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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 February 2006, 17:02 GMT
Mandelson enters row over cartoon
French daily newspaper France Soir
Some of the cartoons depict the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist
European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson has criticised papers which have re-published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Mr Mandelson called the cartoons "crude and juvenile", saying reprinting them was like "throwing petrol onto the flames of the original issue".

Protests have spread after the drawings, first printed in Denmark, were re-run in several European papers.

The editor of the paper France Soir was sacked for printing the cartoons.

Religions are a set of ideas reinforced by faith and as a set of ideas they can be criticised and attacked and sometimes one says very offensive things about them
Lord Baker, chairman of Cartoon Arts Trust

Mr Mandelson, a former Labour Cabinet minister, told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "They have to understand the offence caused by cartoons of this nature."

Labour MP Shahid Malik, who is Muslim, said there was "no added value" in republishing the cartoons.

"Everybody recognises that the press has a right to freedoms, it has a profound power," he told the programme.

"We know that we have these freedoms. We don't have to unnecessarily insult, ridicule, abuse or humiliate people to prove that freedom of expression does exist in this country."

'On the chin'

Shadow home secretary David Davis said freedom of speech should be upheld "even if it does offend people from time to time".

And former home secretary Lord Baker said any decision by a British paper to publish the cartoons should be left up to them.

Lord Baker, who chairs the Cartoon Arts Trust, told BBC Radio 4 that criticism of religion was part of Western society.

"Religions are a set of ideas reinforced by faith and as a set of ideas they can be criticised and attacked and sometimes one says very offensive things about them," he said.

He said the Christian faith had been attacked more than others, citing the Dan Brown novel The Da Vinci Code and Jerry Springer The Opera as examples.

"The tradition in Western Europe is to, as it were, take the criticism on the chin and not worry too much about it," he said.

30 Sept: Danish paper Jyllands-Posten publishes cartoons
20 Oct: Muslim ambassadors in Denmark complain to Danish PM
10 Jan: Norwegian publication reprints cartoons
26 Jan: Saudi Arabia recalls its ambassador
30 Jan: Gunmen raid EU's Gaza office demanding apology
31 Jan: Danish paper apologises
1 Feb: Papers in France, Germany, Italy and Spain reprint cartoons

The row over the Danish publication of the cartoons has led some Muslim countries to withdraw their ambassadors to Denmark, with some boycotts of Danish products.

Islamic tradition bans depictions of the Prophet or Allah.

The caricatures from Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper include drawings of Muhammad wearing a headdress shaped like a bomb, while another shows him saying that paradise is running short of virgins for suicide bombers.

Mr Mandelson said so far the boycott of European goods was not an issue for the World Trade Organisation as none had been instigated by the Saudi government.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said: "It's entirely a matter for media organisations to decide what they want to do. It is a matter for them within the law.

"It would be entirely wrong for the government to ... dictate in advance what media organisations can or cannot do."

Earlier the prime minister's spokesman refused to say whether or not the cartoons would be illegal under the Religious and Racial Hatred Bill.

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