Editor Arrested for Publishing Cartoons in Jordan

A Jordanian newspaper editor has been arrested on charges of blasphemy after reprinting cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. The controversial cartoons, which originally appeared in a Danish paper, have sparked angry protests by Muslims around the world. Proponents of liberalism in Jordan now face serious opposition on matters of religion.

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In Jordan, two newspapers editors who earlier published some of those Muhammad cartoons that have outraged the Muslim world, the editors now could go to jail for blasphemy. One of them, Jihad Momani, was hospitalized last week with heart trouble. Kristen Gillespie reports.

KRISTEN GILLESPIE reporting:

Four policemen stand guard outside Jihad Momani's hospital room in Amman, Jordan. They turn away the few visitors who dare to show support for him. Nidal Mansour heads the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists and is one of the few people in Jordan to publicly criticize the arrest and the street reactions.

Mr. NIDAL MANSOUR (Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists): (Through translator): Liberals should not be accused of being traitors or infidels because we tell the street and political parties, Be quiet, this is not the way to deal with the issue.

GILLESPIE: At least part of the issue, says interfaith expert and columnist Zhadie Genbeck(ph) is that Arabs mostly live in societies where one religion prevails.

Mr. ZHADIE GENBECK (Columnist): When any religion is in a predominant position and lacks the influence of other faiths, it reacts definitely in a different way.

GILLESPIE: Genbeck describes the way many Muslims feel about the cartoons.

Mr. GENBECK: When it touches something which is the holiest of the holies in the Islamic faith, there is no place for rationality, unfortunately, because it's not a question of argue and a counter-argument.

GILLESPIE: The cartoon controversy has generated anger, protests, and a boycott of Danish goods that's been going on for weeks. Protests in Jordan last Friday attracted more than 10,000 people chanting slogans such as, The Army of Muhammad Will Be Back, and somewhat inexplicably, Stop Zionist Attacks on the Islamic Nation.

It seems as though everyone is angry, since so few in the Arab world have stepped forward and said, We made our point, let's move on. Luna Darwisch(ph) says, the oppressive laws and Islamist influence force moderates and liberal-minded people into a corner.

Ms. LUNA DARWISCH (Former Islamic History Teacher): People like us that are not particularly religious, you know, are also apprehensive of getting in trouble with the extremist Islamic elements because they will be even more cruel with us.

GILLESPIE: Darwisch is a former Islamic history teacher who now works for a non-profit organization to instill civic pride in young Arab students. Religion, she says, is a central part of life in the Arab world.

Ms. DARWISCH: I'm Muslim by birth. No one asks me here whether I want to stay Muslim or not. I am a Muslim. The legal system, you know, deals with me in marriage, divorce, inheritance law, under Islamic law. There is no civil law here pertaining to all the laws that deal with the person and with family, with family issues, you know.

GILLESPIE: Liberals know they can't ignore the Islamist factor. From the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections to the Muslim Brotherhood's parliamentary success in Egypt, Islam is a political force. But so is Jordan's small liberal movement, said Jihad Momani, shortly before his arrest.

Mr. JIHAD MOMANI: I understand that, I understand the political situation in the region. I understand that now we have to calm down, to talk with Muslims, organizations, or even radicalist organizations. That's OK to talk to them. But not to sacrifice our people, our liberals. This is what I am against, stand against.

GILLESPIE: Jihad Momani's blasphemy trial begins this Thursday.

I'm Kristen Gillespie for NPR News in Amman, Jordan.

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