January 4, 2007 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 313

A Retrospective Study of the Unfolding of the Muhammad Cartoons Crisis and its Implications

January 4, 2007
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 313

On September 30, 2005, Denmark's biggest daily newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published a series of 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. One, which was perceived as highly offensive, showed the Prophet with a bomb on top of his turban. Several months later, mass demonstrations were held in the streets of the Muslim world to protest against the perceived insult to the Prophet; some of the demonstrations turned violent and dozens were killed. Arab countries recalled their ambassadors; Danish and Norwegian diplomatic representations in Damascus, Beirut, and Tehran were attacked and set on fire; churches were attacked; Scandinavian representatives in the Middle East received death threats and demands that they leave their posts; fatwas permitting the murder of the cartoonists were issued by several Muslim clerics; Muslim fundamentalist organizations threatened terror attacks in Denmark; and an unprecedented boycott of Danish products was implemented by Muslim countries. [1]

"The Muslims worldwide - some billion and a half... are facing a new kind of Crusader war, whose weapon is the pen, not the rifle," wrote Muhammad Foda in the evening supplement of the Egyptian government daily Al-Gumhouriyya. [2] The popular nature of the protest against the cartoons is all the more evident because well-known Egyptian singer Sha'aban Abd Al-Rahim wrote a song about the affair. [3]

Bin Laden also mentioned the affair. In a tape released April 23, 2006, he demanded that the Western governments hand the cartoonists who had defamed the Prophet over to the Muslims, so that they could be tried according to shari'a law. He stressed that anyone who mocked the Prophet or Islam should be killed. [4] On May 15, 2006, Al-Qaeda activist Sheikh Abu Yahya Al-Libi, who in July 2005 had escaped from a U.S. military prison in Afghanistan, said that the Muslims should talk less and do more: They should fight Denmark and Norway, and not be content with demonstrations and other forms of protest. [5]

However, the protests were not only on the popular level. The cartoon crisis began with activity by Danish Muslim leaders, and with calculated moves by Arab governments and Islamist figures. This is evident in the fact that the wave of mass demonstrations began months after the publication of the cartoons, and following Islamist and government activity - that is, not in immediate response to the publication of the cartoons.

The intense protest against the cartoons gave rise to worldwide debate regarding freedom of expression and the different perspectives on this freedom in Western and Muslim cultures. The main argument made by Denmarkand by countries that defended it was that the publication of the cartoons violated no law and overstepped no boundaries of freedom of expression or freedom of the press as practiced in the West. To counter this argument, Muslim shapers of public opinion - many of whom have themselves in the past invoked the "freedom of expression" argument when accused of making antisemitic statements - were forced to redefine the boundaries of this freedom, stating that it did not apply to materials offensive to others. But even as it presented this argument, Arab media continued to make harsh and offensive statements against non-Muslims. [6]

This paper presents the unfolding of the crisis, the role of the Arab governments in it, and the role of the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Jazeera TV in escalating it. It also presents the prevailing Arab and Muslim perspective on the boundaries of freedom of expression as reflected in response to the cartoon crisis.

The Unfolding of Events

Jyllands-Posten culture editor Flemming Rose, who made the decision to publish the cartoons, claimed: "I commissioned the cartoons in response to several incidents of self-censorship in Europe caused by widening fears and feelings of intimidation in dealing with issues related to Islam. And I still believe that this is a topic that we Europeans must confront, challenging moderate Muslims to speak out. The idea wasn't to gratuitously provoke, and we certainly didn't intend to trigger violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. Our goal was simply to push back self-imposed limits on expression that seemed to be closing in tighter." [7]

On October 9, 2005, the Danish Islamic Faith Community organization demanded an apology from Jyllands-Posten. On October 14, 3,500 of Denmark's 170,000 Muslims demonstrated in front of the newspaper's offices in Copenhagen. On October 20, 11 Muslim ambassadors asked to meet with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, to express their protests over the publication of the cartoons, and to demand that he condemn the newspaper. Prime Minister Rasmussen rejected the demand, saying that he did not have the authority to intervene in the free and independent media. On October 28, Islamist groups in Denmark filed a criminal suit against the paper, but Denmark's attorney-general rejected the suit, and clarified that no crime had been committed under Danish law. [8]

Failing to get the response they had hoped for in Denmark, the Danish Muslims and ambassadors from Muslim countries turned to the Middle East. In early December 2005, a delegation of Danish Muslims held a series of "successful and positive" meetings in Egypt. The delegation held meetings at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al-Ghait told the press that "the denigration of Islam by the Danish press is a disgrace," and promised to raise the issue at the Islamic Summit and at the Arab League. The delegation from Denmark met with the secretariat of the Arab League and with Al-Azhar Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi; Sheikh Tantawi called an emergency meeting of the Al-Azhar Islamic Research Institute. A representative of the delegation participated in the meeting, which took place on December 8; following the meeting, the participants released a communiqué condemning the publication of the cartoons and clarifying that Al-Azhar would appeal to the U.N. committees and to human rights organizations, to defend cultural pluralism and to prevent the spread of the culture of hatred and denigration of others. The delegation also met with Mufti of Egypt Sheikh Dr. 'Ali Gum'ah, who published a fatwa calling for a boycott of Denmark "if it does not retract this loathsome deed." [9]

