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Cartoon war gets murkier, spreads to UK

So far the British newspapers have not published the cartoons although all of them have described of them.

india Updated: Feb 03, 2006 20:43 IST
UK Bureau
UK Bureau

The cartoons war, triggered by the publication of 12 caricatures of the Prophet originally by Jyllands-Posten in Copenhagen in September and their reproduction as an assertion of the freedom of expression by dailies in France, Germany, Italy and Sweden now, has escalated into a virtual clash of civilizations.

"The cultural chasm has grown in the past 20 years (since the first clash over the Satanic Verses)," said the Times.

Many fear a resurgence of terrorist attacks. Militants have already threatened to kidnap westerners in retaliation. So far the British newspapers have not published the cartoons although all of them have described of them.

The Times said it had chosen not to publish them but provided web links for those who wished to see them.

It has, like others, however pointed out that consistency was a virtue. The anger of certain Muslims would find more weight it said if pictures that crudely insult Jews and Christians were not found regularly in the Middle East.

This is the argument which the editor of Die Welt gave. Borsi Johnson said it too, only with more bluntness.

But, despite the restraint by the print media, the row has spread to Britain, with television networks Channel 4, ITV and BBC, telecasting the images in the Thursday evening news. The BBC showed them only fleetingly but it was also accused of inciting racial hatred.

The Spectator web site too showed the caricatures briefly. These have dragged Britain into an increasingly ugly confrontation between Islam and the west.

It was coincidental but highly alarming that the British television channels showed them on Thursday night, triggering outrage in the British Muslims, large number of whom gathered in mosques on Fridays for prayer.

Mufti Barkatullah, imam of the North Finchley Park mosque warned that editors who published the cartoons were providing fuel to Al-Qaeda.

They were already seething with anger as many more European newspapers reprinted the offending cartoons in reprisal to attacks on the Danish paper's offices.

A leading Islamic cleric, not surprisingly called for an "international day of anger" which authorities feared could boil over during congregations on Friday.

British Muslims under the Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir have decided to stage a protest outside the Danish Embassy in London this weekend. Its spokesman Dr Imran Waheed said, "Muslims do not fear debate. Although we are ready to hear and respond to criticism, we will not remain silent over cheap insults in the name of 'freedom of speech'.

"While some Western governments seek to silence opposition to their brutal occupation of Iraq through medieval laws and others prevent Muslim women from wearing the Islamic dress, they expect Muslims to accept their 'freedom' to insult and disparage Muslims and Islam."

The Muslim Association of Britain urged the British media not to follow the other European dailies that reproduced the caricatures and said BBC was inciting racial hatred. It added that any reproduction of the images by the British media would "only infuriate the British members of the Muslim community and Muslims around the world".

The Hizb-ut-Tahrir also condemned BBC, and asked it drop the broadcasts. It has become open season to insult Islam, it said.

A spokesman for the BBC defended the telecast. It said it had decided to show the images in full context to "give audiences an understanding of the strong feelings evoked by the story. We are only showing these within the context of full reports of the debate."

Liberal Democrat MEP Sajjad Karim, who represents north-west England in the European Parliament, said it was irresponsible for papers to publish the cartoons. But it was also irresponsible for Muslims to threaten to retaliate against citizens of the countries where the newspapers were published and it was now time to "put the issue to bed".

He said, "I would urge all sides now to climb down and treat this as a hard lesson in building inter-cultural ties."

European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson earlier condemned those newspapers which re-printed the cartoons, accusing them of throwing "petrol on to the flames". He told the BBC, "I can understand the motivation at one level of these newspapers. They are, as they would see it, standing up for freedom of speech.

"What they also have to understand though is the offence that is caused by publishing cartoons of this nature."

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said whether British media organisations decided to carry the images was a matter for them to decide. He said, "In this country there are ways in which the media reach their judgments and they know they have to do so within the law. "It would be entirely wrong for the government to... dictate in advance what media organisations can or cannot do."

Former Spectator editor and Conservative MP Boris Johnson was somewhat defiant. He told the BBC the Muslim religion should not be treated with kid gloves. He said, "If you are a Muslim and your faith is strong and you believe in God and in your Prophet then I don't think you should be remotely frightened of what some ludicrous infidel says or does about your religion or any depiction he produces.

"I think we've got to move away from this hysterical and rather patronising idea that we have got to treat the Muslim religion with kid gloves and not subject it to all the same rough and tumble that we subject other faiths to."

First Published: Feb 03, 2006 20:43 IST