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Cartoon Row

The cartoons depicting the image of the Prophet Mohammed, originally published in September by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten, continue to draw criticism and outrage from Muslims around the world. Papers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Jordan have reproduced the cartoons as a show of support for freedom of speech. The fury over the republication has extended far beyond that of the original publication. Protests, boycotts and riots have taken place from Morocco to Malaysia. Others participating include those in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Yemen and the Sudan.

ProtestsIn the Palestinian Territories protesters surrounded the EU headquarters in Gaza City. In the West Bank, hour a German teacher was kidnapped and held for an before her captors where apprehended by Palestinian police. The Khaleej Times reports that foreign aid workers and journalists are leaving Gaza. The EU announced that, despite the reaction in the region, the EU would continue to provide aid to the Palestinians. That aid, however, is still bound to the conditions set forth in Thursday’s vote by the EU parliament to require the Hamas-led government in the territories to renounce its current position with regard to the existence of Israel.

Elsewhere, Pakistan’s parliament has condemned the cartoons as “blasphemous.” And President Musharraf said, “It is regrettable that the newspapers did not honour the sentiments of the Muslims throughout the world.” Afghan President Karzai likewise condemned the cartoons while calling for forgiveness and calm.

ProtestsIndonesian Muslims attacked the building which houses the Danish embassy, pelting the building with eggs before entering it by force and smashing chairs and lamps with bamboo sticks. In Malaysia, protesters and consumer advocacy groups have called for the boycott of Danish products and services, as well as stating that “the Danish government owed Muslims of the world an apology”.

The potential impact of the growing calls for boycotts has been felt by at least one firm, leading dairy provider Arla Foods, which is reported to have shut down operations in Saudi Arabia.

From our often distant viewpoint, similar to the way we struggle to comprehend suicide bombers, the significance of the ruleset by which much of the Islamic world is governed remains more than just cloaked. It is invisible to us. Likewise within the Muslim world, the delicate balance between the virtues of rule of law and tradition and the value of reason and moderation has been lost. Having issues such as the publication of cartoons, whether humorous or insulting, may bring further insight into our differences. It can present the opportunity to learn, but can also provide the fuel to further separate us. The choice remains for free men to make.