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Danes fear cartoon furor will lead to terror attacks
Toronto Globe and Mail


February 07, 2006

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - As half the world seemed to be exploding in furious and sometimes deadly riots against Danes, the streets of Copenhagen have taken on an air of eerie, frightened calm.

Terrified that the furor over the publication of cartoons satirizing the Islamic prophet Mohammed may provoke a major terrorist attack, both Danish Muslim leaders and newspaper editors are vowing to take joint action to diffuse the global explosion of rage.

Violent protests spread across a dozen countries this week. At first, Denmark had been deeply and angrily divided between those who felt insulted by the cartoons satirizing the prophet, and those who saw the protests as attacks on the country's cherished culture of free expression.




But later, as both sides realized that they had triggered something global and terrifying that has spun beyond their control, they began to speak in quieter, more conciliatory tones. A survey taken by the Danish state broadcaster found that 79 percent of Danes believe "that terrorist attacks will strike Denmark as a result of the conflict caused by the Muhammad cartoons."

The air of bewilderment and despair is palpable in Copenhagen. Over and over, Danes said that they could not understand how their country, previously known for its easygoing tolerance and sense of equality, could so quickly have become the target of global Muslim rage.

"I keep thinking I will wake up from this and find it was a dream, because it is so much different from everything we know about Denmark," said Line Spelman, 27, a graduate student, who said she attended one of the mass gatherings of Danes calling for an apology and reconciliation during the weekend.

But she said she would avoid future events because of fear of violence. And Monday's news seemed to reinforce that view: In three separate incidents, Danish troops in Iraq were violently attacked by crowds angry about the cartoons. Iran announced it was severing all trade ties with Denmark, promising to respond to "an anti-Islamic and Islamophobic current." Several Danish embassies were closed over fears of attacks like the one that destroyed the country's Lebanese embassy on Saturday.

"The fear is very indefinable because we are dealing with some groups which we do not understand properly," said Keld Molin, a Danish psychologist who assists his government in planning for terror attacks. "I think most Danes have been very surprised by what has happened and the unknown will cause the fear to grow."

In response to this widespread fear, Muslim protest leaders and the editor of the newspaper that originally published the cartoons as a free-speech gesture in September said that they want to send a joint message of calm and contrition.

"We would like to participate and repeat that we are sorry that we have offended so many Muslims and if we can agree on the language to be used, then it would only be a good thing for them (Muslim leaders) to say that they respect freedom of expression," said Carsten Juste, the editor-in-chief of the large-circulation newspaper Jyllands-Posten, in a TV interview.

That idea won the approval of Ahmed Akkari, the young imam who turned the cartoon debate into a global phenomenon last month by taking some of the published caricatures on the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, along with other cartoons depicting Mohammed with the face of a pig or a dog (many Middle Eastern Muslims believed these to be Danish cartoons). When asked by a broadcaster if he would support Juste's message, he responded enthusiastically.

"Yes, definitely, because it was not our intention in any way that people would start to be angry at Denmark as a whole," he said. "People were supposed to protest against Jyllands-Posten and contact them and send them a message. What is happening now was not intended, so definitely yes."

But Flemming Rose, the paper's culture editor, continued to defend his decision to commission the cartoons in September. They were in response to a children's book author, who said she had found it impossible to find an illustrator for a book about the Muslim prophet. To see if artists really felt limited by self-censorship from Muslim leaders, Rose commissioned depictions of the prophet from 12 cartoonists. Such depictions, while not forbidden in the Koran, are proscribed in sharia law, which is followed by Muslims in some countries.

"I respect the Muslim religion by behaving in accordance of their rules when I go to a mosque," Rose, 50, told reporters in Copenhagen. "I will not draw a cartoon of the prophet in a mosque ... but when they ask me to submit to their taboos and rules in the public domain, I do not think they are asking for my respect. I think they are asking for my submission."


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