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Editorial cartoons ignite outrage among Muslims across the globe

An editorial cartoon published last year in a Danish newspaper depicting Islam's prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban has ignited Muslim anger in countries across the globe, leading to acts of violence from bombings to vandalism.

On Sept. 30, 2005 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published the allegedly inflammatory cartoon, one of a set of 12; the articles accompanying the caricature in the Sept. 30 issue were about self-censorship and freedom of speech.

Angered Muslims hold that in their faith the visual representation of the prophet is forbidden; furthermore, the depiction of Mohammed with a bomb is both culturally insensitive and insulting.

A violent Muslim backlash broke out and spread across Europe and the already bruised Middle East. The Libyan embassy in Denmark was closed when Jyllands-Posten refused to apologize for the cartoon. Also, a widespread consumer boycott of Danish goods was organized in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, leading to the temporary shutdown of the Saudi branch of the Danish company Aria Foods.

In early February, the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria were attacked by arsonists; the same fate befell the Danish General Consulate in Beirut, Lebanon. Deaths as a result of violence have been reported in Lebanon and Afghanistan, according to News forum member lexslamman commented, "throughout the Middle East, free comment in open forums is restricted or completely disallowed, so when public outrage reaches the boiling point, it almost always erupts into violence and destruction. They have not been allowed any other manner of protest to act as a safety valve."

In an article in the Daily Star, Aria Foods spokeswoman Astrid Gade Nielsen said, "we had to close our large dairy in Riyadh because we are selling almost nothing in the country."

Following America's anti-French sentiment after the beginning of the war in Iraq and the subsequent renaming of french fries to "freedom fries," many pastry shops in Iran have opted to rename danishes "Mohammedan" pastries in solidarity against Danish goods, according to Adnkronos International, an Italian news Web site.

This tension between cultural responsibility and free speech leads many to wonder if Islam can coexist with a free press.

Mills alumna Sionnan Wood said, "there's a difference between cultural responsibility and personal taste-if this was an undercurrent that made it into the newspaper, then obviously it's an issue that needs attention."

American Muslim Alliance chairman Dr. Agha Saeed says in a press release, "in an open, free-speech society bigotry is fought and defeated through public consciousness and rational analysis. Public rebuke is to bigotry what sunshine is to germs." The AMA, based in the Bay Area, is a civic educational organization.

Jyllands-Posten published an open letter on their Web site, which includes the following apology, "in our opinion, the 12 drawings were sober. They were not intended to be offensive …but they have indisputably offended many Muslims for which we apologize."

Since September, the cartoons have been reprinted in newspapers in 20 other countries.