The day after Danish police arrested three Muslims of North African decent for allegedly planning to murder the Jyllands-Posten cartoonist, who drew the offending cartoons, newspapers across the country republished those cartoons. They said freedom of the press was under threat and the cartoons have come to symbolize that freedom.
Dozens of other international publications followed the Danish press and published the cartoons. The Egyptian government and other nations in the Muslim world responded by banning publications that printed the caricatures of the Prophet.
A vast majority of Egyptians, who see the Danish cartoons as yet another attack on their religion and beliefs, welcomed the decision in Cairo. Muhammad Shennawy, a graphic designer, told the Middle East Times that restraint and understanding was needed in art.
"While they might have a right to publish the cartoons what they are doing is wrong, because they know how offensive it can be to Muslims," Shennawy said. "Personally, I believe that freedom of speech is good and needs to be upheld, but as an artist there is no reason to make something that will offend an entire people, especially now that they know exactly what kind of reaction they will get."
Ironically, Jyllands-Posten refused to publish cartoons depicting Jesus Christ a few years ago saying they did not want to offend their readers.
A leading English publication in Yemen suggested how Muslims could react to the cartoons. It said that non-Muslims fall outside Islamic jurisprudence, meaning that official complaints to the governments of the nations' newspapers were the only appropriate route.
"Islamic Sharia explains what to do when such insults occur. In this particular situation, where the offense comes from a non-Muslim, the measure stipulated in Sharia law is to ignore and let go," a Yemeni Times editorial argued.
Cartoons aside, a film from Dutch Member of Parliament Geers Wilder is brewing even more controversy in the Islamic world within weeks of its scheduled launch on television. The far-right politician critical of Islam plans to show his film, "Fitna" (Ordeal) in March.
In the film, Wilders accuses the Koran of inciting murder and argues that the Muslim holy book is "a horrible and fascist book" that encourages people to commit "awful acts."
"I hope that it will open people's eyes to the fact that the Koran should be banned like 'Mein Kampf," Wilders said in a November interview. The film is scheduled to air in March.
In an already tense atmosphere the Dutch government is remaining silent on the issue.
When asked to comment, the Dutch Embassy in Cairo referred journalists to the national press department at The Hague. The Hague refused to comment on the film, saying that Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, in a statement given during his weekly press conference with reporters on January 18, would suffice.
In the press conference, the prime minister deflected much of the issue, saying that what was in the film was "unknown" and that "there is no way of making an informed judgment about the work."
It has become apparent that concerns exist, both here and abroad, that the film could be offensive, potentially inviting heated reactions that could affect public order, public safety and security, and the economy," Balkenende continued.
"As you are aware, the government is preparing for the possible repercussions that the broadcast of the film could have, internationally as well as domestically. In this way we are shouldering our responsibility, just as we would in other circumstances."
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has responded with a statement that condemns the actions of Wilders, and has called for increasing efforts for tolerance in Europe in the face of the ongoing Danish cartoons dispute.
"It is regrettable that European lawmakers and politicians use gratuitous methods to gain electoral votes by attacking the sacred values and religions of others," ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said.
Zaki added, in reference to Wilders, that politicians like him "focus their hatred on Islam" and are planning to show films undermining Islamic symbols and notions. He said that these actions, "feed hatred against Muslims and encourage extremism and confrontation instead of opting for dialogue based on mutual respect."
Sarah, an American Christian living in Egypt, put it this way: "It is obvious he [Wilders] has never read the Koran." --(ME Times)