|Page 3 of 5 < >|
Anatomy of the Cartoon Protest Movement
A delegation of five Danish Muslims went to Egypt on Dec. 4 and met with Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, head of al-Azhar, one of Sunni Islam's foremost establishments; Ali Juma, the mufti, or top cleric, of Egypt; and Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League. They also met with an assistant to Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister. Akkari said the group stayed in Egypt about a week and gave a news conference that was covered extensively in the Arabic-language media.
A second delegation of four Muslims, including Akkari, went to Lebanon on Dec. 17 and met with Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, grand mufti of Lebanon; Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the spiritual head of the country's Shiite Muslims; and Nasrallah Sfeir, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church. The group stayed in Lebanon until Dec. 31. Akkari said he also made a day trip to Syria and gave a copy of the dossier to Sheik Ahmed Badr Eddine Hassoun, the grand mufti of Syria.
Among those they met was al-Shahal, the Lebanese cleric in Tripoli, who cringed at the sight of the pictures.
"Ugly and repugnant," he recalled thinking.
Saudi Arabia 'A Revolution Inside Me '
Over the weeks that followed those trips, the conflict germinated, sometimes by the most modern of means.
In Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Hashim Balkhy, a 43-year-old plastic surgeon who would not consider himself unduly conservative by his country's standards, heard about the cartoons on about Jan. 21. He received a text message on his cell phone from a friend in Medina, one of Islam's holiest cities, saying Danish newspapers had been making fun of the prophet for months.
We must boycott them, his friend said.
That night, after his wife and children had gone to bed, he spent almost four hours online, smoking Carlton cigarettes and reading Web sites. He discovered that within weeks, an entire virtual world had already been dedicated to the subject. He stayed up past dawn.
A few days later, he got an e-mail from a Yahoo discussion group called al-Bostan, which published the cartoons. His eyes wandered over the photos until he got to one portraying the prophet wearing a turban as a bomb. He stared at it.
"They don't know our prophet," he recalled thinking. "And they can't get away with this."
Balkhy was already upset with the West. The photos of torture by members of the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq had outraged him. He was bitter at American support for Israel. He had already stopped drinking Pepsi and Coke, as a symbolic gesture. But the victims in those cases were people -- Palestinians and Iraqis -- and this was the most pure man we know, Balkhy said.