Violence escalates in cartoon imbroglio

Violence continues to grow throughout the Muslim world in protests against the anti-Islamic cartoons published in Denmark. In Nairobi, police opened fire as hundreds of protesters advanced on the Danish ambassador’s residence, leaving one injured. Another was killed and four more injured in an apparent accident involving the ambulance taking the wounded protester away. (AP, Feb. 10) A German journalist from ARD Radio was also reportedly assaulted by protesters in Nairobi, and had his car windows smashed as he tried to leave the scene. (Expatica, Feb. 10)

Police in Bangladesh beat back about 10,000 people marching on the Danish embassy in Dhaka. In Morocco a government-sponsored march attracted tens of thousands, while, in Latin America’s first protests, around 200 people burned Danish and American flags in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. (Reuters, Feb. 10) The Venezuelan protesters, mostly Muslim, left a prayer session at a Caracas mosque and marched, chanting in Arabic, to the Danish embassy, burning the flags on the building’s steps. (Reuters)

Violence also continued in Tehran, where protesters hurled petrol bombs at the French embassy and threw stones at the Danish and British missions—despite calls by a senior cleric to stop the attacks. “I am calling on all religious men not to attack the embassies of the foreigners,” Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami told Friday prayer worshippers in comments broadcast live on state radio. “Chanting slogans, staging protests and condemning such measures are holy…but I feel that they want their embassies to be set on fire so they can say that they are innocent. Take this excuse away from them.” (Reuters)

One wonders how sincere Iranian authorities are in trying to restrain the violence. A prominent Iranian newspaper, Hamshahri, has announced it will hold a competition for cartoons on the Nazi Holocaust to test whether the West will apply the principle of freedom of expression as it did to the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. The contest is to be launched Feb. 13, co-convened by Hamshahri and the House of Caricatures, a Tehran exhibition center. Both the paper and the exhibition center are owned by the Tehran municipality, dominated by allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“Does the West extend freedom of expression to the crimes committed by the United States and Israel, or an event such as the Holocaust? Or is its freedom only for insulting religious sanctities?” Hamshahri wrote.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also said the publication of the anti-Islamic cartoons was an Israeli conspiracy. The cartoons were a “conspiracy by Zionists who were angry because of the victory of Hamas.” Khamenei was speaking at a ceremony to mark the air force’s decision to join the Islamic revolution in 1979. His speech was broadcast on state radio. (AP, Feb. 8)

In Gaza City, about 7,000 attended a demonstration organized by the Islamic Jihad group, which threatened armed retaliation for the cartoons. “Until now we have limited our action to demonstrations, but if they did not stop their assault on Prophet Mohammed we will defend the prophet with our souls and blood,” Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib told thousands of supporters after Friday prayers. “So far we have demanded an apology from the governments. But if they continue their assault on our dear Prophet Mohammed, we will burn the ground underneath their feet.”

In Jerusalem, about 2,000 chanted “Bin Laden, strike again” as they marched around the Dome of the Rock at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, trampling a homemade Danish flag. Police tried to prevent protests by barring all men under the age of 45 from attending Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third-holiest site. (Haaretz, Feb. 10)

In Pakistan, protests erupted around the country after prayers, with some burning foreign-made cheese, breaking windows and clashing with police. Thousands also demonstrated in India, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka, while smaller rallies were reported from Indonesia and the Philippines.

In Egypt, thousands protested across the country and some clashed with police who tried to disperse them with water canons and tear gas. About 2,000 Muslim worshippers marched in Jordan under tight security.

The editor of a small Christian newspaper in Norway – the second to publish the drawings, on Jan. 10 – offered an apology for offending Muslims. Magazinet editor Vebjoern Selbekk said he failed to foresee the pain and anger the drawings would cause Muslims. (AP, Feb. 10)

See our last posts on the cartoon controversy, Iran and the struggle within Islam.