Muslim Protesters Walk in Silent Procession
Indian Muslim protesters walk during a silent procession in Bhopal, India, Friday, Feb. 10, 2006. Thousands of Indian Muslims participated in the march to protest the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in Danish newspapers.
Prakash Hatvalne -- AP
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Anatomy of the Cartoon Protest Movement

He had read that museums in Sweden and London had removed artwork that their staff members deemed offensive to Muslims. A comedian told him he would be afraid to desecrate the Koran, a reluctance he did not have about the Bible. Then he read that a Danish children's book author couldn't find illustrators willing to work under their own names to draw illustrations of Muhammad, the 7th-century prophet of Islam, for a new book on the religion.

Frustrated, Rose decided to contact 25 Danish newspaper cartoonists with a request to draw Muhammad as they saw him. A dozen responded, and his newspaper published each illustration on Sept. 30.

"We have a tradition of satire in Denmark," said Rose, 47, the paper's cultural editor, who saw it as a matter of principle. "We do the same with the royal family, politicians, anyone. In a modern secular society, nobody can impose their religious taboos in the public domain."

"We were astonished and extremely shocked," responded Ahmed Abu Laban, a prominent cleric in Denmark. Representations of the prophet are banned by most schools of Islamic thought. For the devout, even his name is rarely uttered without the phrase "Peace and God's blessings upon him." To Abu Laban, it was not just a portrayal: One cartoon pictured Muhammad with the explosive turban. Another depicted him in heaven greeting suicide bombers; in Islamic tradition, martyrs are promised sensual rewards in paradise. "Enough," Muhammad is portrayed as saying. "We've run out of virgins."

"Muslims have been stigmatized," Abu Laban said. The cartoons, he added, are "the drop that made the cup overflow."

Danish Imam Abu Laban
Ahmed Abu Laban, a prominent cleric in Denmark, helped lead the initial protests.
Within a week, Abu Laban and others began organizing. He and leaders of 11 Muslim groups wrote letters to the newspaper and to the Danish culture minister. They received no immediate response. They circulated a petition and submitted 17,000 signatures to Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. They met with ambassadors from 11 Muslim countries, who asked Rasmussen for a meeting, which he declined.

"After that, we tried to figure out a way to get more voices with us and how to be heard and get respect here in Denmark," said Ahmed Akkari, 28, a Lebanese-born theological student who has emerged as a chief spokesman for the groups.


Middle East Envoys of Protest

They decided to travel to the Middle East, where anti-American sentiment has long festered over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq and a perceived U.S. intention to dominate the region. In recent years, surveys have shown that Muslims in the Arab world and elsewhere overwhelmingly see the U.S.-led war on terrorism as a war on Islam.

Akkari carried a 43-page dossier with photocopies of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons, along with 10 more illustrations that were published on Nov. 10 in Weekend Avisen, another Danish newspaper.

The dossier also included illustrations that depicted Muhammad as a pig and engaged in bestiality. Abu Laban and Akkari said those cartoons, and other obscene drawings of the prophet, had been mailed anonymously to Danish Muslim leaders after the controversy over the cartoons began. Critics have said the delegations deliberately inflamed the situation by passing off those cartoons as the ones published by Jyllands-Posten. Akkari and Abu Laban said those drawings were never represented as having appeared in the newspaper. Rather, they said they were included to illustrate what they called anger and prejudice against Muslims in Denmark.

"Freedom of expression without limits is like a car without brakes," Akkari said.

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