Sartorial front in “cartoon jihad”?

From South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, from wire sources, Feb. 15:

Italian minister to wear Muhammad cartoon T-shirt
A prominent Italian government figure planned on Wednesday to wear a T-shirt sporting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that have sparked violent reactions from Muslims around the world.

Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli denied that the T-shirts are meant to provoke, but said there is no point in promoting dialogue with Muslim extremists. “I have had T-shirts made with the cartoons that have upset Islam and I shall start wearing them today,” Calderoli told Italian newspapers. “It is time to put an end to this tale that we need dialogue with these people,” he added.

Calderoli, who is a leading figure of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, said he will wear the T-shirt despite being asked not to do so by Italy’s Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

See our last posts on the cartoon controversy, Western hypocrisy and Italy.

  1. T-shirt leads to 11 deaths in Libya

    In Libya, 11 reportedly die in cartoon protests

    (CNN) — Eleven people were killed and an Italian consulate was burned in Libya on Friday night during protests to denounce the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, sources in Libya said.

    There also was a “high number” of injuries, said an official with the Italian Embassy in Tripoli.

    In the port city of Benghazi in northeast Libya, protesters set the Italian Consulate on fire, but it was safely evacuated and no employees were injured, said Francesco Trupiano, Italy’s ambassador to Libya.

    “It was peaceful, then it became violent,” Trupiano said of the protests in Libya’s second-largest city. He said he doubts the consulate will close.

    Trupiano speculated that the consulate was targeted because it is the only Western consulate in the city. However, many of the protesters said they were angry because Italian Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli recently flaunted a T-shirt displaying one of the controversial cartoons on state TV this week.

    Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has asked Calderoli to resign.

    Another demonstration was held in Sebha, where demonstrators gathered after Friday prayers and issued a statement urging respect for religious shrines and beliefs.

    The state-run Libyan news agency, Jamahiriya, or Jana, reported on its Web site that the casualties occurred when protesters clashed with police. The public prosecutor has been asked to investigate the way police dealt with the demonstrators, the news agency said.

    Benghazi, in northeast Libya, is the country’s second-largest city. Sebha is in central Libya.

    Jana described the protests as massive but peaceful. It gave no crowd estimates.

    The government “strongly denounces” the actions of those who burned part of the Italian consulate, Jana reported. Police were able to prevent most of the attackers from entering the building, but a few went inside and some vehicles outside were burned, the news agency reported.

    “The participants in this demonstration expressed in a statement their denunciation and condemnation of such encroachment on Islam and Muslims, stressing the necessity to condemn and criminalize this heinous action,” Jana reported.

    Protests over the cartoons have escalated in recent weeks, more than four months after they first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September. They were later reprinted by other publications, mostly in Europe. Muslims consider depictions of Mohammed blasphemous. (Watch how some Muslim leaders say the violence is a poor representation of Islam — 1:57)

    A written statement released by protesters in Benghazi said they consider Denmark’s publication of the cartoons “a direct hostile action.”

    The statement hailed the government’s closure of Libya’s embassy in Denmark and urged the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conferences to encourage boycotts of any nation that “may dare to touch our religious and historic symbols.”

    Demonstrators, some of whom set the Danish flag on fire, also appealed to economic institutions to ban the imports and consumption of goods produced in Denmark.

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  2. More pearls of wisdom from Calderoli
    From Reuters, Feb. 14:

    The [Northern] League has long led the charge against illegal immigration and its leaders say the cartoon violence shows the dangers of allowing Muslim immigrants to settle in Italy.

    “This is only the tip of the iceberg of the religious war Islamist extremists have declared on us,” Calderoli told reporters earlier this month.

    The Italian press reported that Berlusconi last week urged Calderoli to take a more moderate stance over the issue, but the minister said on Tuesday he had no intention of keeping quiet.

    “As for Berlusconi, seeing as he has compared himself to Jesus Christ, I would call on him to follow (Christ’s) example and think about evangelizing Christian values and not be evangelized by Islam,” Calderoli was quoted as saying.

    Berlusconi caused a storm at the weekend when he said: “I am the Jesus Christ of politics…I sacrifice myself for everyone.”

    Maintaining a steady stream of anti-foreigner invective, Calderoli earlier this month dismissed a Palestinian journalist on a television chat show, as: “that suntanned lady.” He also said he was delighted newcomers to Italy would not benefit from a government scheme to encourage people to have more children.

    “I am proud of the fact that the baby bonus will only go to Italian citizens. I say to all those Ali Babas that either Allah or their governments will have to think of them.”

    The League’s anti-immigrant stance has found a sympathetic audience in the wealthy north of Italy, where many third world immigrants have settled in recent years.

    League politicians say the immigrants are responsible for growing crime rates and are also challenging Italians for jobs.

    Latest opinion polls say the League will get up to six percent of the vote in the April election against just 3.9 percent in the 2001 ballot. However, it is not clear what part the anti-immigrant rhetoric has played in this increase.

    1. Italian minister who made T-shirts of Mohammed resigns
      From Haaretz, Feb. 18:

      Italian minister who made T-shirts of Mohammed resigns

      By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent, and Reuters

      Italy’s Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli resigned on Saturday following deadly clashes in Libya over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that he had made into T-shirts and wore on state television, a spokesman said.

      “I have resigned,” Ansa news agency quoted Calderoli as saying.

      Some 10 people were killed on Friday trying to storm the Italian consulate in Benghazi, the only Western diplomatic mission in the eastern Libyan city, Italy’s ambassador to Tripoli said.

      Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi publicly demanded Calderoli step down on Friday, but acknowledged that he did not have the power under Italy’s constitution to force the far-right minister out of office.

      The episode has embarrassed Berlusconi ahead of April elections in which he wants to portray himself as a force of moderation within the center-right. It also follows years of warming relations with Libya, which Rome once ruled as a colony.

      Calderoli, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, said he would step down if it would help build dialogue “between the Western world and the Islamic world”.

      “I will do it the second after I have had a sign from the Islamic world that my action could be useful,” he told Italy’s ANSA news agency.

      But he did not resign, signalling the possibility of drawn out fight that could benefit Italy’s center-left opposition ahead of the April 9-10 ballot.

      Center-left leader Romano Prodi, whose lead over Berlusconi had been narrowing in recent opinion polls, seized on the events as proof of extremism within the center-right House of Freedom coalition.

      “It should not have waited until we were forced to count the dead to take action,” Prodi said. He added that asking Caderoli to step down was “the least” the government could do.

      Weeks of sometimes violent protests by Muslims across the world against the cartoons have triggered fears of a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam. Muslims believe images of the Prophet are forbidden.

      But Calderoli proudly wore the images on Italian state television this week, saying his T-shirt was a “battle for freedom”.

      The stone-throwing protesters in Libya set fire to the Danish flag and cars and clashed with police as they attempted to storm the Italian consulate in Benghazi. They set a fire on the building’s first floor.

      Italy’s Ambassador to Tripoli, Francesco Trupiano, acknowledged Calderoli’s T-shirt may have played a role in the protests, but stopped short of blaming him outright.

      “The origin of the protest is the cartoons. But obviously I can’t rule out that the initiatives of a government minister … may have influenced (the crowd) by agitating spirits,” Trupiano said.