NYC: anti-cartoon protest peaceful

From the New York Times, emphasis added. We say it is a credit to New York’s tolerant (some would say blasé) atmosphere that the city’s anti-cartoon protest was peaceful and the attitude of its leaders openly humanistic—although there were, as the Times puts it, a small group of “provocateurs.” In the print edition, the story was accompanied by a photo of protesters holding up printed signs. One urged “READ HISTORY TO KNOW MUHAMMAD (pbuh),” a recommendation that WW4 REPORT heartily seconds. Frustratingly, the most critical sign was cropped just above the most critical word: “RESPONSIBLE EDITORS MUST BE…” Must be what? Educated? Punished? Fired? Beheaded? If anybody was at the protest and saw this sign, please contact us and let us know!

More Than 1,000 Protest Cartoon Depiction of Prophet

Published: February 18, 2006

More than 1,000 Muslims gathered yesterday for a rally and prayer session across the street from the Danish Consulate in Manhattan, protesting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that have set off a series of violent demonstrations around the world since their first publication in Denmark.

Muslims gathered Friday near the Danish Consulate in New York and protested cartoons originally published in Denmark that some say are sacrilegious and insensitive to Islam.

The rally, billed by the organizers as a stand against the vilification of Muslims, was considerably larger than another one this month, drawing South Asian, Arab, African-American and other Muslims to a plaza a block from the United Nations as the sun peeked out after a morning of rain.

In a program that lasted several hours, the speakers talked about the responsibility that comes with free speech and their reverence for the prophet to a peaceful crowd that included families with small children and student groups.

“We were tired of demonization,” said Dr. Shaikh Ubaid, a spokesman for the Muslim Leadership Council, which organized the rally. “There is a rise of Islamophobia in Europe. More and more Americans think negatively about Islam.” The depiction of the prophet as a terrorist mirrored insults that in the past were heaped on other immigrant populations here, including blacks, Jews and Native Americans, he said.

Today, he added, the insults against those groups are widely considered to be taboo.

Many protesters said the cartoons, first published in a newspaper in Denmark, had stirred up an old fear, that Muslims in the West remain strangers to their neighbors, even generations after arriving here.

But a number of attendees said they mainly viewed the cartoons as an indicator of the tensions facing the surging Muslim population in Europe, adding that American papers had largely shied away from publishing them…

The protest yesterday was a stark contrast to others across the globe, which in some cases have culminated in clashes with the authorities.

A few police officers peered through binoculars down on the gathering, at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, while officers from the Police Department’s community affairs unit mingled with protesters on the street.

After an opening round of speeches, Imam Siraj Wahhaj of Masjid At-Taqwa in Brooklyn delivered a sermon, speaking English peppered with lines in Arabic. The sight of so many people sitting on prayer mats, plastic sheets and cardboard boxes prompted him to remark that it had taken a controversy to bring so many Muslims together for a Friday prayer.

Of the cartoons, he said: “These are the boundaries of Allah. Don’t go past them.”

Magdy Eleish, a 56-year-old Queens resident, said he went to the protest because he “wanted to do something,” adding that he hoped that the rally would inspire non-Muslims to read about the prophet. “Our feelings are hurt,” he said. “If someone insults your father, don’t you hurt?”

Wael Mousfar
, president of the Arab Muslim American Federation, said the way to prevent future conflicts is by educating non-Muslims about the faith.

“Ignorance is the enemy,” he said.

The gathering had its provocateurs. A few men from a group called the Islamic Thinkers Society roamed around the plaza carrying signs, including one with photographs of President Bush and Flemming Rose, the culture editor of the Danish paper, with targets placed on their foreheads. Some of them gathered near Mr. Wahhaj as he spoke, prompting members of his private security detail to tell the men to lower their signs.

Toward the end of the program, four representatives of the Muslim groups traveled across the street to speak with the Danish consul general, Torben Gettermann, presenting him with a letter, books about Muhammad and Islamic culture and a Koran. “It was very fruitful,” said Dr. Ubaid of the Muslim Leadership Council. “He is interested in building bridges.”

The poorly-named Islamic Thinkers Society (who actually cling rigidly to dogma instead of embracing the Islamic practice of critical thinking, or ijtihad) were also among the protesters at the women-led Friday ju’mah prayers held by Islamic feminists in New York last year.

See our last post on the cartoon controversy.