An article by Paul Belien with Filip van Laenen (Oslo)
Last Saturday’s riots in Antwerp, when Moroccan “youths” went on the rampage in Antwerp’s historical center, destroying cars and beating up reporters, has led to frustration among police officers because the authorities prevented them from stopping the violence. Officers complained in today’s papers that they had been given orders to watch passively while young, rowdy Muslims were allowed to take revenge over... drawings published more than four months ago in a Danish newspaper.
“We had to watch how they were ripping off car mirrors. We wanted to stop this vandalism but were ordered to withdraw,” an anonymous policeman says in today’s Flemish daily De Standaard. “An ambulance was told to switch off its siren because that might provoke the Moroccans.” Another anonymous officer told the press: “There you are watching this, while citizens can see that you are powerless.” According to an anonymous police chief the authorities decided, that “it was better to have a few cars vandalized than risk open war in the streets.” On Monday the city council, led by the Socialist mayor Patrick Janssens, decided that the city would compensate the damage to cars and property.
One of the victims of the violence was Fatima Bali, a city councillor of Moroccan origin. She was on a tram last Saturday evening around 6 pm, when the vehicle was attacked. “It was very frightening,” she said. “Stones were thrown at the tram. Passengers tried to hide under the seats. Everyone panicked. Windows were shattered, a stone hit a passenger’s head – a Moroccan by the way. I hope I will never have to go through something like that again.” As a result of their experience the non-Muslims on the tram, as well as the citizens who watched the police stand by while their cars were damaged, have probably all turned “Islamophobe” now. “Islamophobes”, however, soon risk being put in jail.
Today some 200 Islamic religious leaders demonstrated in Brussels’ European district. It was a peaceful demonstration, but the Muslims want Europe to adopt the religious taboos of Islam. They handed a letter to a representative of the European Commission condemning “the blasphemy and humiliation” caused by the Danish cartoons, demanding that the EU introduce legislation against “hatred and islamophobia” and that it ban “blasphemy and the showing of disrespect for all religions and their prophets” because “every excessive form of free speech stigmatizes people.”
After their meeting with the representative of the Commission the Muslim delegation was received by the Danish ambassador, Karsten Petersen. “He thanked us for our moderation that invites dialogue and calm,” said imam Said Dakkar, the chairman of the Union of Brussels Mosques. “We have told him that we disapprove of violent demonstrations,” imam Said Mdaoucki of the Antwerp Mosque Federation added, “but we want to know how far freedom of speech is allowed to go. Can you ridicule someone’s values and beliefs? Is that freedom of speech?”
Yesterday, during a visit to Saudi Arabia, EU Foreign Policy Coordinator Javier Solana promised that the EU will support a clause in an updated human rights charter of the United Nations to “protect the sanctity of religions and the prophets.” Earlier, in a joint statement, Mr Solana of the EU, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Secretary-General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) wrote: “We understand the deep hurt and widespread indignation felt in the Muslim world. The freedom of the press, which entails responsibility and discretion, should respect the beliefs and tenets of all religions.”
On Dec. 16, 2005 the UN General Assembly adopted a strong resolution on defamation of religions. “This joint statement and the UN resolution provide the legal ground for condemnation of acts of European newspapers,” the OIC said during its meeting last week. “This is a very important achievement and we must seize the opportunity to preserve the momentum for joint action to prevent a recurrence of this despicable act. To combat Islamophobia in the West we must work toward the adoption of relevant legislations.”
However, the attempt to impose the Muslim taboo on depicting Muhammad and forbid the publishing of mild cartoons such as the twelve Danish ones (see them here, halfway down the page) is encountering resistance.
José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, says in an interview with Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that first published the cartoons, that freedom of expression is a “fundamental value” in Europe and that it is “better to publish too much than not to have freedom.”
In Paris, France’s leading left-wing paper Le Monde criticised the EU’s failure to act in response to the series of attacks on European embassies in the Middle East. In today’s leading editorial it writes that Europe (the paper mentions Mr Solana) is not adequately defending freedom of speech. Europe “seems crippled, intimidated” by the reaction to the cartoons in the Middle East and the paper argues that this “can only encourage regimes like Syria and Iran to continue to manipulate this affair for political ends.” Le Monde also criticizes French President Jacques Chirac who condemned the “offensive character” of the cartoons but not the attack on the French embassy in Teheran.
In another article Le Monde draws attention to the fact that only Denmark and Norway have protested against the attacks of their embassies, though these attacks constitute a violation of international law. The other European countries are keeping a low profile “out of fear of seeing the violence spread to other embassies or other countries.”
In Norway, meanwhile, Kåre Valebrokk, the president of the Norwegian private television channel TV2, deplores last week’s apology by Vebjørn Selbekk, the editor of Magazinet, for republishing the Danish cartoons. According to Mr Valebrokk the editor was coerced into apologizing by the Islamic Council of Norway and the Norwegian government. Mr Selbekk apologized during a press conference in the Norwegian ministry of Social Inclusion on Friday morning, immediately before the beginning of the Muslim’s Friday prayers.
Kåre Valebrokk, a former editor of the business paper Dagens Næringsliv, said that Mr Selbekk’s apologies affect the freedom of the Norwegian press: “ From now on journalists no longer decide independently about what the networks and the papers report. The Islamic Council decides as well. If Muslims object to what we show or write it suffices that they burn down a few embassies to have us give in. For a large part we have now renounced our editorial freedom to fundamentalists. I do not like this new role. It is now that freedom of speech needs all its friends.”
In Denmark today, Ahmad Akkari, the spokesman of the cheating radical Danish imams, who incited hatred by distributing false cartoons throughout the Muslim world, said that his group is prepared to accept “a third of the blame” for the escalated conflict on condition that Jyllands-Posten and the Danish Government accepts that the rest of the responsibility is theirs. Mr Akkari explained that this is an offer to resume dialogue. Is he perhaps following patterns of haggling used in primitive tribal societies?
Yesterday Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen met with a newly established group of moderate Muslims, while his government announced that it would not continue dialogue and cooperation with the lying imams, who until now had been recognized by the authorities as the official representatives of the Muslim community in Denmark.