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Cartoon row: Bradford calm

The city that led protests against Rushdie 17 years ago has shown restraint, writes Nabanita Sircar.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2006 20:43 IST

Bradford, the city that led protests against Salman Rushdie 17 years ago, burning copies of his The Satanic Verses, has shown restraint in their protests against the published Danish cartoons.

The public book burning by 1,500 British Muslims was the start of demonstrations across the Islamic world. A month later Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to murder Rushdie.

Bradford, seen as a volatile ground for religious riots has suffered in 1995 and 2001, during race riots that caused damage running to millions of pounds. Yet on Friday, while demonstrators gathered in London, there was concern that the Friday prayers at the city's 38 mosques could turn into an opportunity for its 80,000 Muslims to make a public display of their determination to defend the latest attack on their Prophet's honour.

While the city's Muslims spoke of feeling hurt, angry and insulted but also preached the need for caution and voiced fears that demonstrations and marches would merely provoke a backlash.

Liaqat Hussain, the secretary of the Bradford Central Mosque, initially seemed eager to fan the flames of a dispute that he cited as evidence of "the beginning of a Muslim holocaust in Europe".

Hussain, 54, a former president of the Bradford Council for Mosques and its general secretary during the Rushdie protests, said that the blame for the widespread publication of the cartoons did not rest solely with the editors of the newspapers involved.

"This is clearly a demonstration by the Christian world of hostility towards the Muslim community," he said. "This has come from all the nations of Europe and it reflects an ongoing campaign against Muslims by the Western powers. You can't differentiate between the Western world and Christianity; you can't separate what's happened from the people of those countries and their governments. I blame all of the Western population because these cartoons reflect the opinion of the people."

The publication of the cartoons across Europe was a deliberate act of provocation, according to him. "We have already seen the genocide of Muslims in Bosnia and we've witnessed the support by Christians and the West for Israel and its atrocities against the Palestinians," he said. "Now we're seeing the early stages of creating a suitable environment for a Muslim holocaust in Europe."

But Hussain praised British newspapers and broadcasters for their "responsible attitude" in reporting the story. "I would call on all Muslims who may want to express their anger to use peaceful means and not to be carried away by their emotions."

First Published: Feb 04, 2006 20:37 IST