In late December, Muslim leaders from Denmark met with Muslim clerics in Lebanon and Syria, and presented them with a document that included the 12 cartoons originally published by Jyllands-Posten along with additional pictures and texts - that had not been published by the paper - aimed, in the words of Denmark's Islamic Faith Community spokesman Qassam Ahmad, at showing "the [general] atmosphere of hatred towards Muslims in Denmark." [10]

Following the Danish Muslims' visit to the Middle East, protests against the cartoons surged. In late January 2006, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League declared that they would demand that the U.N. General Assembly release a resolution banning insult to religions. Official protests were conveyed to Denmark by many Muslim countries, and a popular economic boycott on Danish products went into effect. [11]

International and local pressure, particularly from Danish businessmen, to calm the situation led to a January 30, 2006 statement by Jyllands-Posten editor Carsten Juste that the "grave misunderstanding" between Denmark and the Muslims stemmed from a cultural difference, and not from intent to attack Muslims in Denmark or in the rest of the world. Juste stressed that the paper respected freedom of religion and worship, and that the publication of the cartoons had not been aimed at harming anyone or detracting from the significance of the Prophet, but at encouraging dialogue concerning freedom of expression. At the same time, he rejected the demand for an apology for publishing the cartoons, and said that there had been no violation of Danish law regarding freedom of the press and freedom of expression. [12]

Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen took a similar position, and, while clarifying that he himself respected all religions and would not harm any religious figure, rejected the call to apologize for something published in a "free and independent paper." On February 3, in light of the escalation of the protest, Rasmussen summoned over 70 ambassadors and diplomats in Denmark to explain to them why he could not interfere with decisions made by the free media. Following the meeting, Egyptian Ambassador Muna Omar called the prime minister's statements "not sufficient." [13]

As events continued to unfold, other European newspapers published the cartoons, both to show solidarity with Jyllands-Posten and to defend freedom of the press, and also so that their readers would know what the fuss was all about. On January 10, 2006, the Norwegian Christian weekly Magazinet published the cartoons. During February, leading papers in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain published them as well. Following the early February publication of the cartoons by the French daily France Soir, the editor was fired by the paper's owner, Rami Lakah, a French citizen of Egyptian origin.

*Several Arab Papers Publish the Cartoons and Are Subsequently Punished

Harsh measures were taken by Arab governments against a number of Arab papers that published some of the cartoons, even though the aim had been to condemn them. In Jordan, the Al-Mihwar and Shihan weeklies were shut down, and their editors, Hashem Al-Khalidi and Jihad Al-Moumani, were tried and sentenced to two months' imprisonment. [14] In Yemen, the Al-Hurriyya, Al-Rai Al-'Aam, and Yemen Observer newspapers had their licenses revoked; in Algeria, Al-Risala, Al-Safir, and Kara were shut down, and their editors were arrested and charged with insulting the religious sentiments of the public. [15] In Saudi Arabia, the youth paper Shams was shut down - even though it published the cartoons along with articles encouraging readers to take action against Denmark, with the explicit intention of spurring such action by Saudis. [16] In Egypt, 40,000 copies of the government daily Al-Akhbar were confiscated prior to distribution, and editor Muhammad Barakat was summoned for questioning. He apologized and promised an investigation. [17]

However, an Egyptian blogger discovered that the Egyptian weekly Al-Fajr had published the cartoons on October 17, 2005, during the month of Ramadan - but that there had been neither a public outcry nor government attention. The blogger wrote that this supported the argument that Arab governments were making much of the affair in order to deflect public opinion from their own shortcomings. [18]

*Muslim Attempts to Calm the Situation

On February 13, 2006, 41 prominent clerics from all over the Muslim world issued a statement saying that the reactions to the "crime" of insulting the Prophet in forbidden ways must not take the form of attacking embassies and individuals, and also that non-Muslims, whether in Arab countries or outside them, should not be blamed for the sin of those who had insulted the Prophet. The economic boycott on Denmark was not mentioned.

