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  Global Views
Islamic Protests Signify Deepening Gulf
Questions Regarding the Responsibility of the Press
By Peter McCrossan
Staff Writer
Iranians burn the national flag of Denmark in front of the Danish Embassy in Tehran in protest against the blasphemous cartoon of the Islamic prophet Muhammad on Feb. 6, 2006.

Protest in reaction to the publication of cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad, which have now been printed by newspapers across the globe, is continuing to escalate.

Depicting Muhammad is forbidden in the Islamic faith and the collection of 12 cartoons has provoked both condemnation and violence in much of the Muslim world. In Afghanistan at least nine protesters have died and more than a dozen police officers and protesters have been wounded.

Crowds in the Iranian capitol, Tehran, set fire to the Danish Embassy and smashed the windows of the Embassy of Austria. The Danish Consulate in Lebanon and the Danish and Norwegian Embasy in Syria were also attacked last Saturday. Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador from Copenhagen and Libya has closed its embassy. Qatar condemned the cartoons. Tuesday saw the biggest protest yet in Pakistan, where 5,000 people chanted, "Hang the man who insulted the prophet," and burned effigies of one cartoonist and Denmark's prime minister.

Many heads of state have called for restraint, expressing concern at the firestorm which has erupted. Debate has also arisen regarding the responsibility of the Western press, which has been accused of deliberately provoking the Muslim world. Editors worldwide made the decision to republish the cartoons in solidarity with the argument for press freedom.

After originally appearing in a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, the cartoons have now been reproduced in several countries including France, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland and New Zealand. "Enough lessons from these reactionary bigots!" France Soir editor Serge Faubert wrote in a commentary explaining why his newspaper had printed the cartoons. "Just because the Koran bans images of Mohammed doesn't mean non-Muslims have to submit to this."

Questions must be asked as to whether it is responsible to publish cartoons which essentially portray Muslims as terrorists given the already shaky relations which exist between the Arab world and the West.

While stopping short of siding with the violent protesters the leaders of several Muslim nations have spoken out against the inherent wrong in the cartoons. This has led to claims of hypocrisy and double standards due to the fact that these same Muslim nations have in the past derided the Christian and Jewish faiths and even called for the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel. The Iranian press has now launched a competition to find the best Holocaust cartoon seeking to test the West's acceptance of press freedom.

The President of the EU issued a warning to countries across the Middle East reminding them that they are
obliged to protect EU missions. Iran, which has withdrawn its ambassador from Denmark, said the cartoons "launched an anti-Islamic and Islamophobic current which will be answered." Iran's ambassador to Vienna said an attack on Austria's embassy in Tehran on Monday was directed at "the EU presidency" rather than Austria itself, current holder of the presidency. Saudi Arabia's 'Okaz' newspaper rejected violence: "Violence, spreading chaos and destroying facilities ... only distorts Islam's image, especially after our enemies have tried to label us with so many accusations," it said.

The situation displays a case of overreaction on both sides. Some Muslims have overreacted to what they perceive as a personal attack on their faith and taken advantage of events to further their extremist agenda. The Western press has also taken advantage of the situation to antagonise the Muslim world in seeking to promote press freedom. Given the troublesome nature of current world affairs a more sensitive approach would have been preferable.

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Mr. Peter McCrossan serves as staff writer for The Seoul Times. The Irish journalist studied computer science at University College Dublin. Mr. McCrossan covers diplomatic community affairs, travel & hotel industry, and local social issues.






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