February 3, 2006 in Nation/World

Caricatures of Muhammad spark protests, threats

Sebastian Rotella Los Angeles Times

PARIS – Muslims erupted in angry protest and issued threats against Europeans on Thursday in response to Western media’s publication of controversial caricatures of the prophet Muhammad.

Debate over the drawings, first published in September by a Danish newspaper, has come to be seen as a collision between freedom of expression and religious sensitivities in European nations where the Muslim population has struggled to fit in.

First published by a Danish newspaper in September, the caricatures appeared recently in newspapers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and even Jordan.

Muslims, who believe any depiction of God and the prophets is blasphemy, are outraged at drawings of Muhammad with a bomb as a turban, among others.

One cartoon shows Muhammad standing on a cloud as he tells a group of suicide bombers that Paradise has run out of the virgins that are said to await martyrs upon their death.

Conflict heated up on multiple fronts Thursday. In the Gaza Strip, masked Palestinian gunmen fired weapons into the air as they surrounded an office of the European Union and a French cultural center. Two Palestinian militant groups threatened to retaliate against the offending publications by kidnapping European citizens and targeting churches and European offices.

In Paris, the France Soir tabloid abruptly fired its managing editor for reprinting the caricatures in Wednesday’s edition, whose cover carried the paper’s own cartoon of Muhammad alongside Christian, Jewish and Buddhist holy figures. “Don’t complain, Muhammad, we’re all being caricatured here,” the Christian God says.

Tunisia and Morocco banned the sale of France Soir.

Editorialists, political leaders and advocates of media freedom said that a Muslim backlash that has included boycotts, death threats and flag-burnings jeopardizes democratic rights.

But Muslim leaders accused European media of provoking strife by humiliating Islam. “Freedom of expression cannot be the freedom to lie,” said Dalil Boubakeur, the imam of the Mosque of Paris and president of the French Muslim Council. “The prophet did not found a terrorist religion, but on the contrary a religion of peace.”

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