The communiqué further explained that there was a limit to individual freedoms, and that this limit precluded insult to things sacred to religions or evoking hatred against any religion or race. It called upon Denmark to condemn the insult to the Prophet and to prevent any further insult, and on the Arab governments and the international community to bring about the adoption of a U.N. resolution declaring that insulting the prophets was a crime. Among the signatories to the communiqué were Saudi Islamist preacher Dr. 'Aidh Al-Qarni; then-Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine 'Ikrima Sabri; Mufti of Egypt Sheikh Dr. 'Ali Gum'ah; and Egyptian Islamist preacher 'Amr Khaled. [19]

With the aim of calming the situation, the Danish government held an interfaith conference for cultural and religious dialogue in Copenhagen, during March 9-10, 2006. The participants were Muslim and Christian clerics, and some 50 young people from Denmark and Middle Eastern countries. [20] However, imams active in Danish mosques, who were not invited to participate, expressed reservations about the conference; after it was over, they claimed that it had failed to achieve its goals. [21]

One prominent conference participant was Egyptian Islamist preacher 'Amr Khaled, who sought to take the opportunity both to propagate Islam and to promote dialogue that would lead to coexistence instead of a clash between civilizations. In advance of the conference, he explained that his aim was "to stress the importance of the transition from crisis to dialogue, and to inculcate knowledge of our Prophet to the world." [22]

Although no concluding statement or recommendations emerged from the conference, it did, according to 'Amr Khaled, manage to spark a religious and cultural dialogue between Muslims and the West on several levels. According to him, this was because the dialogue was no longer between senior officials behind closed doors, but had now moved to the peoples - and particularly to the young people and to the non-governmental organizations. "Extremist forces," he said, "are seeking to ignite a blaze and to turn Denmark from a peace-seeking country into a country hostile to Islam. We want the voice of those preachers calling for dialogue to overpower the voice of those preachers calling for a clash." [23]

Another conference participant, Islamist preacher from Kuwait Dr. Tariq Al-Suwaidan, who is now director-general of the new Islamist TV channel Al-Risala, explained that the conference participants had succeeded in conveying two messages - "one firm message to the government of Denmark - which handled the matter poorly - stating that the boycott will continue unless an apology is issued... and a second message stressing to the Danish people that we are calling for peace, love, and coexistence, and that we hope that they will come to know Islam and the Muslims better [...]" [24]

*Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi Opposes Calming the Situation

Leading Sunni cleric Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi, who is, inter alia, a top spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, led the antagonistic line against Denmark and countries supporting its position. In his capacity as president of the International Association of Muslim Scholars, he declared in a sermon on Friday, February 3, 2006 that this date would be an "international day of rage," and called on preachers to focus on the cartoon controversy. Similarly, he called on the Arab and Islamic governments to intervene through diplomatic channels to prevent attacks on Islam. [25]

In the sermon, he also said: "The governments must be pressured to demand that the U.N. adopt a clear resolution or law that categorically prohibits affronts to prophets - to the prophets of the Lord and His messengers, to His holy books, and to the religious holy places. This is so that nobody can cause them harm." He continued: "We say to those Europeans: We can get by without you, but you cannot get by without us. We can get by without your products. We will buy from China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, from the Asian countries. We will say what King Faysal - may he rest in peace - said in 1973, in the days of the petroleum war. He said to them: We can get by without the petrol, and return to our days of yore. We will make do with milk and dates. We will drink the milk of our camels, and eat the dates from our palm trees. King Faysal said this when there was a threat to Arab honor. It is all the more true when there is a threat to our Islamic honor, to our prophets, and our religion." [26]

Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi did not sign the February 13 communiqué, and demanded that the Muslim rage against Denmark not be silenced. [27] He also opposed the March 9-10 Copenhagen interfaith conference, and claimed that 'Amr Khaled had acted against the interests of the Islamic nation and for the Danish government. On this matter, Al-Qaradhawi stated: "The nations need something to awaken them from their stagnation. What happened [following the publication of the cartoons] is motivating the Muslim nation, which has been torn to pieces by disputes, whereas it has been united by love of the Prophet." [28]

Instead of participating in the Copenhagen conference, Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi called an Islamic conference in Bahrain to discuss the ramifications of the cartoons affair and demonstrate Islamic anger "in a way that is logical and deliberate, that will restrain those who insult things sacred to religion… and will prevent insult to the messengers of God and His prophets." [29] The conference, held in the Bahraini capital of Manama during March 22-23, was attended by over 300 Muslim intellectuals and religious clerics from various countries. Its main recommendations were to establish an "international organization for the support of the Prophet," which would provide a framework for continuing the conference's activities; to demand a "cultural apology" for the publishing of the cartoons; to promote the draft resolutions submitted to the U.N. by various Islamic states prohibiting the defamation of religions; and to regard economic boycott as a civilized form of protest. [30]

In his capacity as chairman of the board of directors of, Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi also suggested dealing with the cartoon crisis by establishing a website in the major European languages, to operate under his supervision and to inculcate knowledge about the Prophet Muhammad and about Islam as a way of life. [31]

*Al-Qaradhawi Rejects Danish Apology, Sets Conditions for Accepting Norwegian Apology

Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi was not satisfied with the Danish apologies for the insult to Muslims due to the publication of the cartoons, and demanded a precondition to engaging in dialogue: an official apology for Jyllands-Posten's printing of the cartoons. He told the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "The Danish government sent a delegation to me to discuss the ramifications of the cartoon [crisis], but I refused to meet with it, because I do not want to block the Islamic nation's path [of protest] for the sake of Denmark. We want to stand alongside the Islamic institutions in expressing condemnation of these cartoons." [32]

