Page last updated at 19:24 GMT, Monday, 6 February 2006

Are protests over cartoons justified?

Indonesian Muslim protesters burn a Danish flag
What should the reaction be to the global protests over the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad?

Nato is sending British reinforcements to a riot-hit Afghan town after crowds protesting at cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad attacked peacekeepers.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has described the action of some protesters in London as "completely unacceptable". There have been calls for arrests after placards calling for enemies of Islam to be killed featured in Friday's demo in London.

Are the protests justified? What should the response be to such protests? Should the European press have published the cartoons?

We are running this style of debate due to technical problems. We apologise to all our readers and contributors and will return to normal service as soon as possible.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

I think it's all extremely sad. Yes, these cartoons shouldn't have been published. Yes, a lot of people's feelings were hurt and they deserve a sincere apology. But don't we deserve one too? I've heard 'death to Americans' and 'death to the West' so many times I've almost become numb to the words. Is it Ok then, to scream and yell and write these words on banners? To burn flags? To praise terrorists? To praise people who kill innocent people? Don't we deserve the same respect the Muslim nation is clamouring for? I'm neither from the United States, nor Britain and I disagree with a lot of their foreign policies, but I don't wish death unto anyone. We are all humans and deserve respect for our beliefs. As long as our beliefs don't harm others or wish their annihilation and destruction. To me, what's happened these last few days is fanatic madness. Not religion.
Venezolana en Madrid, Caracas, Venezuela

When did it become acceptable to burn government buildings because you're offended? If Christians reacted this way to the many satirical and blasphemous images of Jesus, you wouldn't even be asking this question. Freedom of speech and the press most certainly allows you to express your opinion, even if it offends someone. But these violent protests are in no way justified.
Mark M., Iowa, United States

No! What about the damage that has been done to pictures of Christ (being slashed) and more. People are silly, make mistakes, get angry and all sorts of negative attitudes, ego and power trips. What we, as a human race need to do is: have forgiveness, ignore the negativity, attack and assault, have some understanding and humility - work in a positive manner towards peace and towards loving our human kind. This is where the work is. How easy to attack and accuse. How difficult to forgive and to make peace with our 'brother and sister'.
Lina, St Albans, UK

Freedom of speech means that the Danish newspapers were allowed to publish the cartoons, and while this may have been foolish it was not wrong. Freedom of speech also means that the Muslim people who were offended were perfectly at liberty to protest these cartoons, but only verbally - freedom of speech does not extend to freedom to burn buildings and send death threats.
Abigail Orr, Oxford, UK

As a Muslim I feel offended by the cartoons. But I also feel disgusted at the reaction and ignorance of a handful of Muslims who give the rest of us (Muslims) a bad name. I also feel we have a very irresponsible media who give these people so much attention.
Hussain, Bradford

I'm all for being respectful and not offending people just for the sake of it, but really, a cartoon? Given recent history the drawing doesn't seem altogether gratuitous. Newspapers regularly take swipes at anyone in the headlines - today I've got a drawing of Condoleeza Rice as a parrot in my daily - so I don't accept that this publication was part of an insidious hate campaign by the West against all things Islamic.
Kar, London, UK

The European press should not have published the cartoons as it is an infringement upon other European citizens' natural rights. Freedom of expression is always a commendable thing, but once it infringes upon others' rights, and becomes a religious offence, it becomes no longer freedom, but a form of oppression and bigotry.
Christina, Detroit, MI, USA

When I read the comments I see that specially Danish people are very puzzled by the Muslim reaction over the cartoons. Well, Western world must understand that the value systems of Muslims is very different, so you can't evaluate the situation by putting yourself in their position. Specifially people who live in poor Islamic countries are nourished constantly with hatred by their clerics and political rulers thinking that whatever bad happens to them comes from West. So first of all I think western people must try to understand Muslims in order to deal with the problems with Muslims.
Yohan, Istanbul/Turkey

If your father raised you to be a good man and he taught you all the meanings of respect & honour. He taught you to respect everything starting by yourself. And after that someone who knows almost nothing about him insulted him.. what will be your attitude.. will you love him?.. will you buy anything from his store?.. will you respect him?... Mohamed is the father and master of all the Muslims... they had insulted him.. in person... so what do you expect will be the reaction.. please try to know first who is Mohamed and then comment.
Islam, Alexandria, Egypt

Surely this must be a rhetorical question. People have now been killed. The reaction is completely disproportiate.
James K., Exeter

