Outrage Grows Over Muhammad Cartoon

CBS/AP, Feb. 3, 2006

Hard-line Muslims in Indonesia stormed a building housing the Danish Embassy and burned the country’s flag Friday to protest caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, as outrage over the drawings rippled across Asia.

Pakistan’s parliament unanimously passed a resolution condemning the provocative cartoons, and Singapore’s top Islamic advisory body said their aim was to incite hatred.

Rowdy demonstrations were held in Bangladesh and Malaysia, where crowds chanted: “Destroy our Enemies!”

The 12 cartoons first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September and were reprinted in several European newspapers this week in a gesture of press freedom. When the cartoons were first published five months ago, though, the controversy was low-key, CBS News correspondent Richard Roth reports. Boycotts were called against Danish goods in the Middle East. But the anger spread fast.

One of the drawings shows Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb. Another portrays him holding a sword, his eyes covered by a black rectangle.

In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, 150 demonstrators pelted the high-rise building housing the Danish Embassy with rotten eggs, then pushed their way past security guards.

Shouting “God is Great,” they tried to enter elevators to reach the mission on the building’s 25th floor, but were told to stop by protest leaders.

Before leaving the building in the heart of the Indonesian capital’s business district, they tore down the Danish flag and set it on fire.

“We are not terrorists, we are not anarchists, but we are against those people who blaspheme Islam,” a protester wearing a white Arabic-style robes shouted outside the building.

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Indonesia has 220 million people, most of them moderate Muslims, but Friday’s protest was among the first held in the sprawling archipelago over the cartoons.

Fearing more in the days ahead, Foreign Minister Hasan Wirayuda urged restraint and said he had asked police to upgrade security at embassies in Jakarta, the capital.

Those who took part in Friday’s rally were members of the Islamic Defenders Front, which campaigns for Islamic law and often takes to the street against perceived violators of Islamic rules at home or abroad.

Three protesters said they were received by the Danish ambassador, and claimed he told them he planned to apologize to Indonesian Muslims for causing offense.

“If he doesn’t, then we will demand the government kick him out,” said protest organizer Ali Reza.

Meanwhile, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen called a meeting Friday to detail the government’s position and actions in the matter. He reiterated his stance that the government cannot interfere with issues concerning the press. More than 70 ambassadors attended, including those from predominantly Muslim Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Lebanon.

Egypt’s ambassador said that Rasmussen’s response to the Muhammad drawings controversy has been inadequate and that the country should do more to “appease the whole Muslim world.”

Mona Omar Attia said after meeting with Fogh Rasmussen that she will urge diplomatic protests against the Scandinavian country to continue.


TEL AVIV—Palestinian gunmen forced the closing of a European Union office in Gaza City and a German national was briefly abducted in the West Bank yesterday amid growing Muslim fury over caricatures in European newspapers poking fun at the prophet Muhammad.

A masked spokesman for the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades told reporters in Gaza that the armed band planned to kidnap more foreigners, prompting European diplomats and aid workers to begin leaving the Palestinian territories.

In Europe, at least two more newspapers published the cartoons yesterday, bringing the total to at least nine newspapers in two days as defiant editors turned the issue into a test of press freedom. An editor in France and one in Jordan lost their jobs for printing the drawings.

Across Europe and the Muslim world, political leaders felt compelled to take sides. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a close U.S. ally, condemned the publication of the drawings while U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan argued through a spokesman that press freedom “should always be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions.”

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In the West Bank yesterday, Palestinian gunmen searched apartments and other hotels in an effort to kidnap foreigners. English teacher Christoph Kasten, 21, was seized in the city of Nablus but released into the custody of Palestinian police after less than an hour.

About 20 gunmen surrounded the European Union office in Gaza and threatened to harm citizens of countries with newspapers that published the cartoons, which include France, Germany and Norway.

“Any citizens of these countries, who are present in Gaza, will put themselves in danger,” a Fatah-affiliated gunman told the Associated Press. “Any visitor of these countries will be targeted” if the countries don’t apologize.

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The editor of France Soir was also fired yesterday by the paper’s editor, an Egyptian, as a “sign of respect” for religious convictions.

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy questioned the firing, saying, “We must defend freedom of expression, and if I had to choose, I prefer the excess of caricature over the excess of censure.”

But European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson criticized the repeated publication of the pictures as “throwing [fuel] onto the flames of the original issue.”

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