Despite his rejection of the Danish apology, it was reported on Al-Qaradhawi's website that he had met in Qatar with an Islamic-Christian delegation from Norway. According to Al-Qaradhawi's website, this delegation conveyed an apology from the Norwegian government and the Norwegian paper, and stressed that "Norway is legislating a law criminalizing denigrating the prophets and insulting things sacred to the religions." [33]

These statements were made at a February 14, 2006 press conference at Al-Qaradhawi's Doha home, after meeting with a delegation that included Islamic Council of Norway Chairman Muhammad Hamdan, Committee of Imams in Norway representative Dhu Al-Qarnain Sakander, and senior church dean Dag Hauge. Al-Qaradhawi told journalists that the Norwegian government had asked for the guidance of the Islamic Council of Norway in formulating an apology: "It was agreed that there would be a meeting with the Islamic Council... at which a government representative and the paper's editor in chief would submit an apology... The apology was examined by [Muslims] who know Norwegian, and they approved it... On this basis, we can assess their [i.e. the Norwegians'] position and see it as showing understanding of and identification with [the Muslims], and not standing alongside Denmark. This is in addition to the fact that the Norwegian prime minister condemned this insult [to Islam] from the beginning."

In response to a direct question of whether the apology had been accepted, Al-Qaradhawi said: "We accepted the apology in principle, on condition that a law is passed that will treat denigration of all prophets and sacred things as a crime." A report posted on his website said that the Norwegian delegation had told journalists that there had indeed been a change in Norwegian criminal law. According to Muhammad Hamdan, after his arrival in Doha he received a fax from Norway clarifying that the parliament had passed the change, known as Section 150a of the penal code, on first reading.

Al-Qaradhawi's website also claimed that Dean Hauge had explained: "Section 150a [of the penal code], which the Norwegian parliament adopted on the first reading, stipulates that insulting the religions is a crime, and that there must be absolutely no denigration of people or their religions. Based on this, the law states clearly that the use of drawings in order to insult religious symbols is a crime... The punishment for insulting religions stipulated in the amended law will range from a fine to imprisonment." [34]

However, in Norway, these published statements were denied. Storting (Norwegian parliament) Vice President Carl I. Hagen stated, "Some Arabic media have recently claimed that the Storting - the Norwegian parliament - has amended the Penal Code to criminalize blasphemy in the wake of the publication of the Danish cartoons representing the Prophet Muhammed by a Norwegian magazine. This is not correct. Nor is it correct that the Storting is preparing such amendments. The paragraph in the law concerning blasphemous expressions is in no active use; neither has the Storting treated any kind of proposal to activate this paragraph lately. The claims put forward by some Arabic media are thus without substance." [35]

In the Norwegian paper, Dean Hauge also denied that Norway had amended its penal code to make blasphemy punishable by fine or imprisonment. According to him, "I never said that. I was referring to Section 135 of the penal code, which deals with discrimination. The law deals with faith and religion, and can be applied in matters of this kind." He stressed that he had not mentioned the invalid blasphemy section. [36]

*Al-Jazeera Leads Anti-Cartoons Media Attack

Pierre Akal, the Lebanese-born editor of the reformist, explained that the cartoons crisis was the result of the rivalry between Arab countries, headed by Saudi Arabia, and the Muslim Brotherhood: "Why did Saudi Arabia launch… an unprecedented media attack four months after the insulting cartoons were published in the Danish paper? Why is the Saudi media competing with the main media platform of the Muslim Brotherhood, that is, Al-Jazeera, in inciting Arab and Islamic public opinion in a way that is likely to end in bloodshed and suicide [attacks]? Not to mention [Libyan leader Mu'ammar] Al-Qaddafi, who also found an opportunity to join in this free-for-all, in which every Arab ruler is competing for the title of 'Defender of Islam.'

"[French researcher] Gilles Kepel maintains that the Muslim Brotherhood victory, manifest in the [election of the affiliated movement] Hamas… is what pushed Saudi Arabia to launch the battle of the cartoons four months after they were published… or [that what pushed Saudi Arabia to do this was] some of the Muslim public opinion in the world, that placed responsibility on the Saudi authorities for the recent Haj disaster, that ended, again, in the death of hundreds of pilgrims [and the Saudi authorities tried to divert attention from this incident]…

"Whatever the results of this attack [against the cartoons], this time Saudi Arabia bears the responsibility for what it caused. This time, the one responsible is… the Saudi regime, which gave the signal to launch the attack by recalling the Saudi ambassador from Denmark. The one responsible is also Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi, who in his Al-Jazeera appearances acts like the chief of staff in the War of the Cartoons…" [37]

Also pointing out the role played by Al-Jazeera in fanning the flames of the crisis was Egyptian journalist Dr. Ahmad Yousuf Sa'd: "It is the Al-Jazeera channel, which spread, to the Arabs and to the world, the poison of [bin Laden's and Al-Zawahiri's] cassettes and the hatred and denigration that they contain towards Christianity, Judaism, and the other religions and ethnic groups whose beliefs are different from those of the brothers [i.e. bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri], that has led the media attack about the Danish paper…

