Bomb-Shaped Turban Cartoons Upset Muslims

Feb. 2, 2006 — -- Massive protests are gaining steam throughout the Middle East, with angry Muslims burning Danish flags and calling for boycotts of Danish goods.

Cartoons caricaturing the prophet Muhammad first appeared last September in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, and have since been republished in newspapers in Norway and France, escalating and expanding what some are calling a "clash of civilizations."

"I think [the newspaper] should have an article saying sorry to our people, because it's really offensive," said Mohamed El Shamy, an Egyptian Muslim.

In fact, Jyllands-Posten's editors have issued a statement apologizing for offending Muslims, but it doesn't seem to be quelling the protests that have spread from Iraq to Gaza to Yemen.

Products from Denmark are banned from the shelves of supermarkets in Saudi Arabia.

In Gaza, gunmen surrounded the offices of the European Union today and spray painted: "Closed until the government apologizes," on the walls of the offices.

Nearly all Danish employees in the Palestinian territories have pulled out because of threats. There have also been isolated bomb scares and kidnapping threats against Danes and other Europeans.

While the vast majority of Muslims are not resorting to violence, they are angry.

Message in a Turban

One of the drawings depicts Muhammad's turban as a bomb with a lit fuse. In another illustration, Muhammad tells suicide bombers that he has run out of virgins with which to reward them.

The images, and in fact, any pictorial depiction of Muhammad, are considered blasphemous in Islam.

The conflict has echoes of the 1989 Iranian death sentence on Salman Rushdie for his novel "The Satanic Verses." While Muslims hold their religious beliefs as sacred, in the West, the right to free speech is often regarded with equal reverence.

"It is quite obvious for me that what this private newspaper has done has hurt tremendously," said Hans Klingenberg, the Danish ambassador to Saudi Arabia. "Not only Muslims in Denmark, but millions of Muslims around the world."

The Danish government has stopped short of issuing an apology on behalf of the newspaper, but it has summoned foreign envoys to the capital of Copenhagen to discuss the controversy. Denmark is already feeling the economic repercussions of a widespread boycott in the Middle East.

On the diplomatic front, Saudi Arabia and Libya have withdrawn their ambassadors from Denmark in protest. Danish citizens are being advised not to travel to the Middle East.

The French newspaper, France Soir, fired its managing editor for his decision to publish the cartoons.

"I think by printing those cartoons we raise an issue," said Arnaud Levy, a France Soir editor. "The issue is very clear and talks to everyone -- how to reconcile respect for intimate and religious beliefs and, on the other hand, the freedom of the press, the freedom of expression in a modern democracy."