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Anatomy of the Cartoon Protest Movement
In Berlin, Roger Koppel, editor of Die Welt newspaper, saw the apologies by Rasmussen and Juste as an alarming defeat for Europe's tradition of free speech. The next day, Tuesday, Jan. 31, he met with his editorial team and ordered up a front-page story on the issue, including a reproduction of the cartoon of Muhammad with the bomb in his turban positioned at the top of Page One. At least six other European papers did the same, sharply increasing anger in the Muslim world about how the dispute was being handled.
"This had now become a huge political story," Koppel said. "In a secular Western society, a prime minister and a newspaper had to issue an apology for exercising their right to satire."
Koppel said he found many of the cartoons "ridiculous," but the quality of the images wasn't the point.
"You don't deliberately stir up religious hatred, but, sorry, we live in a secular country in the West," he said. "It's part of our culture. It's just not possible that our culture gets somehow penalized by threats."
It is illegal in Germany -- and punishable by prison time -- to make statements denying or questioning the existence of the Holocaust. It is also a crime to make "patently false statements" about the Holocaust, such as minimizing the number of victims. Some Muslims have argued that such laws constitute a double standard: in the West it's fine, they argue, to denigrate Muslims, but not Jews.
"It's not a double standard because it's the right of every culture to have its own taboos," Koppel said.
Koppel said that given Germany's painful history with the Nazis and the Holocaust, German society had chosen to establish certain limits on free speech. He said people in Germany must abide by those laws, just as people in Muslim countries must abide by the laws and traditions of those lands. He said a newspaper publishing the Muhammad cartoons in a Muslim country should expect to be punished, while a newspaper publishing them in Germany should expect to be protected by German guarantees of free speech.
In Milan, Gianni Riotta, deputy editor of the Corriere della Sera newspaper, was framing it in a different way.
While defending Jyllands-Posten's right to publish, he said the Danish newspaper made a mistake in judgment by running all 12 cartoons, which he said carried the implication that "all Muslims are terrorists." Riotta said it reminded him of his days studying at Columbia University in New York under famed American television news producer Fred Friendly. He recalled Friendly telling the class, "Shouting fire in a crowded theater is not freedom of expression, it's being stupid."
Riotta had in mind publishing something with what he thought was a clearer perspective. The Corriere, one of Italy's most respected papers, ran a package of nine cartoons: three of the "least offensive" Danish cartoons, along with three anti-Semitic cartoons taken from Arab newspapers and three Nazi-era propaganda posters.
"We wanted to publish to show that these cartoons were really offensive and really racist," Riotta said. "We wanted to give our readers some perspective: This was not Salman Rushdie." Riotta said that, as a reporter, he had covered the controversy over Rushdie's novel, "The Satanic Verses," and that he believed the Danish cartoons could not be considered in the same literary league with Rushdie's book.
Muslim World Building Solidarity
Republishing the cartoons unleashed a torrent of response.
Governments were already taking action: Interior ministers from 17 Arab nations called on the Danish government to punish the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. The Saudi interior minister urged the other nations to recall their ambassadors from Denmark. Protesters burned a large photo of Prime Minister Rasmussen outside the U.N. compound in Gaza City, scenes repeated elsewhere in Muslim countries. Algeria and Yemen, among others, were calling for U.N. action against Denmark.
In Indonesia, Santosa, the Web site editor, decided to publish one of the cartoons yet again.
"But then after I published the picture, a lot of Muslim people got angry at me. Then I said, 'Oh my God, what happened?" He put the cartoon up at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 2. He pulled it down less than 12 hours later.
In time, editors in Algeria, Yemen and Jordan were arrested for publishing the cartoons, often to bring attention to the offense.
Some of the region's most influential leaders weighed in.
Fadlallah, the senior Lebanese Shiite cleric, dismissed defending the cartoons under the principle of freedom of expression. Why, then, were some European networks banning al-Manar, the television station of Lebanon's Hezbollah group, on the grounds that it incited people? Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, a leading Sunni Muslim scholar, called on Muslims to use the dispute to strengthen solidarity. "The whole nation must be angry and rise up to show their anger," he said. "We are not a nation of donkeys. We are a nation of lions."
