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Last Updated: Friday, 3 February 2006, 06:37 GMT
European press review

The controversy generated by cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in the European press continues to make front-page headlines and dominates editorials. Most papers argue that in democratic societies, the right to free speech must come above the need to protect religious sensibilities.

Religion vs law

France's Le Figaro carries a front page photo of armed Palestinians closing an EU office in protest over the cartoons.

The outcry in the Muslim world has aroused deep concern in France, the paper notes.

Today's... Satanic Verses are the 'Satanic drawings' of a Danish paper, now accused of blasphemy
Liberation

"MPs on both the left and the right unanimously condemned the threats of physical reprisals and defended freedom of expression," it reports.

France's Liberation devotes most of its front page to a photo of Pakistani protesters burning the Danish flag.

The paper draws comparisons with the burning of British author Salman Rushdie's novel in 1989 after a fatwa against him.

"Today's... Satanic Verses are the 'Satanic drawings' of a Danish paper, now accused of blasphemy", it notes.

France's Le Monde takes the 1791 constitution as its guiding light on the issue.

"Article One of the constitution says it all," it says, citing the values of equality and tolerance in the French Republic's founding charter.

The paper contrasts Islam's ban on images of Muhammad with the secular principle of freedom of speech.

"Religious commandments and prohibitions cannot take priority over the laws of the republic," it insists. "Religions... can be freely analysed, criticised, indeed ridiculed."

'Clash of civilisations'

The front page of the Spanish daily El Pais reproduces a cartoon from yesterday's Le Monde, showing a hand writing on a page.

"I must not draw Muhammad," read the pencilled words - arranged, however, to form a hazy image of the prophet.

From the top of the pencil-cum-minaret, a bearded imam scrutinises the page through a spyglass.

One of the biggest curses that can befall man is the loss of the sense of humour
Hospodarske Noviny

What we are seeing, says the Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes, is effectively a "clash of civilisations".

It blames the outcry on Muslim ignorance of the West, where the authorities are freely criticised - unlike in many Islamic countries, says the paper.

"There is no need to get excited, nor to back down apologetically," it argues.

Spain's La Vanguardia describes freedom of expression as "the cornerstone of the democratic system".

"It is", says the paper, "a principle which is unfortunately still the exception in the majority of Muslim countries, with autocratic regimes where civil and religious power are still intermixed."

But it argues that freedom of expression must take account of religious freedom.

"And it should be exercised in a spirit of tolerance and respect for the beliefs of others," the paper adds.

'Provocation'

The Czech paper Hospodarske Noviny warns that giving up freedom of speech means rendering human life "flat and empty".

Not even those who respect religious rules - like entering mosques barefoot and cathedrals with arms covered - can bow to pressure from Arab governments and the burning of flags, it says.

"One of the biggest curses that can befall man is the loss of the sense of humour," the daily adds.

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung says freedom of speech, including satire, is "not negotiable".

"It would be nonsense to regard the disparagement of Christian, Jewish, Hindu or other religious beliefs as an 'opinion' covered by free speech, but making fun of the Prophet as a deadly sin or a crime," it says.

But it adds that "provocation" is not the right way to engage with radical Islam.

"It causes the very attacks against which freedom must then be defended," the paper says.

It would be utterly disastrous if, under the pretext of "political correctness", something like a special duty to protect all or some religions were to be devised
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Slovakia's Pravda also explores where the limits of freedom of expression lie.

It believes some media outlets - instead of providing space for dialogue - have brought the controversy over the cartoons to a head.

The daily agrees that freedom of expression should be untouchable, but adds that "sometimes it is first necessary to think and only then to talk".

In this case, it believes, there is "deliberate incitement of religious intolerance... on both sides".

Apologies

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung warns of the consequences of apologising for the cartoons' publication.

The paper says people seem more willing to apologise over the cartoons than at the time of the fatwa against Mr Rushdie.

It believes their attitude is undermining the principles of freedom of speech and the autonomy of art.

"It would be utterly disastrous if, under the pretext of 'political correctness', something like a special duty to protect all or some religions were to be devised," the paper says.

It argues that in secular civil society there must not be any "taboos on thought" and that, if in doubt, people can appeal in court.

"Nobody must be threatened," the daily says.

Austria's Der Standard is alarmed at what it calls an "apology as soft as butter" by the country's ambassador in Tehran.

The paper complains that the envoy expressed "deep regret" but apparently failed to mention "that there is something like freedom of speech in the West".

It concedes that an escalation is in nobody's interest, but adds that "this cowardly renunciation of any awareness of values is intolerable".

The European press review is compiled by BBC Monitoring from internet editions of the main European newspapers and some early printed editions.





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