The Muhammad Cartoons: A Mideast Perspective

Protests over Danish cartoons of Muhammad have roiled the Muslim world. At least 11 people have died as some demonstrations turned violent. Rami Khouri, editor-at-large of Beirut's Daily Star newspaper offers his insights to Scott Simon.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

Following events in the Mideast today. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has survived emergency surgery to repair his intestinal track. This was his seventh surgery since a major stroke in January. Doctors at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem say he is now out of danger.

We now turn to a story that has roiled the Muslim world this week. Protests against cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad have now spread beyond Europe to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Venezuela. Today in London, organizers are holding what they hope will be a peaceful demonstration against the cartoons which have run in a number of publications across Europe. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, is expected to be there at that demonstration.

But in other locations around the world, at least 11 people have died, and many more have been injured in demonstrations that have often turned violent. Why have the most violent demonstrations against the cartoons occurred outside of Europe? Rami Khouri is editor-at-large at the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut. He joins us from there. Rami, thanks for being with us.

Mr. RAMI KHOURI (Editor-At-Large, Daily Star): My pleasure. Thank you.

SIMON: And quickly, have you seen the cartoons?

Mr. KHOURI: Oh, yes. I checked them out on the website just when they came out.

SIMON: And your reaction?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, two or three of them are extremely offensive. The rest of them are, they're actually not very good cartoons. They're pretty simplistic, as cartoons go. But they're very offensive to Muslims because of the way that, first of all, they portray the Prophet, which Muslims don't like to do. It's against their religion. And second of all, they show the Prophet as a terrorist, and then they equate Islam with terrorism.

And there's three reasons why people should be angry, can be angry just by looking at the cartoons.

SIMON: This week Secretary of State Rice suggested that Syria and Iran were trying to exploit the popular upset about the cartoons and instigating some of the protests that have turned violent. Do you see any evidence of that kind of instigation?

Mr. KHOURI: I think there probably is some evidence of that, but really that's a minor issue. I think there's a much wider set of reasons why people are angry at various targets, I mean whether it's the Europeans or the Americans or their own government or secular groups, whoever it may be. So yes, of course, people will take advantage of this. You've had evidence of certain foreign elements in Lebanon, for instance, non-Lebanese Arabs who have been caught and are among the couple hundred people who have been arrested for the riot.

The reality is though that the vast majority of people who have been protesting have been protesting in a relatively normal way. I mean, they're kind of lively and they're jumping up and down, and sometimes burn a flag, but they're not going around destroying things and killing people, for the most part. So I think we have the separate the various strands of political provocation, criminal troublemakers, political troublemakers, external agitation, from the peaceful protests, and then from the many other reasons that people, I think, are expressing the anger they're expressing using the cartoons as the sort of fuse that lit this explosion of anger. And I think we need to analyze all of those things very carefully.

SIMON: Rami Khouri is editor-at-large of the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut. Thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. KHOURI: My pleasure.

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