It goes without saying that any person anywhere in the world is never permitted to sacrilege others belief or religious thoughts under the name of freedom. I personally think these types of breaking boundaries of freedom is against global understanding of the nations and certainly requires deep cultural work to be prevented from occurring in any form all over the world and under any name.
FARIBORZ MOKHTARI KARCHEGANI, Iran/ Isfahan

Doesn't anyone feel sorry for us peace-loving non violent Muslims who are the silent majority? Unfortunately the media again represents the whole 1.6 Billion with the actions of a 1,000. I am disappointed in my fellow man. We are just as annoyed about the OVER REACTION of our supposed Muslim brothers who are nothing but extremist thugs that are bent on blackening our already damaged name? I hope the real Muslims will stand up in an uprising against the extremists in our communities who are not only ignorant but easily led astray.
Ahmed, Slough

I saw a picture (broadcasted by Euronews) of an enthusiastic Palestinian female teacher organising a "protest" of 7-10 y.o. schoolchildren. Under her guidance, the kids were chanting slogans and burning the Danish flag. This reminded something to me. In the USSR, it was a common practice to arrange a massive campaign against, for example, Boris Pasternak using people who didn't even read a single line of his writings. But politicians knew their job very well.
Alexander Markin, Moscow, Russia

Whilst the publication in Denmark was irresponsible, one could argue that it was no more than thoughtlessness. The reprinting in other parts of Europe was a deliberate ploy to stir up trouble. I don't agree with violent protests, but the newspapers have deliberately fuelled this one to promote the far right - and no doubt sell a few papers in the process.
Rachael, Iceland

I believe peaceful protests are justified as the cartoons should not have been published, any similar Jesus cartoons would not be accepted by Christians so how can Muslims accept this?
Susan Turner, Chesham, UK

The right to freedom of speech carries with it the responsibility to exercise that right with care. Rights and responsibilities tend to have a balancing effect on each other. The publication of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed was a situation where a right was exercised without considering the responsibilities which should be attached to that right.
Michael Patterson, Birmingham

To portray the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) in derogatory terms is a violence committed against deeply held beliefs ... and not a manifestation of freedom of expression? We believe freedom of expression is not a license to offend the sentiments and disparage the values and beliefs of other people. I hope the European governments will ensure against recurrence of such despicable acts. Such evil motivation should not be allowed to target other peoples and spawn hatred in the world. All civilized societies are founded on certain moral, religious and social values which must not be degraded.
Tahir Razvi, Baku Azerbaijan

As a Syrian I was deeply distressed when I saw my citizens burning the Danish Embassy in Damascus, I strongly disagree with this uncivilised act, however I think the reason for this anger is not only the cartoons but the mere idea of making fun of the Islam religion which is seen by many people in the Middle East now as the only hope.
Syrian, Damascus-Syria

The English press have shown their true colours by not publishing the cartoons. It's okay to take pot shots at 'stars' who cannot defend themselves but now that they have the opportunity to stick their head above the parapet and defend freedom of the press they back away like the cowards they are.
Nick, Southampton

Yet another time, the Western mind miserably fails to understand what history means to Muslims. While most westerners look at their history with disgust and shame, and they are not blameworthy for doing so, Muslims place great value on their history. The Prophetic era and the Prophetic example carry deep meanings when it comes to defining what is to be a Muslim. The issue here is not about challenging "Islamic Taboos", as dismissively reported by most media outlets; it is about ridiculing the embodiment of Islamic tradition. Western media, again, was disappointingly short-sighted in its dismissive attitude of the Muslims' reaction to this distasteful move. I am sorry that mediocrity has become the most celebrated of our values, and I mourn the time where constructive, intellectual discourse is destroyed in name of modernity only to be replaced by cheap art.
K. Madhi, Chicago, IL

To turn up at a protest dressed as a suicide bomber is really taking the biscuit. It's clear the Police decided not to arrest any one in order not to aggravate the situation into a full scale riot. I hope the "suicide bombers" get arrested very soon.
Hereward, The Fens

What were the cartoons trying to say? It seems to me that they were making the point that suicide bombing is wrong and they were doing it with humour. What isn't funny is people putting banners up threatening to chop peoples heads off. Lock them up.
John Danvers, Bath UK