"'Respect those around you and they will respect you' - we learned this in our childhood, but Al-Jazeera does not adhere to it. By opening the channel to the brothers [bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri] Al-Jazeera is allowing itself [to do] things that it regards as perverse when they are done by the Danish paper…" [38]

It should be noted that Jyllands-Posten culture editor Flemming Rose, who published the cartoons, apologized for the insult to the Muslims during an interview with Al-Jazeera - but the channel refrained from translating his apology into Arabic. When the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat asked Al-Jazeera about this, Al-Jazeera refused to comment. [39]

The Arab Countries Exploit the Crisis

*Egypt's Ambassador to Denmark: "I Feared that the Matter Would End with the Danish Prime Minister's Apology"

Egyptian Ambassador to Denmark Muna Omar, who, following the crisis, was reassigned as ambassador to South Africa, told the Saudi daily Al-Watan that she had rejoiced when Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen had refused to apologize for the cartoons and thus end the crisis. She revealed that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry had played a central role in the crisis, and that Saudi Arabia had also contributed. According to Ms. Omar, "The ambassadors of the Muslim countries, who had sensed a malicious aim in the spreading of the cartoons, met and agreed to work together as a group against the Danish government. We sent a communiqué to the Danish prime minister, directed his attention to the severity of the deed, and presented him with many previous examples of insults to Islam...

"In truth, I feared that the matter would end with an apology from the prime minister... The best thing the Danish prime minister did was not apologizing for [Jylland-Posten's] disgraceful stand. Had he apologized, he would have temporarily ended this issue, until its recurrence, here in the form of cartoons, there in the form of articles, and here again in the form of attacks [on Islam]. The truth is that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry played an important role in the crisis, and the foreign minister was constantly guiding me in reacting to the matter...

"In January 2006 - on the occasion of the new year - the Danish prime minister declared that he opposed any act that involved denigrating any religion. There were those who thought that the matter would end as simply as that, because they treated the declaration as if it concealed an apology within it. But Saudi Arabia continued to act [in protest against the cartoons], and recalled its ambassador. As a result, the Danish prime minister called Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa and submitted his apology... The [Arab and Islamic] stand with regard to the publication of the insulting cartoons proves that when we act [together], we are capable of doing much." [40]

*Mashari Al-Dhaydi: "Those Who Suffer from Doubts Regarding Their [Religious] View Take Every Opportunity to Prove the Opposite"

Saudi reformist and columnist for the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Mashari Al-Dhaydi warned against exploiting the crisis for political purposes completely unconnected to insulting the Prophet Muhammad: "Countries and politicians about whom it is difficult to believe that they do indeed feel true passion and zeal for Islam [have expressed views on the cartoon crisis]. The author of the Green Book [Libyan ruler Mu'ammar Al-Qaddafi] recalled his ambassador; the leader of the Ba'th party [Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad] donned the turban of Emir of the Believers and guided the rabble to burn the foreign embassies in his country, claiming that this was zealotry for Islam; [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, who wanted the voter's ballots after he failed in the first elections, donned a sheikh's robe and toadied to public religious sentiment by declaring that he would raise funds for an attack on Denmark; [Saudi King Abdallah], accused of laxity in his religious sentiment and a loose affiliation to Islam because of some views he expressed on the subject of education and the status of women, hastened to compete with the 'sheikhs' [in showing the most extreme 'religious' position].

"This has always been our tragedy... Those who suffer doubts regarding their [religious] view take every opportunity to prove the opposite. And therefore when there is a suitable opportunity... they respond in an unnatural and exaggerated way, that exceeds what is required of them... " [41]

*Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed: "The Demonstrations in the Arab World are Officially Organized"

Al-Arabiyya TV director-general and former editor of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed made it clear that the protests were hardly a spontaneous, popular initiative - because in Arab countries there is no freedom to demonstrate: "In every society in which it is impossible to demonstrate against the political regime, it is [likewise] impossible to see any protest activity as activity that is clean [of regime involvement] and spontaneous. This is the situation in most Arab societies, which permit demonstrations only against the other [but not against their regimes]. Most of the demonstrations are organized by the government, and their participants are government officials... Neither the public nor foreign governments have in the past treated, or will in the future treat, demonstrations in the Arab world seriously. Everyone knows well that they are officially organized; that their signs are printed in government printing houses; and that they do not necessarily express the public's basic demands..." [42]

*Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim: The Islamic Countries Have Exploited the Opportunity to Settle Accounts with the West

Egyptian human rights activist and director of the Ibn Khaldoun Center Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim wrote, in an article posted on the reformist website "Some Islamist countries that are in crisis with the West or with their peoples on other issues [not necessarily the cartoons] have exploited the opportunity to settle accounts with the West on these other issues - even on issues to which Denmark is unconnected. Moreover, those Westerners and Muslims who are competing [in the economic sphere] with Danish products have joined the fray, to pour more oil on the fire of Muslim rage, and have called to demonstrate and to boycott Danish products... Furthermore, this drama has enabled many forces in the Islamic countries to compete in their displays of extremism, so as to prove their zealotry for Islam...

