By Scott Wilson and Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 4, 2006
JERUSALEM, Feb. 3 -- Muslims emerging from Friday prayer services staged a new round of flag-burning demonstrations in many countries to protest European cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. Western officials, increasingly worried over long-term damage to relations, sought to calm the tensions, sometimes by calling publication of the images irresponsible.
"What the Europeans have done in their newspapers is a deliberate provocation to 1 billion Muslims around the world," Mohammed Hussein told about 500 worshipers in his sermon at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the third-holiest site in Islam. "This cannot be tolerated."
He called on the crowd to "express your anger" in protests across the West Bank and Gaza. Worshipers chanted back: "With our soul, with our heart, we defend you, our prophet." Noisy demonstrations were later staged in Ramallah and other Palestinian towns. Muslims generally regard any depiction of the prophet as blasphemy.
In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw criticized European newspapers for republishing cartoons that originally appeared only in one newspaper in Denmark.
"There is freedom of speech, we all respect that," Straw told a news conference during a visit with Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol. "But there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory. I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary. It has been insensitive. It has been disrespectful, and it has been wrong."
The United States expressed a similar view. "We . . . respect freedom of the press and expression, but it must be coupled with press responsibility," said State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper. "Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable."
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and French President Jacques Chirac urged calm.
But pressure in the Muslim world continued. Pakistan's parliament voted to denounce the publication of the cartoons. Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for the firing of newspaper editors who approved publication of the cartoons.
In the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, as many as 100 members of the radical Islamic Defenders Front stormed into the office tower housing the Danish Embassy on Friday morning, demanding an apology. Protesters pelted the building with rotten eggs and tomatoes, damaged furniture in the lobby and pulled down a pair of Danish flags, burning one and shredding the other.
They withdrew when the Danish ambassador agreed to meet several representatives of the front, which is known in Indonesia for raiding establishments that serve alcohol. A spokesman for the front said the Danish Embassy had apologized for the cartoon's publication.
After Friday prayers, another Muslim coalition, the Islamic Community Forum, issued a statement at one of Jakarta's most prominent mosques demanding the death penalty for the cartoonists who drew the caricatures and others involved in their publication.
In Malaysia, about 60 members of the main opposition party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, rallied Friday outside the Danish Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, calling for the destruction of enemies and demanding an apology for the publication of the cartoons. The protest ended without violence.
In Baghdad, imams at the main Sunni and Shiite mosques used their Friday sermons to condemn the cartoons, with some calling for demonstrations of protest.
At Um al-Qura, the capital's largest Sunni mosque, Mahmoud Sumaidaie singled out Denmark, Norway and France and called for a boycott of their products. "Our ethics and respect of all religions do not allow us to return the insult, knowing that Christianity is a heavenly religion and the prophet Jesus Christ was a brother to our prophet," the cleric said.
In the southern city of Basra, the Shiite Fadhila Party drew a few thousand protesters to a rally downtown. Demonstrators were seen burning and stomping on a Danish flag.
In London, amid a heavy police presence, several hundred Muslims gathered after Friday prayers at the London Central Mosque in Regent's Park and marched to the Danish and French embassies, burning a Danish flag and chanting, "Denmark, you will pay." Some chanted, "Jihad! Jihad!" and held up placards that read, "Learn the lesson from 9/11."
Others offered more measured views. "I'm here because of the insult to the most important man in my life, Muhammad -- more important than our children, more important than our parents, more important than our wives," said Taoufik Ben, 43, an electrical engineer.
Ben said he understood that the cartoons were not originally intended as an insult to Muslims. But he said that Europeans did not fully appreciate the reverence members of the faith feel toward Muhammad and that any use of his image -- especially in a "disrespectful" cartoon -- would cause fury.
Ben rejected arguments that Muslims and Christians cannot live together, saying his wife was a Christian. "We are all against terrorists," he said. "We are peaceful. There is always room for us to live together. But do not touch our prophet."
British newspapers have not published the cartoons, but the BBC has aired glimpses of them in what it called an effort to explain the growing controversy to its viewers. A smaller protest was held Thursday night outside the BBC's headquarters.
The BBC reported that it had received 20,000 e-mails in the 24 hours since it broadcast the images in its news reports Thursday. It did not indicate the breakdown of support and opposition.
The Daily Telegraph, in an editorial Friday, said it had chosen not to publish the cartoons while defending the "right to offend within the law."
"We prefer not to cause gratuitous offence to some of our readers, a policy we also apply, for example, to pictures of graphic nudity or violence," the newspaper said.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen appeared on the pan-Arab satellite television network al-Arabiya late Thursday in his first direct address to the Muslim world since the controversy erupted. "The only group which can profit from problems like these is the extremist group," Rasmussen said. "Extremists, fanatics, they can profit from problems like this."
Rasmussen also met with 81 ambassadors in Denmark over the international response to the cartoons. He had refused to meet with ambassadors of Muslim countries requesting a meeting a few weeks after the Danish newspaper published the cartoons in September.
Correspondents Alan Sipress in Jakarta, Molly Moore in Paris and Jonathan Finer in Baghdad and special correspondent Alexandra Topping in London contributed to this report.