PARIS, Feb. 2 — An international dispute over European newspaper cartoons deemed blasphemous by some Muslims gained momentum today as gunmen threatened the European Union offices in the Gaza Strip and more European papers pointedly published the drawings as an affirmation of their freedom of speech.
The masked gunmen, enraged by cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, stayed about 45 minutes.
A newly elected legislator from Hamas, the radical Islamic group that swept the Palestinian elections last week, said large rallies were planned in Gaza in the next few days to protest the cartoons.
"We are angry — very, very, very angry," said Jamila Al Shanty, one of six women elected to represent Hamas in the Palestinian Parliament. "No one can say a bad word about our prophet."
The cartoons — which include a drawing of the prophet who founded Islam wearing a turban shaped like a bomb — first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September and have since been reprinted in France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Norway. BBC televised them today.
France-Soir, the only French daily to reprint the cartoons, fired its managing editor late Wednesday as "a strong sign of respect for the beliefs and intimate convictions of every individual," according to a statement from its owner, Raymond Lakah, an Egyptian-born French businessman. Nevertheless, the newspaper defended its right to print the cartoons.
The incident is causing diplomatic strains as well as threats to citizens of countries where the cartoons have been printed.
Saudi Arabia and Syria have recalled their ambassadors to Denmark, and the Danish government has summoned foreign envoys in Copenhagen to talks on Friday over the issue, having already explained that it does not control the press.
The Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told the Copenhagen daily Politiken, "We are talking about an issue with fundamental significance to how democracies work."
Many European commentators concede that the cartoons were provocative, even insensitive, but argue that the conservative Muslim world must learn to accept Western standards of free speech and pluralism."
As a Jew I am very well versed in cartoons that are drawn in bad taste and are considered to be offensive to Jews. I have read and seen a multitude of things that offend me. Sometimes I have been upset enough to write a letter or to cancel a subscription, but never to take the steps that some Muslims have taken.
I think that it is important to be sensitive and that some actions call for an apology but this really goes too far.
The Muslim American Society has an interesting story here.
"Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned that the insistence of European newspapers on printing the cartoons of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) risked provoking a terrorist backlash, as protests escalate from a trade embargo by consumers, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP)."Are you kidding me. Has the Egyptian head of state really said that these cartoons are cause for terrorism. Do you realize how significant that statement is.
These are the actions of children and immaturity. I understand a demand for an apology. I understand a boycott. But I cannot understand nor accept violence. And I certainly cannot accept nor tolerate statements from political leaders that make it sound like they give permission to engage in violence and or act as if they are powerless to prevent it.
Update: If you want to see samples of some of the cartoons within the Muslim world click here. Hypocrisy is not in their vocabulary.