ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Tension is growing between Europe and the Muslim world thanks to some controversial cartoons. Their depictions of the prophet Muhammed are considered blasphemous by many Muslims. Newspapers across the continent have reprinted the cartoons, which were originally published in a Danish paper.
Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY reporting:
French daily newspaper François published all 12 of the controversial Danish cartoons in its Wednesday edition under the headline, Yes We Do Have the Right to Caricature God. Newspapers in Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, and Holland also printed some of the Danish cartoons. François' Deputy Editor Avro Lavi(ph) said his paper decided to publish not to provoke, but to cover a news story.
Mr. AVRO LAVI (Deputy Editor, François): The wave of indignation all across the Muslim world. And this wave of indignation had reached to a scale of diplomatic crisis so we wondered what was the cause of such anger.
BEARDSLEY: That may have been the opinion of the journalist; but the newspapers Franco-Egyptian owner fired the editor of François. However, that action and an apology from the Danish Newspaper which first published the cartoons did not seem to assuage anger in the Muslim world.
Armed men surrounded the European Union Headquarters in Gaza today, demanding an apology. And a German in the West Bank was briefly kidnapped by gunmen protesting the cartoon. Arab countries have recalled their ambassadors from Denmark and Danish products are already being boycotted in many Arab states.
Muhammed Ahman Habom (ph), the head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany says it won't be easy to calm tensions now.
Mr. MUHAMMED AHMAN HABOM (Central Council of Muslims, Germany): Any Muslim who sees these images will feel deeply hurt and will definitely come to the conclusion that this was done on purpose, not to defend the freedom of the press, but to spite the Muslims.
BEARDSLEY: The affair is pulling in top European officials who are working feverishly to try to calm the situation. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy (ph), whose country has Europe's largest Muslim population, appealed for tolerance while traveling in Turkey today. And the Danish Ambassador to Paris, Neils Eglund (ph), had a meeting with the head of the French Muslim Community.
Mr. NEILS EGLUND (Danish Ambassador, Paris): The purpose of the visit was to try to stop the excesses that this has taken. It was an appeal to good sense, an appeal to dialog and understanding between cultures and religions.
BEARDSLEY: For Michele Kublaire, editor of the independent Catholic newspaper LaQue, it's not a question of choosing between freedom of speech and respect for religion. With freedom, says Kublaire, comes responsibility.
Mr. MICHELE KUBLAIRE (Editor, LaQue): (Through translator) We should be able to question the institutions and doctrines of all religions. And in fact, this is the best defense against fundamentalism. We have to respect the intimate symbols of people's individual faith. Publishing these cartoons perpetuates the violence and plays into the hands of Islamic extremists.
BEARDSLEY: The Free Press Organization Reporters Without Borders says that being shocked is part of the price of being informed. Other analysts evoking Salmon Rushdie's verses and the murder of Theo van Gogh wonders just how compatible Islam could be with the values of modern secular societies.
On Paris's (unintelligible), newspaper seller Claude (unintelligible) just wondered how people could make such a mess of things.
Mr. CLAUDE: (Through translator) I think it's deplorable that in the 21st century we're fighting about such things. The human race should be more mature than that. Although I guess sometimes it's hard to draw the line between freedom of the press and respect for others.
BEARDSLEY: So far, there seems to be no sign of this culture clash dying down. There have been bomb threats against the Danish newspaper that first published the cartoons, and the front page of today's François shows a photo of a burning Danish flag with the headline, Help, Voltaire, They've All Gone Mad.
For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.
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