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Muslim Protests Continue Over Muhammad Cartoons


Protests are continuing across the Muslim world against the publication of cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad. Political and religious leaders have condemned the violence that has killed at least 18 people, and are expressing concerns the uproar may widen the gap between the West and the Islamic world.

From Europe to Africa through the Middle East and Asia, protests have erupted over cartoons first published last September in a Danish newspaper lampooning the Prophet Muhammad.

Journalists that published the cartoons say they did so in defense of freedom of speech, while many Muslims found the caricatures to be blasphemous and an insult to Islam.

One cartoon depicted Muhammad with a bomb in place of a turban on his head, while another linked the prophet to suicide attacks.

Imam Mohamed Magid is the leader of a large mosque and community center outside Washington, D.C. that serves more than 5,000 Muslim families. He has been closely following the cartoon controversy and says linking Islam to terrorism led to the uproar.

"What really hurt Muslims about this issue is how this newspaper has presented Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is a stereotyping of Muslims as well as the religion of Islam, that Islam is a religion of terrorism, a religion of violence and so forth," he said.

The Reverend Clark Lobenstine is a Presbyterian minister and director of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington.

He slams the decision to publish the cartoons, saying Western concerns about freedom of speech should not lead to the publication of cartoons that insult one of the world's major religions.

"To cry fire in a crowded theater is not covered by free speech," he explained. "We live in a world that is a crowded theater and we must be wise in our words and use discretion in our actions."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the cartoons are offensive to her, and has urged Muslim leaders to speak out against the violent protests.

In Europe and the United States some officials have accused the governments in Iran and Syria of encouraging protests for political reasons.

Parvez Ahmed, the chairman of the board of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, wonders why protesters in some countries have targeted the United States.

"It makes no sense to wake up in the morning, pick up the newspaper, and see rioters in Pakistan burning a McDonalds," he explained. "I mean what does America have to do with this controversy? America, if anything has been exemplary in dealing with this controversy, both at a political level, as well as at an interfaith or even at a media level. The media has exhibited extreme restraint and respect towards Muslims and Islam."

Rabbi Mark Gopin, the director of the Center for World Relations, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, says the controversy over the cartoons is an example of the lack of understanding between Muslims and people in the West.

"That is exactly where tragedies occur, when people are not aware of the things that are the most offensive and hurtful to the other group," he said. "I hope that out of this tragedy comes a greater global conversation, not just between the religions, but also between the religions and the secular constructs of civilization, whether it be European civilization or American civilization or other states around the world."

It is not known whether the furor over the cartoons will die down, or if the violence will escalate, but in some places there are continued efforts to keep the issue alive.

Local Islamic leaders in the Pakistani city of Peshawar are offering rewards of more than $1 million to anyone who kills the Danish artists who drew the cartoons.