Copyrighted material


by Sanjay Suri

on Muslim cartoon protests

(IPS) LONDON -- As violence over the Mohammed cartoons continues at scattered locations around the world, Britain has looked away from them in the interest of good race relations.

A usually robust media kept entirely away from the cartoons. Not even the tabloids -- never likely otherwise to lose a chance to grab reader attention -- reproduced them.

"There was clearly no agreement between editors not to publish the cartoons, there was no meeting," editor of Granta magazine Ian Jack told IPS. "Nor was there any communication from the government. Editors simply decided on their own not to publish them."

One reason is that the British take a pragmatic approach to such matters rather than ideological one, he said.

"I don't want to sound too self-congratulatory, but there is a greater sensitivity and pragmatism here over things seen to be sacrilegious," he said. "The view here was that publishing the cartoons would mean just striking a posture, that would do no good and probably do quite a lot of harm."

Newspapers in Norway, Germany, France and some other countries had published the cartoons "to make a statement that we believe in freedom of speech because we are Western Europe, and you can like it or lump it," Jack said. "But I think when it comes to getting on with other people, we have been more successful than France."

The French have imposed a ban on headscarves for Muslim girls and consequently a significant display of other religious symbols in schools. In Britain, on the other hand, no political party or publication suggested that the British should follow suit -- citing freedom of expression in religious matters.

Following rioting between Pakistani Muslim youth and the police in the northern towns Oldham and Bradford in the summer of 2001, public authorities have been particularly sensitive to keeping the peace among religious communities. Tensions rose after 9/11 but settled down soon enough. There was no significant anti-Muslim backlash after the July 7 bombings in London.

Of London's population of seven million, more than 40 percent is non- white, and while there are some areas with a large Muslim population, many live in mixed neighborhoods, unlike Paris where Muslims are mostly concentrated in certain quarters.

A small number of British Muslims gathered to protest against the cartoons, with a handful of them producing some provocative slogans. They were immediately condemned by most Muslim leaders.

"First you provoke the Muslims, and when you succeed, then you condemn them for getting provoked," Shamsuddin Agha from the Indian Muslim Federation in London told IPS. "Muslims have the right to protest, but of course that does not mean the right to violent protest."

In the name of "so-called freedom of speech" some publications had chosen to "inflame the religious sentiments of more than one billion Muslims who hold the Prophet in the highest esteem," Agha said. The re- publication of the cartoons was "mischievous" and a "calculated campaign to inflame Muslims," he said.

Protest must follow peaceful means "including the courts if possible," Agha said. He said most Muslims would support the move by a group of Danish Muslims who have approached the Director of Public Prosecution to prosecute the Danish publication that first published the cartoons. The move has invoked laws against blasphemy and the rights of minorities.

But no laws in Europe would bar publication of the cartoons, said Jack. "There are no legal restrictions on publication of pictures of the Prophet," he told IPS. It was not any fear of law that stopped British editors from publishing the cartoons, he said. "But pragmatism is a bigger factor here than in many other European countries."

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Albion Monitor   February 15, 2006   (

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