JEDDAH/RIYADH, 30 January 2006 — The Muslim world’s two main political bodies, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League, said yesterday they were seeking a UN resolution, backed by possible sanctions, to protect religions. This follows the outcry caused by publication in Scandinavia of cartoons denigrating Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the 57-member OIC told reporters in Cairo that the OIC would “ask the UN General Assembly to pass a resolution banning attacks on religious beliefs.”
Ahmad Ben Helli, assistant secretary-general of the Arab League, confirmed that contacts were under way for such a proposal to be made to the United Nations.
“Consultations are currently taking place at the highest level between Arab countries and the OIC in order to ask the UN to adopt a binding resolution banning contempt for religious beliefs and providing for sanctions to be imposed on contravening countries or institutions,” he said.
Twelve cartoons defiling the Prophet, published in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper last September and reprinted in a Norwegian magazine earlier this month, caused uproar in the Muslim world where any image of the Prophet is considered blasphemous.
MWL Chief Writes to Annan
The Makkah-based Muslim World League said yesterday that it had sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, urging the United Nations and its subsidiary organizations to stop smear campaigns against Islam and Prophet Muhammad.
“The MWL, which represents Muslim minorities and Islamic organizations around the world, hereby conveys to you, the United Nations and other international organizations the indignation and outrage of Muslims over the smear campaigns being launched by a section of the Western media against Islam and Prophet Muhammad,” MWL Secretary-General Dr. Abdullah Al-Turki said in a letter to UN chief Annan.
Al-Turki said the MWL had received several messages from Muslims in Denmark and Norway and other European countries denouncing the sacrilegious cartoons. He urged the UN to keep a watch on such anti-Islamic campaigns.
“International law is replete with resolutions which seek to promote peaceful coexistence and which prohibit abuse of religion and tarnishing their images,” the MWL chief said.
Officials in Muslim countries and various religious bodies have expressed anger at the cartoons, while the editors of the newspapers have defended their publications on the grounds of freedom of expression.
Muslim wrath has spread rapidly in the Middle East with Gulf retailers pulling Danish products off their shelves and protesters gathering outside Danish embassies.
Syria, Bahrain Join Protest
Syria and Bahrain were the latest Arab countries to join the protest. “Syria calls on the Danish government to take the necessary measures to punish the culprits. The dialogue of civilizations is based on mutual respect,” said an official quoted by the Syrian News Agency yesterday.
The Bahraini Cabinet yesterday condemned the cartoons “which are a deliberate attack against the glorious Prophet Muhammad and have angered Muslims the world over.”
State Minister for Cabinet Affairs Sheikh Ahmed Al-Khalifa said the government “warned against the negative repercussions” of the cartoons.
Libya Closes Embassy in Denmark
Libya said yesterday it had decided to shut down its embassy in Denmark to protest the Danish government’s silence about the cartoons.
The Libyan Foreign Ministry added in a statement carried by the state news agency Jana that Tripoli will also take unspecified “economic measures” against Denmark.
“Because the Danish media had continued to show disrespect to the Prophet and because the Danish authorities failed to take any responsible action on that, Libya decided to close its embassy in Copenhagen,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Jyllands-Posten’s Explanation Letter
Carsten Juste, editor in chief of Jyllands-Posten, meanwhile, is circulating a letter addressing Saudi consumers in his bid to offset the damage caused by the daily to his country’s business. Instead of apologizing, Juste reiterated the paper’s stand that the cartoons were published within the context of Danish dialogue about freedom of expression and were not meant to attack anybody’s religion.
Arab News received the statement from the Danish Embassy here, along with a covering letter from Ambassador Hans Klingenberg, which was posted on the Danish daily’s website late Saturday night.
“We at Jyllands-Posten feel sorry that the issue has reached this level. We repeat that our intention was never to abuse anybody and we respect freedom of religion as does the rest of Danish society,” Juste said.
Ambassador Klingenberg told Arab News that freedom of expression should not be misused to abuse other faiths.
The ambassador emphasized his government’s stand that condemns any expression, action or indication that attempt to demonize groups of people on the basis of their religion or ethnic background. He hoped that the boycott would not affect Saudi-Danish business.
However, Al-Othaim Supermarket Manager Abdullah Al-Batthi said the Danish statement was not strong enough compared to the big damage caused by the cartoons. “Thirty percent of our imports are from Denmark and the boycott will have a big impact on Danish products in the Kingdom,” Al-Batthi said.
Karzai Backs Danish Position
In Copenhagen, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said yesterday that caricatures of the Prophet were a mistake, but that he backed the Danish government’s response to the controversy. Karzai’s position, expressed after a meeting with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, was conciliatory.
“Fogh Rasmussen explained Denmark’s position on that, which was very good, very satisfactory to me as a Muslim,” Karzai said.
“He said he was very sorry for what happened, though of no choice to him or the people of Denmark,” Karzai said.
“The press is free here as we now have it in Afghanistan. There are things that the political system cannot control.”
“The mistake by the newspaper here was also corrected here in the form of apology, in the form of an editorial,” Karzai added.
Anchor Denies Danish Connection
In a related development, Anchor company said its milk powder comes from New Zealand, not from Denmark. The clarification comes as a result of reports about the boycott of Danish products which “have inadvertently included our New Zealand milk powder,” the report said.