A leading Islamic cleric has called for an “international day of anger” over publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, and a Danish activist predicted that deadly violence could break out in Europe “at any minute”.
As more European newspapers reprinted the cartoons, what started off as a row between Denmark’s press and its Muslim population grew into a full-blown “clash of civilizations”.
Anger boiled over in the Gaza Strip, where gunmen from Islamic Jihad occupied the office of the European Union. Europeans began to leave the Palestinian territories after threats from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Jihad al-Momani, the editor of the Jordanian newspaper al-Shihan, was sacked for trying to publish three of the 12 caricatures. He said that he was aiming “to show his readers “the extent of the Danish offence”.
A leading hard-line Muslim cleric, Sheikh Yussef al-Qaradawi, called for the day of anger to protest against the printing of the cartoons – first published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September – in other European papers.
“Let Friday be an international day of anger for God and his prophet,” said the sheikh, who is the head of the International Association of Muslim Scholars. He is one of the Arab world’s most popular television preachers and made a controversial visit to London in July 2004 as a guest of the mayor, Ken Livingstone.
Ahmed Akkari, a Muslim theologian from Copenhagen, said he had attended a meeting this week with the Danish intelligence service, which called the situation “very, very tense”.
He said that a text message had been sent to the mobile phones of young Muslims “telling people not to react to provocations from Right-wing extremists, like burning the Koran, but I know some Muslims will not listen to our message”.
He said the level of anger was “very high” in the Muslim community across Europe and the wider world.
“It is more likely [than not] that any minute we will hear of violence unless the police can control the situation.”
Mr Akkari is the spokesman for a group of Danish imams and activists who brought the cartoons – plus three more offensive ones from an unknown source – to the wider attention of Muslims in trips to Egypt and Lebanon. One of the three new cartoons shows Mohammed with a pig’s snout.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Akkari referred to the murder of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands in 2004. Mr van Gogh was shot and stabbed to death by a Muslim extremist as “punishment” for making a film about the repression of Muslim women that included images of naked women with Koranic verses on their skin.
“For four months we have been trying to take this conflict in hand politically and by the legal system so that we should not see any scenario like Holland,” Mr Akkari said.
He issued a warning that “a clash of civilizations” might result from the decision of newspapers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland to reproduce the 12 cartoons.
“The latest developments are very dangerous. If some militant group goes to a church and tries to do something wrong, it can really escalate and make a danger for European communities.”
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark, told the Danish newspaper Politiken that the issue had gone beyond a row between Copenhagen and the Muslim world and now centred on western free speech versus taboos in Islam. He said: “We are talking about an issue with fundamental significance to how democracies work.”
Ahmad Sheikh, the president of the Muslim Association of Britain, called on the British media not to publish the cartoons.
He said: “Society has to debate the issue but printing an image of the Prophet is offensive to the Muslim community. It is idolatrous. What benefit is there? It will damage community relations. Free speech ends when it starts hurting other people.”
BBC has shown the cartoons fleetingly. They also appear on the website of the extremist British National Party. Tony Blair’s official spokesman said: “It is entirely a matter for media organizations to decide what they want to do. It is a matter for them within the law.”
British Muslim leaders met the Danish ambassador in London on Wednesday to express their anger over the drawings.