The problem with this debate is that everyone feels they need to take sides. It is obvious that Muslims are offended by the cartoons, especially in the current climate, and have the right to protest. It is obvious too that the Danish government has no legal power or political justification for stopping their publication (especially since it happened six months ago). It is equally obvious that threatening to murder people for their beliefs, or even for the beliefs of some of their fellow citizens, is wrong. I hold all these views and don't see any inconsistency between them. You can be sympathetic to the Muslim world's frustration whilst standing by free speech. As Arundhati Roy says, we shouldn't be forced to choose between mad Mullahs and George W. Bush.
jr, London UK

The West doesn't seem to understand the degree of offence caused by the cartoons. If it was another Muslim who had done these cartoons the outrage would be very severe also.
M Mustafa, Nottingham, England

These kind of comments on Islam should not be done. Don't see the Muslims as bad people. In every society you have bad and good. So please stop such and let us live peacefully
Kumba, Gambia

Yes, the protests are justified, if they are peaceful. Why offend the feelings of millions of people? If not checked, both, protests and the freedom of press can go out of hand. But, sir/madam, please explain me this, if you can. When the statue of Buddha was destroyed by Taliban, where were these protesters from all over the world? Isn't religious tolerance a two-way street?
Manu P. Dhokai, Annandale VA

Whilst I can understand that Muslims may be upset by the cartoons there is no excuse for violence on our streets. Who is stirring up racial hatred now? Where there is violence the law should be strictly and swiftly applied.
Chris Taylor, Derbyshire

My parents were immigrants who came to this country in the 1950's. Life here has not always been perfect. When my dad came from the West Indies he could only find work on the buses. However the instances of racism are nothing compared to what it was when I was growing up. We live in a much more liberal and accepting country today compared to the '70s. Muslims may feel offended by the cartoon and they have a right to protest, but I felt sickened by the antics. Imagine if you had lost a child in the bombings, and you have idiots like that dressed up as a suicide bomber. I felt utter disgust, arrests must be made. The UK is still a great place to live and I for one do not want to see it divided along the lines of religion.
Anita, Birmingham England

The police in London should have acted at the time and informed the protestors that the banners etc were not acceptable and that they could not march with them. Why did they not do this, because they were afraid of "offending" the Muslims concerned? Many Muslims are saying that there are double standards in operation in the West. Yes there are. If I (a white Christian) had appeared on the streets with such banners I would have been arrested on the spot and bundled away in the back of a van. Definitely double standards!
Paul, Cambridge UK.

It seems that the Middle East is a tinderbox of oppression and the people living there need the smallest excuse to vent their frustrations. The protests are completely over the top, a more passive approach would have been better as this is fuelling the hatred towards the Muslim world.
Owen , London

If we value our freedoms, then we should value responsibility. Mutual and genuine respect is sorely needed here. Peace be upon all who seek the cause of peace within God's creation, even if we differ, and pray for all those who have used this occasion for their own ends; they will be the true sufferers when they face God to justify their actions.
Bob, Gloucester UK

So the press create a situation, the press inflame the situation, then the press stand back in amazement as people demonstrate and embassies are attacked. The printing of these cartoons was not about freedom of speech it was the Western press seeking to raise the heat on an already high tepmerature situation. Instead of looking down on the muslim reaction we shpould question why newspapers chose to print the cartoons when they knew full well what the reaction would be. After all, as we have been repeatedly told, these were just a few cartoons. They were hardly essential news items. No doubt the press, as always, will wash its hands of the affair and point the blame elsewhere.
huw evans, brighton, england

To everyone in the middle east, that has been offended by these cartoons, why dont we see the same commitment in demonstrating against the extremists that hold Islam hostage with suicide bombs and beheadings. When I see middle eastern populations march and protest agains suicide bombs directed against civilians, then I will take your protests seriously when Islam is mocked. These one-sided protests against the cartoons, wether they were offensive or not, are ridiculous.
Thomas, Denmark

Selam. I am from Turkey and we have a religious leader lived in the 12th century, named Mevlana. The cornerstone of Islam is "tolerance" and "forgiveness" he points. In this case, first of all, Islam respects all prophets, both Moses and Christ. In Islam, it is strictly forbidden to make photos of Muhammed - not humanbeings. We as Moslems can tolerate the FAULTS but this is not a fault. This seems like a humiliation and insult in order to provocate. It is hard to tolerate, indeed. However, we will do our best as long as we dont see any other cartoon of Muhammed the Beloved. Thanks.
Tulin, Istanbul - Turkey

