06 fevereiro 2006

208) O sempre sóbrio The Economist entra em cena

Reproduzo abaixo artigo do The Economist, com data deste 6 de fevereiro de 2006, sobre o affair das charges dinamarquesas que deslancharam alguns incêndios aqui e ali...

An unfunny row over cartoons blazes on
Feb 6th 2006
From The Economist Global Agenda

Violent protests are spreading after European newspapers published cartoons depicting Muhammad that were considered blasphemous by many Muslims. Nordic embassies have been attacked in the Middle East and in Indonesia, and some protesters have reportedly died in Afghanistan. A clash of cultures is growing more intense, as tensions rise in both western and Islamic countries

FROM a small spark great fires may be lit, as the global row over the publication of a dozen cartoons shows. Five months after Denmark’s biggest-selling daily newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, printed its drawings of the prophet Muhammad in various poses—supposedly to provoke a “sober” debate about self-censorship and religious intolerance—the response from many Mu slims in Europe, the Middle East and Asia is alarmingly fierce. At the weekend, demonstrators burned down the Danish consulate in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, and mobs attacked the embassies of Denmark, Norway and Sweden in Damascus, Syria’s capital. Earlier, the Danish embassy in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, was attacked. On Monday February 6th, protests erupted in India, Thailand, Indonesia and elsewhere, and petrol bombs were thrown at Austria’s embassy in Iran. In Afghanistan at least one protester was reported killed after police fired into an angry crowd.
Jyllands-Posten’s cartoons were strong stuff, if no more offensive than anti-Semitic cartoons sometimes seen in the Arab press. One showed Muhammad in bomb-shaped headgear, another depicted him wielding a cutlass and a third had him saying that paradise was running short of virgins for suicide-bombers (see cartoons). The paper at first insisted that it meant no offence and refused to say sorry. But the pressure on it continued to grow, and early last week its editors apologised for any upset they may have caused, while defending their right to publish the cartoons. Denmark’s prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, pointed out he was not responsible for what an independent newspaper published, though he expressed his personal “distress” that the drawings had been seen by many Muslims “as a defamation of the Prophet Muhammad and Islam as a religion”.
The Danish semi-apologies failed to calm the row. Riots spread in Palestinian territories and other parts of the Middle East, with protesters chanting “War on Denmark, death to Denmark” while setting fire to the Danish flag, which is designed around a Christian cross. Others added fuel to the fire. A Norwegian Christian magazine had already reprinted the cartoons in January. Last week—and continuing now—publications in France, Germany, Jordan and at least a dozen other countries followed suit, saying the right to freedom of speech overrode any consideration not to cause religious offence. Die Welt, a German paper, put one of the cartoons on its front page and declared: “There is no right to be shielded from satire in the West.” Various broadcasters including Al-Jazeera, an Arab network, and CNN, an American one, showed distorted footage of the cartoons so as not to upset Muslim viewers.
The response has been frenzied. Several journalists and cartoonists have received death- and bomb-threats. Various editors who dared to publish the cartoons have been sacked. Street demonstrations have grown progressively more violent—and show no sign of abating. In London, where no newspaper had printed the ca rtoons by Monday, some angry Muslims nonetheless said that those who insult Muhammad should be “punished and executed”. The reaction has been even more tumultuous than that generated by “The Satanic Verses”, a novel by Salman Rushdie published in 1989 (mass book-burnings and a fatwa, or religious order, calling for the author’s murder). Last week religious leaders in Arab countries called for a “Day of Anger” across the Muslim world. An insurgent group in Iraq—where Denmark has 530 troops—said it would attempt to kill Danes and Norwegians in retaliation for the cartoons.
The resulting diplomatic row has been fierce. Last week, Nordic governments said aid workers were quitting operations in many parts of the Middle East and some diplomatic staff were withdrawn. Their countrymen have been advised not to travel to places where protests are most fierce. Nordic governments have also complained to their count erparts in Lebanon and Syria for the failure to protect diplomatic property. Meanwhile, governments of Muslim countries and Islamic organisations are queuing up to berate Danes and others who printed the cartoons. Both Libya and Saudi Arabia have withdrawn their ambassadors from Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital. Turkey's prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, says the pictures “are an attack on our spiritual values. There should be a limit to press freedom.”
Many consumers in the Gulf region and north Africa are now boycotting goods from Denmark and supermarkets have pulled Scandinavian products from their shelves. Clerics have called for a wider boycott of European goods. Arla Foods, a Danish-Swedish dairy producer tried placing advertisements in Middle Eastern newspapers distancing itself from the publication of the cartoons, but has seen sales slump nonetheless. Some workers have been sent home from factories in Denmar k as Arla’s exports to the Middle East, worth $487m a year before the cartoons row, grind to a halt.
Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner, has said Saudi Arabia’s government could be hauled before the World Trade Organisation, which the country recently joined, if it is thought to be encouraging the boycott of Danish goods. But his remarks have done little to discourage other Middle Eastern countries from taking action. Iran’s government says it will review trade ties with countries where the cartoons have been published. Iraq’s transport ministry has frozen all contracts with the Danish and Norwegian governments.

Clash of civilisations?
Two factors make the row particularly tricky to defuse. Some Islamic protesters and governments fail to distinguish the free expression of individuals in the West from the actions of western governments, holding the latter responsible for the former. Second, many Muslims seem to feel that this row is merely the latest example of a widespread anti-Islamic campaign by westerners. On Friday, a spokesman for Indonesia's foreign ministry said the dispute “involves the whole Islamic world” and denounced a “trend of Islamophobia”. Iran’s government—embroiled in a tense row over its secretive attempts to acquire nuclear weapons—also claims there is “an anti-Islamic and Islamophobic current”. The secretary-general of the UN, Kofi Annan, has expressed his alarm at the situation and called for restraint.
The fear is that the row will only give succour to extreme elements, whether Muslim or anti-Islamic, who propagate the idea of a “clash of civilisations” between rival faiths, or between believers and the secular-minded. In recent years a number of artists and journalists in liberal democracies have provoked the ire of religious believers, particularly Muslims. In August last year a Copenhagen radio station lost its broadcasting licence after a presenter appeared to call for the extermination of Muslim migrants. In Italy an anti-Muslim author, Oriana Fallaci, has launched diatribes against Islam. In November 2004 Theo van Gogh, a Dutch film-maker and outspoken critic of Islam (who once called radical Islamist immigrants “a fifth column of goatfuckers”) was murdered by a Muslim extremist. His comments and killing were both greeted with outrage, but nothing approaching the international storm whipped up by the Muhammad cartoons. The editors of Jyllands-Posten couldn’t have had any idea what they were starting.