Story behind the Muslim cartoon protests

Muslim outrage over the Danish cartoons featuring the prophet Muhammad continues to mount with protests intensifying around the world. Over the past couple of days the story of how events escalated from the publication of the 12 cartoons in a minor Danish newspaper last fall to the current escalating worldwide protests has begun to emerge.

Yesterday the Globe and Mail described how a young Danish Islamic scholar distributed booklets of photocopied cartoons to Muslim leaders in the Mideast, sparking the firestorm of anger around the world.

In late December,Ahmed Akkari, a young Islamic scholar and Danish activist, flew to Beirut carrying a package of spiral-bound booklets whose contents consisted mainly of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Having failed to get the Danish Prime Minister to take action over the cartoons' perceived slight to Islam, he was seeking help from prominent figures in the Muslim world.

The New York Times today described how matters escalated from that point. The cartoon outrage crystallized when leaders of the world's 57 Muslim nations gathered for a summit meeting in Mecca in December. The hallway chatter focused on the Danish cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad.

The closing communiqué expressed "concern at rising hatred against Islam and Muslims and condemned the recent incident of desecration of the image of the Holy Prophet Muhammad in the media of certain countries" as well as over "using the freedom of expression as a pretext to defame religions."

The meeting in Mecca, a Saudi city drew minimal international press coverage. But after that meeting, anger at the Danish caricatures, especially at an official government level, became more public. In some countries, like Syria and Iran, that meant heavy press coverage in official news media and virtual government approval of demonstrations that ended with Danish embassies in flames.

At the end of December,talk of a boycott became more prominent. The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization published on its Web site a statement condemning "the aggressive campaign waged against Islam and its Prophet" and officials said member nations should impose a boycott on Denmark until an apology was offered for the drawings.

In a few weeks, the Jordanian Parliament condemned the cartoons, as had several other Arab governments. On Jan. 10, as anti-Danish pressure built, a Norwegian newspaper republished the caricatures in an act of solidarity with the Danes, leading many Muslims to believe that a real campaign against them had begun.

On Jan. 26, in a key move, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Denmark, and Libya followed suit. Saudi clerics began sounding the call for a boycott, and within a day, most Danish products were pulled off supermarket shelves.

In the intervening weeks protests have swept around the world and show no signs of subsiding.

According to the Globe and Mail Mr. Akkari now regrets the results of his journey, the somewhat distorted message of which flashed around the Muslim world by Internet, newspaper and text message, and caused millions of Muslims to believe that Denmark and the Nordic countries had become home to blasphemies:

"As he sat in one of Copenhagen's neat brown stone buildings yesterday and gazed at the melting snow, Mr. Akkari grappled awkwardly with the global emergency that has sprung from his mission. Friends, strangers and close family members are now blaming him for exactly the thing he says he was trying to prevent: the caricaturing of Muslims as violent fanatics.

"The riots, he acknowledged, have placed his fellow European Muslims in a far worse position than they had previously known."

"Yeah, it has been more violent than I expected," he said. "I had no interest in any violence. . . . It is bad for our case because it's turning the picture completely from what this should be about, to something else -- and this is a dangerous change now."


Anonymous said...

It's hard to imagine how this story has unfolded. If Danish officials had met with Muslims to address their concerns last fall, this worldwide furore could have been averted.

Anonymous said...

If the Danes had acted responsibly in addressing the concerns, these global protests could have been avoided.