This morning armed Palestinians stormed the European Union office in Gaza City, threatening Danes and Norwegians and demanding that they leave. Two Norwegian aid workers are on their way out of the region. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry has warned Norwegian citizens against travelling to Gaza. The Danish Foreign Ministry warned Danes to be extremely cautious while travelling in the Middle East and North Africa. Yesterday the Danish national flag was burned in the West Bank in protest against the publication of 12 cartoons of Muhammad (see them all here, halfway the article) in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten last September. Depicting the prophet is blasphemy according to Islam.
The Palestinian terrorist organization Islamic Jihad announced yesterday that all Nordic people had 48 hours to leave Gaza. The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades distributed leaflets saying that Danes and Swedes had three days to get out of the region. Sweden, however, unlike Denmark and Norway, has nothing to do with the cartoon affair. Perhaps the Norwegians have been omitted by the al-Aqsa Brigades because its leftist government parties have called for a boycott of Israel.
There are also reports that a terrorist group called the Glory Brigades of Northern Europe is threatening suicide attacks in Denmark. Meanwhile the internet edition of Jyllands-Posten was offline for several hours today, and also yesterday and on Friday, due to attacks by computer hackers.
Governments of a number of Muslim countries in the Middle East, such as Jordan
and Syria, have contacted Danish ambassadors and condemned the cartoons. Last week the Jordanian parliament called for the punishment of the Danish cartoonists. On Saturday the Foreign Minister of Iran, Manouchehr Mottaki, wrote to his colleagues in Denmark and Norway protesting the „ridiculous and repulsive insult“ which he says the cartoons embody. Last week Saudi Arabia called back its ambassador to Denmark for consultation. Yesterday Libya decided to close its embassy in Copenhagen in protest against the cartoons and the lack of „responsible actions“ by the Danish government. Libya also said it would be taking “economic measures” against Denmark, but did not say what they would be.
Yesterday the editor of Jyllands-Posten wrote an open letter to the people of Saudi Arabia to justify the publishing of the Muhammad cartoons after a number of Danish export companies with interests in the Middle East had urged him to do so. Several Muslim governments have encouraged their people to boycott Danish products in protest against the cartoons. Disinformation about the affair and about Denmark’s role is being distributed in many Muslim countries, for example through e-mails and sms messages which claim that Jyllands-Posten is a government owned newspaper and that the Danish government was behind the publication of the cartoons. Danish embassies in Arab countries have felt compelled to correct these lies. [There is also disinformation in the Western mainstream media who have finally picked up the story.]
At a press conference in Jeddah on Saturday the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) lambasted the Danish government „over its lack of action or apology“ for the Muhammad cartoons. “The Danish authorities have, by providing protection to the newspaper and failure to censor it in unequivocal terms, served neither the cause of freedom of expression nor advanced the goals of multiculturalism, domestically or internationally. The Danish authorities should have categorically condemned the cartoons,” said Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-general of the OIC.
Ihsanoglu added that the “failure” of the Danish authorities to condemn the cartoons sets a dangerous precedent. He welcomed diplomatic actions from Muslim countries against Denmark and said that the anger against the country is reflected in the boycott of Danish goods. “If they have the freedom of expression, then individual Muslims have the freedom of choice,” he said. Ihsanoglu nevertheless acknowledged the conflicting issues of press freedom and respect for other religions, but said Danish authorities “had a responsibility to control such material which incited hatred and religious intolerance.” Previously the OIC urged Muslims to protest in a peaceful manner.
In addition the OIC and the Arab League have announced their intention to appeal to the United Nations’ General Assembly to issue a resolution “prohibiting attacks on religion.” Such a resolution would among other things make it possible to resort to economic sanctions against countries that contravene it.
Both José Manuel Barroso, the president of the EU Commission, and the Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, who currently holds the EU precidency, appear to be avoiding discussions on the cartoon affair. At a press conference in Salzburg on Friday Barroso claimed he did not really know in detail what the issue is about and was obviously not too pleased at being asked to comment on the it. Barroso said furthermore that the EU supported freedom of expression but not necessarily everything which is expressed. The Danish Foreign Minister, Per Stig Møller, has said he intends to bring the issue up for discussion at today’s meeting of EU Foreign Ministers, mainly to inform his colleagues about the situation and the postion of the Danish government.
Though under huge pressure to intervene, the Danish government still stands firmly by its previous statements that it cannot and will not interfere in what the Danish press decides to publish. At his weekly press meeting last Tuesday Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Denmark need not be ashamed of its handling of human rights in the cartoon affair and referred to a reply from his government to an enquiry from the UN about the issue two months ago.
In a new poll published in Denmark last week 79% of Danes say the Danish government should not apologize for the cartoons while 18% say it should. 62% say Jyllands-Posten should not apologize, but 31% say it should. 58% say the newspaper had every right to publish the cartoons, but also said they understood Muslims were angry. 579 people were polled.