According to the paragraph covering racism in Denmark’s criminal code, deliberate dissemination of material that threatens, mocks or denigrates a group because of its race, color, nationality, religious belief or sexual orientation can be punished with up to two years in prison.
“A few of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons link the prophet to terrorism,” said Tyge Trier, a lawyer at Eversheds Copenhagen specializing in international human rights law, in a phone interview on Jan. 18. “I’d say even these cartoons don’t violate the criminal code’s paragraph on racism, though they come pretty close.”
Denmark, together with Italy, was singled out as a potential al-Qaeda target after the July 7 London bombings last year for its participation in the Iraq war. The country has 540 troops in Iraq and U.S. President George W. Bush has called Rasmussen a “steadfast” ally.
Danish exports to Northern Africa and the Middle East reached 7.7 billion kroner ($1.25 billion) after the first 11 months last year out of total exports worth 460 billion kroner, according to Danmarks Statistik’s data bank.
Saudi Arabian consumers threaten to protest drawings of the prophet Mohammed by boycotting Arla Foods
Arla Foods is concerned that a boycott of the company’s products in Saudi Arabia could cost billions if it takes widespread effect.
Saudi Arabian religious and political leaders encouraged consumers to boycott Danish-based Arla Foods’ products during last Friday’s weekly prayer service.
Since then, the call to has been repeated on national TV stations and newspapers accompanied by pictures of Arla products.
Arla, one of the world’s largest producers of dairy products, has earnings worth DKK 3b in the Middle East and expected to open a major dairy facility in two weeks in Saudi Arabia.
Religious leaders called for the boycott as a way to respond to drawings of the prophet Mohammed printed in daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten last September. The newspaper printed 12 drawings of the prophet Mohammed last year as a way to challenge what it considered the intimidating tactics of fundamental islamists.
One Saudi Arabian chain of supermarkets has already removed Arla products from its shelves and called for an official apology.
Arla company feared the boycott could spread.
‘The situation is escalating very quickly right now.’ said Finn Hansen, a department head for Arla. ‘The development in the last hours is quite worrisome.’
Hansen said that major partners in Saudi Arabia had summoned Arla employees to meetings in the next days.
‘They have attempted to make us denounce the drawings. The situation is critical because the Saudi consumers react collectively. We’re afraid of being hit by a wave of consumer anger,’ he said.
Denmark’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Hans Klingenberg, confirmed that the threat of a widespread boycott had increased in recent days and that Danish companies were concerned.
‘There’s a risk that in Denmark, we have underestimated the offence that the drawings have caused—not just among Muslims in Denmark but in the whole Muslim world. We should take the threat very seriously,’ said Klingenberg.