"The worst dramas of rage and destruction have been in Damascus, Beirut, and Tehran... These three capitals are in crisis with the West and with their peoples, and these circumstances have given them the opportunity to find a 'scapegoat' against which the pent-up rage of their repressed peoples would be directed. In Damascus and Tehran, no demonstrations [can] break out... except at the directive of the internal security apparatuses, or because of incitement by them. In Beirut also... whoever participated in the riots and acts of destruction was a minority amongst the supporters of the Syrian Ba'th regime, [and] most of them were apprehended. The Islamic and Christian political forces in Lebanon who called for protest demonstrations in peaceful ways disassociated themselves from them [...]" [43]

Freedom of Expression and the Claim of a "Double Standard" Employed by the West

A central question raised in the Arab media in response to the cartoon crisis was why offending Islam is not regarded as a crime in the West, but rather as part of an individual's right to freedom of expression, while antisemitism, and raising doubts as to the authenticity or extent of the Holocaust, are considered highly offensive and are even illegal.

The protest against this "double standard" was lead by Iran. Hamshahri, one of the country's most widely distributed newspapers, even decided to "test the limits of freedom of press in the West" by organizing an international competition for cartoons on the subject of the Holocaust, in collaboration with the Iranian cartoonists' website It should be noted that the site's operator and Internet provider are based in the U.S. [44]

In a speech on Iranian TV, Iranian president Ahmadinejad declared that the Zionists were responsible for instigating the cartoon crisis, and invoked the "double standard," saying: "I call upon all free people of the world - Christians and Jews - to rise together with the Muslims and not to let a handful of shameless Zionists, who have been defeated in Palestine, to harm the sanctity of the prophets. I call upon them not to let a few weak governments - which owe their rise to power to the support of the Zionists - support them in this ugly manner. As I have said before, as far as several aggressive European governments are concerned, and as far as the Great Satan [i.e. the U.S.] is concerned, it is permissible to harm the honor of the divine prophets, but it is a crime to ask questions about the myth of the Holocaust, and about how the false regime occupying Palestine came into being....

"If you are not lying, allow a group of neutral, honest researchers to come to Europe, and to talk to people, examine documents, and let people know the findings of their research about the Holocaust myth.... If you are looking for the real Holocaust, you should look for it in Palestine.... If you are looking for the crimes of the Holocaust, you should find them among the oppressed people of Iraq..." [45]

Iranian leader Ali Khamenei commented in a similar vein: "The freedom of speech about which the [Westerners] talk so much does not permit anyone to doubt the myth about the massacre of the Jews, known as the Holocaust. There is no room for freedom of speech there. In the European countries, many people - including scientists, researchers, historians, and journalists - are so afraid that they do not dare to express the doubt in their hearts about this issue. Some of them even believe that this issue is an outright lie. They do not dare to say so, because they have seen that anyone who says so is punished, imprisoned, persecuted, and deprived of his rights... Yet offending what is holy to one and a half billion Muslims for no reason... this is classified as freedom of speech.

"This is not about the journalist or cartoonist, who was paid by the Zionists to draw this cartoon in order to serve their impure purposes. The problem is that the European Leaders defend this act... and consider it to be legitimate, and allow it as freedom of speech.... I assume that a profound Zionist plot is at the core of the matter. They are setting the Muslims and Christians against one another..." [46]

Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi said: "We reject the Western double standard regarding freedom of expression. Denmark evoked this freedom when it refused to apologize for the cartoons which were offensive to Muslims, while Austria sentenced the British historian David Irving to three years in prison for denying the Jewish Holocaust." [47]

*Hassan Nasrallah: If the Fatwa against Salman Rushdie Had Been Carried Out, People Would Not Have Dared to Insult the Prophet

In a speech aired on Al-Jazeera TV, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said: "The truth is that we face a new phenomenon, or rather a new example of the West's hypocrisy.... This has come to be known in the Arab region as 'double standards.' They weigh things differently with us and with others.

