- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

American Muslim leaders say there is plenty of blame to go around in the uproar over the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.

Muslims have told European officials in Washington that the Danish government could have done a better job balancing free speech and respect for religious beliefs.

Ahmed Younis, national director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), said his group organized a meeting Monday with the Danish ambassador to the United States “to advise on the tone of the response of the Danish government and to offer opportunities for solutions.”

Mr. Younis, who works in Washington, and other Muslim leaders in the U.S. have found fault with the Danish government’s response to a series of cartoon drawings of the prophet Muhammad, which were first published last September in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

European papers recently began to reprint the cartoons as an expression of free speech, and protests erupted in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

“I was hoping that the Danish government would have condemned the cartoons. Then they could have defended free speech,” said Nihad Awad, executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “But I think they could have managed the crisis in a better way.

The U.S. Muslim groups, along with Muslim leaders in the Middle East, have called on the Danish government to condemn the publication of the cartoons, but Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has blamed “extremists and radicals who seek a clash of cultures and religions” for spreading misinformation.

Kamal Nawash, president of the Free Muslims Coalition, said the groups were wrong to ask the Danish government to condemn the cartoons.

“I’m more offended by the response to the cartoon than by the cartoons themselves,” said Mr. Nawash, who last year founded the coalition.

Mr. Nawash said Muslims should be pointing out the lack of freedoms in the Middle East that are revealed by Muslim responses to the cartoon.

“Many Muslims didn’t understand that the Danish government cannot just tell the newspaper to stop, so they assumed the Danish government intentionally supported the cartoons because they didn’t censor the newspapers,” Mr. Nawash said.

Muslim leaders, in the U.S. and worldwide, have condemned the violence of Muslim protesters in several countries, and Mr. Awad said freedom of speech “is Islamic. It’s in the Koran. God allowed Satan to speak.”

However, an MPAC press release on the meeting with Danish Ambassador Friis Arne Peterson said, “Much can be done short of stifling free speech to show that the weight of responsible and powerful elements of Danish society will not tolerate the proliferation of this and similar hate propaganda.”

The release noted that “European tradition has outlawed speech that has defamed state religion … and has also outlawed speech denying the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide.”

Islam “in general, prohibits physical representation or imagery of religious figures,” said CAIR’s Mr. Awad.

However, even the Supreme Court of the United States has an image of the prophet Muhammad inside its courtroom. Muhammad is featured on a marble frieze, holding the Koran in one hand and a sword in the other. Other “lawgivers,” such as Moses, Justinian and Confucius, appear on the frieze on the south and north walls.

In 1997, CAIR asked the Supreme Court to remove the image from its courtroom, according to CAIR’s 10th anniversary report, published in 2004.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote a letter denying CAIR’s request, but brochures at the court that had described Muhammad as the “founder” of Islam were changed to say that “Muslims believe ‘the divine word of God … was revealed to Muhammad,’” the CAIR report said.

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