Some contributors have compared this demonstration with the outrage over the Jerry Springer opera. Yes indeed Christians were upset, but no-one took to the streets waving placards threatening death and destruction. Why are these Muslims so hot-headed?
Jon, Stockport

I think this just proves what an extreme religion Islam can be and it underlines how serious Muslim's can take themselves and their religion, if they can't see some humour and occasionally laugh at themselves. The other scary part of this ridiculous over reaction is how quickly violent protest broke out around world.
Matt Prevett, London

These protestors who are burning flags and buildings, and threatening the West with violence in the name of Islam, must feel really aggrieved at the insensitive cartoon equating their religion with Terrorism. The papers have really got this one wrong.
Phil Jones, Singapore

I believe that it probably was not the best idea to have published this cartoon in the firstplace, but I have nothing against freedom of speech . muslims are trying to tell us that their religion is promoting world peace , well im sorry but after seeing banners and hearing some of the shouting maybe all the religion does promote is violence and hatred. I think its time the police stamped this out, if i was to go into the street shouting and waving banners saying i wanted to kill people i would very quickly be arrested !!!
Chris MacInnis, brighton uk

In the west, freedom of speech is firmly ingrained into our common consciousness, and there is no current credible threat to the basic freedom of expression that we enjoy. In view of this, surely the decision to re-publish these inflammatory images serves to demonstrate little else other than insensitivity towards the Islamic world.
Mohammed, Birmingham

These cartoons were there since September. Nobody seemed offended then. However, now, just when the IAEA is about to report Iran to the Security Council, "spontaneous" outrage spreads everywhere. What a coincidence, isn't?
Santi, Fetcham, Surrey

These protests are not caused only because of the cartoons. This reaction is caused by the overall stance of the West regarding Islam. The fanatical Islamists see Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, immigrants in the US & EU being monitored and now this. They see an attack from the West to their lands and values. We have to talk to them and try to find mutual grounds of agreement. Would we like it if there was a cartoon in an Arab newspaper ridiculing Christ? This regardless the kind of reaction of people in Europe or the US.
Charis, Athens, Greece

Because we have the legal right to freely express our opinions does not justify using these rights to deliberately hurt others. That is irresponsible and unwise. Every person has the God-given right to choose their faith and worship according to their conscience. It serves no good purpose to insult another's sincere beliefs simply to prove that we are 'allowed' to. Publishing and repeating the cartoons while knowing they would offend, was unwise and irresponsible. But the violent, lawless reaction by the so-called Muslim extremists is totally inexcusable and ironically appears to contradict the teaching of the same leader they claim to defend. I would also ask why Christians are denied the same freedom in some Muslim countries that Muslims demand and are given in western countries? Double standards serve no cause well...
Gordon Bauwens, Glasgow, Scotland

Cartoon demonstrators facing a line of police call for the murder of people and praise suicide bombers - police reaction 'we are studying the tapes'. A British woman reads out a list of British soldiers who were killed in Iraq, a British man collects signatures for a petition, an 80+ year old concentration camp survivor protests at a New Labour meeting - police reaction 'arrest and prosecute them all'. This is fundamentalist political correctness by spineless gutless authorities.
Anon

We are told that the UK police are to examine the film footage of the recent demonstration in London and arrests could follow. We shall see, but I must confess to being somewhat pessimistic about such a development. When I saw the messages being held aloft by these protesters marching on London streets I knew they were illegal and I asked myself why these protesters were not immediately arrested for breaking UK law. The spate of lawless protests now being orchestrated around the world caused me to reflect on the wanton destruction by the Taliban, some years ago in Afghanistan, of the historic Buddha images carved into the a cliff there. Buddha is a prophet too, but I cannot recall any demonstrations of the Muslim world to protest this inane destruction. Double standards permeates our modern world but those who live in Britain must obey Britain's laws.
David, Moscow, Russia

It's no wonder the world and his wife are getting worked up over the "overreactions" of us Muslims as that is all the media are showing. If the media was unbiased, and we all know the answer to that, you would not only see the burning of flags/demonstrations but also the majority of Muslims who although extremely hurt by these publications, are continuing their daily lives knowing what has been done, has been done.
Nosheen Hussain, Milton Keynes, Bucks

It's good that we have the internet, so that people in the UK can participate in this debate - since the newspapers in UK are too afraid to show the cartoons! Freedom of speech overrules all religions - otherwise we could not even have this discussion!
Michael, Copenhagen, Denmark



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