"For example, a few years ago, a great French philosopher, Roger Garaudy, wrote a scientific book. He did not offend, curse, or insult anyone. He wrote scientific research of an academic nature, in which he discussed the alleged Jewish Holocaust in Germany. He proved that this Holocaust is a myth. The great French philosopher Roger Garaudy was put on trial. He was offended and humiliated. It did him no good that freedom of expression is considered a human right in France. Why? Because freedom of expression extends to the Jews, but it does not extend to the Prophet of 1.4 billion Muslims. [...]" [48]

In another broadcast, this time on Hizbullah's TV channel Al-Manar, Nasrallah said: "If any Muslim had carried out the fatwa of Imam Khomeini against the apostate Salman Rushdie, those despicable people would not have dared to insult the Prophet Muhammad - not in Denmark, not in Norway, and not in France... I call upon the Muslim jurisprudents, the Muslim religious scholars, the leaders of the Islamic movements, the leaders of the Islamic countries, and all the Muslims to take a decisive stand... I am certain that not only millions, but hundreds of millions, of Muslims are ready and willing to sacrifice their lives in order to defend the honor of their Prophet. And you are among them." [49]

*Tariq Ramadan: The Fact that There is Hypocrisy in the Arab World is Not an Excuse for Offending the Muslims

Tariq Ramadan, one of the more familiar faces of Islam in Europe, called upon all parties involved the cartoon crisis to understand that it was not a legal issue, but a crisis that calls for mutual consideration. Ramadan also referred to the discrepancy between the Muslim demand for respect towards Islam and the manifestations of antisemitism in the Muslim world.

Ramadan wrote: "In analyzing the incident of the cartoons defaming Muhammad, three points must be taken into account. Firstly, drawing [images of] the Prophet Muhammad and of other prophets is opposed to the laws of Islam. Secondly, we in the Muslim world are not accustomed to expressions of disrespect towards religion - neither our own religion nor other religions. Therefore, not only extremist Muslims but even mainstream Muslims regard these cartoons as an attack on something sacred, and as provocative to Islam. Thirdly, Muslims must understand that disrespect towards religion is part of the European culture in which they live.... Derision, contempt and heresy are part of this culture. When a person lives as a Muslim in this sort of environment, he must behave accordingly, and refrain from emotional reaction. We should follow the laws of Islam, and be wise enough to refrain from responding to provocation...

"Both sides must understand that the issue is not a legal one, nor is it a matter of rights. In Europe, freedom of expression is a right protected by law - this is an undisputable fact. At the same time, it is important to understand that the makeup of European society changed [as it absorbed] immigrants belonging to different cultures. Therefore, the Muslims and other [minorities] living in Europe must [be treated with] sensitivity. It also goes without saying that, even though the law places no limits on freedom of expression, there are limits [based on] civil [principles].... This is a matter of good judgment and civil responsibility, rather than laws or rights...

"The Muslims must understand that in Europe there is freedom of expression... and [the Europeans] must understand that sensitive issues must be handled wisely and not in a provocative manner - since just because something is permitted by law does not mean that it must be done. A person should understand the mindset of the people around him, and ask himself: Should I deliberately offend others [just] because I am free to do so? The answer to this [question] is negative. That is [the meaning of] civil responsibility.

"The German newspaper Die Welt argued that the protests in the Muslim world could have been taken seriously if they had been less hypocritical. [In substantiating this claim], it mentioned a drama series that was aired on Syrian TV, which presented Jewish rabbis as eating human flesh, and was received without protest by Muslim imams. [50] I do not think that the newspaper's [claims] are mistaken. We Muslims should [indeed] examine our own [behavior]. However, the existence of hypocrisy in the Arab world should not be an excuse for offending the Muslims. [...]" [51]

*The Boundaries of Freedom of Expression

Muslim opinion-makers rejected the Western claim that the cartoons did not overstep the boundaries of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, explaining that there was no such thing as unlimited freedom. Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi explained: "Nobody has absolute freedom. When you drive a car, you cannot… weave from right to left, since you share the road with others and you are constrained by the traffic laws." [52]

In a demonstration organized by Al-Azhar University, Al-Azhar Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi called to pass a law against attacks on religions, similar to the law against antisemitism. "We support freedom of the press," he said, "but not the freedom to hurl curses and insults." [53]

In accordance with this demand, 57 Islamic countries submitted a draft resolution to the U.N. The proposed resolution proclaimed that defamation of religions and prophets is not compatible with freedom of expression. [54]

*Aluma Dankowitz is Director of MEMRI's Reform Project.

[1] For example, in a communiqué by the Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades who claim to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda, the organization threatened Denmark with "a blood-soaked war and blessed invasions [by the Muslims]." Al-Quds Al-Arabi, London, February 2, 2006. On the burning of the embassies and the damage to churches, see MEMRI TV Clip No. 1025, "Protesters Burn European Embassies, Consulates, Churches in Damascus and Beirut," Al-Jazeera TV (Qatar), New TV (Lebanon), February 5, 2006, .

[2] As cited in Al-Masaa (Egypt), February 3, 2006.

[3] See MEMRI TV Clip No. 1073, "Egyptian Performer Sha'ban Abd Al-Rahim Sings against Denmark and the Avian Flu, and Talks about His Life and Convictions," Dream2 TV (Egypt), March 1, 2006, .

[4], April 27, 2006.

See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1153, "Arab Reformists Under Threat by Islamists: Bin Laden Urges Killing of 'Freethinkers,'" May 3, 2006, Arab Reformists Under Threat by Islamists: Bin Laden Urges Killing of ‘Freethinkers’.