Protests erupted the next day, Feb. 3, after Friday prayers in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Palestinian territories and Iraq. They would be dwarfed by the scenes that unfolded that weekend in Lebanon and Syria.
Middle East 'Defending the Prophet'
For days in Damascus, diplomats had heard about protests planned for Saturday. In the streets, there were posters of a Danish flag with a red X across it. Text messages went out on Friday, their source unclear: "Join us in defending our prophet and what is sacred." It added, "What are you going to do in order to answer to your prophet in the afterlife?"
The Norwegian and Danish embassies requested extra security, the diplomats said, but received none.
The protesters gathered on Feb. 4 carrying Syrian flags and banners calling on the Danish ambassador to leave the country. They tore down the flags hanging on the building. Soon, people began throwing rocks and gasoline bombs. Diplomats said they saw what appeared to be Syrian intelligence agents in the crowd. Before dusk, the Danish Embassy was ablaze, and other protesters went to the Norwegian Embassy, burning it as well. Another crowd went to the French Embassy, but was driven back by water hoses.
Ammar Sahloul, a wealthy businessman, heard about the demonstration through text messages, canceled work on Saturday and went with nearly 60 of his employees. He said he reached the Danish Embassy's doors and tried to calm things down, in vain.
"I wanted to express our resentment in the way that the prophet taught us," said Sahloul, 40. "He would not have wanted things to happen the way they happened outside the embassies."
That day, typewritten leaflets were circulating in neighboring Lebanon, calling for another demonstration in Beirut on Sunday. "They have declared war," it read. "So for the victory of our Prophet, we must accept the challenge." The 1,000 leaflets were issued by the Salafi Group in Lebanon, headed by al-Shahal, who first met the Danish delegation in December.
|Daii al-Islam al-Shahal, a Sunni Muslim cleric in the Lebanese coastal town of Tripoli, who helped organize protests this month against the cartoons in his hometown and Beirut.|
"The truth? I felt sorry when I saw it," he said. "The protest should have demonstrated strength, but with wisdom."
A day later, in Afghanistan, protesters chanting anti-American slogans tried to storm the U.S. air base in Bagram. Afghan security forces fired on the crowd, killing at least three people. More protests followed in other Afghan cities, the grievances multiplying and mixing. In all, about 12 people were killed. Unlike in Lebanon and Syria, calls were passed not by technology, but word of mouth. Few had seen the cartoons, but they had become the topic of Friday sermons there, each retelling tinged with another exaggeration.
"I haven't seen the cartoon itself, but I was told that our prophet has a hand grenade on his turban and each of his fingers, too," said Haji Mohammed Rafiq Shahir, head of a council of professionals in the western Afghan city of Herat.
Beirut Silencing Voices of Moderation
Amira el-Solh, 28, is a Lebanese Palestinian who lives in Beirut. She had heard about a text message calling for the protest in Lebanon. She, too, was angry about the caricatures, but recalled thinking that the Lebanese have greater worries today.
"Ten minutes of thought," she said she gave it.
The next day, as the protests raged in Beirut, she stayed glued to the television: Lebanese channels, CNN and the BBC. She talked to friends in Beirut, in Europe and the United States. At night, she met with friends, all disgusted with the way things had turned out.
But as she looks back at the dispute -- from the repeated publishing of the cartoons, to the protests, to the violence that pulled at Lebanon's frayed sectarian tapestry, to the moral certainty infusing the debate -- she sees the controversy as less about a dozen cartoons and more about a sense of siege in the Muslim world that forces everyone to take sides. "It's upsetting that you have to defend your identity as a Muslim constantly," she said.
She thought back to other divides in history -- the Green Line that partitioned civil war-era Beirut, the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall. She resented having to qualify herself as liberal or conservative, secular or religious. She worried that, in time, those definitions might become irrelevant. Perhaps they already have.
"These walls weren't so long ago," she said. "It was people who built them, and it will be people who will resurrect them."
"Do you want to silence voices of moderation, of coexistence?" she asked this week. "And this is what the generalizations of these cartoons do. It silences any individual as a Muslim and groups me along with everyone else."