[5] Yahya Al-Libi's statements were posted on several Islamist forums. See, for example,, May 12, 2005.

[6] This combination of demands to respect Islam, on the one hand, and offensive comments, on the other hand, can be seen in the following remarks by an Iraqi preacher: "Bring Your wrath down upon the heads of the people of Denmark, oh Allah. Bring Your full force down upon their heads, oh Allah. Make Your ground swallow them up, oh Allah. Send Your earthquakes upon them, oh Allah. Send Your hurricanes upon them, oh Allah. Erupt Your volcanoes upon them, oh Allah. [...] You do not know how to respect the monotheistic religions, or the prophets and messengers. Oh Arab and Muslim rulers, a trade boycott is not enough. Closing down embassies is not enough. You should instruct your peoples to boycott all the infidels." Salah Al-Din TV, Iraq, February 10, 2006,

[7] Jyllands-Posten (Denmark), February 19, 2006.

[8] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 24, 2006.

[9] The reports on the meetings held by the Danish delegation in Egypt appeared in a pamphlet circulated later by the Danish delegation that visited Syria and Lebanon. See Ekstrabladet (Denmark), January 12, 2006.

[10] Ekstrabladet (Denmark), January 12, 2006.

[11] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), January 30, 2006.

[12] For the paper's apology in Arabic, see:

[13] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 24, 2006.

[14] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 31, 2006.

[15] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 19, 2006.


[17] Al-Arabi (Egypt), February 5, 2006;, February 7, 2006.

[18], February 8, 2006.

[19], February 13, 2006.

[20] The affair led to further meetings between Muslim and Danish youth. On March 24, 2006, a debate between Arab and Danish students was held in Damascus, and was aired on Al-Jazeera TV. Ahmad Al-Shater, chairman of the Arab Students Union, explained that Islam is not a religion of terrorism, and that even in war, a Muslim may not treat human life lightly. He complained that Denmark never apologized for the cartoons, and is not interested in punishing the paper that published them. According to him, this strengthens the suspicion that the Danish government was actually behind the publication. The chairman of the Sudanese Students Union said: "Tomorrow America will pass a resolution in the U.N. Security Council calling for international military intervention in Sudan. Among these forces, obviously, there will be Danish forces. I would like to inform you that because the Sudanese people are so angry over this affront, they will kill the Danish soldiers before they kill the others." Upon hearing this statement, Ahmad Al-Shater turned to the English translator and instructed her: "Don't translate that word for word. Just say that the Sudanese will put up resistance against them." See transcript at

[21] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 10, 2006.

[22] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 1, 2006.

[23], March 13, 2006.

[24], March 13, 2006.

[25] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1089, "Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi Responds to Cartoons of Prophet Muhammad: Whoever is Angered and Does Not Rage in Anger is a Jackass - We are Not a Nation of Jackasses," February 9, 2006, Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi Responds to Cartoons of Prophet Muhammad: Whoever is Angered and Does Not Rage in Anger is a Jackass - We are Not a Nation of Jackasses.

[26] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1089, "Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi Responds to Cartoons of Prophet Muhammad: Whoever is Angered and Does Not Rage in Anger is a Jackass - We are Not a Nation of Jackasses," February 9, 2006, Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi Responds to Cartoons of Prophet Muhammad: Whoever is Angered and Does Not Rage in Anger is a Jackass - We are Not a Nation of Jackasses.

[27], February 13, 2006.

[28] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 3, 2006.

[29] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 3, 2006.

[30] For the full text of the recommendations in Arabic, see:


[32] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 3, 2006.

[33], February 16, 2006.

[34], February 16, 2006.

[35] This official explanation was provided directly to MEMRI by Storting Vice-President Carl I. Hagen.


[37], February 4, 2006.

[38] Al-Qahira (Egypt), February 7, 2006.

[39] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 19, 2006.

[40] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), January 30, 2006.

[41] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 7, 2006.

[42] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 20, 2006.

[43], February 20, 2006.

[44] The site's registration details, as of May 15, 2006, are: IP address:; ISP: Internap Network Services, Atlanta, Georgia, US;, Vancouver, WA. US; Registrant: majid Hadji 11023 115 th Ct #E106 kirkland, wa 98033 US

Administrative, Technical Contact: Hadji, Majid 11023 115 th Ct #E106 kirkland, wa 98033 US

[45] Jaam-e Jam 2 TV, February 11, 2006.

[46] Iranian TV, Channel 1, February 7, 2006.

[47] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, March 3, 2006.

[48] Al-Jazeera TV, February 3, 2006.

[49] Al-Manar TV, February 2, 2006.

[50] This refers to a 30-episode antisemitic Syrian TV drama called Al-Shatat ("The Diaspora"), which was broadcast in the Arab world during Ramadan 2003, and purports to present the history of the Zionist movement from 1912 until today.

[51] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, February 6, 2006.


[53] Al-Liwa Al-Islami, Egypt, February 9, 2006.

[54] Al-Hayat, London, February 15, 2005.

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