Last week, Nerikes Allehanda, a Swedish newspaper, published a drawing depicting the head of a man the paper called Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be with him) on the body of a dog. The paper printed the cartoon, part of a series made by Swedish artist Lars Vilks, after art galleries in Sweden had declined to display them.
The cartoon has evoked wide condemnation from several Muslim countries including Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, and Afghanistan, and the various representative bodies including the Organisation of Islamic Conference.
The leader of the world’s largest Muslim organisation condemned the publication in a Swedish newspaper of a cartoon insulting the Prophet Muhammad, but called on devout believers to react peacefully against it.
Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the Turkish secretary-general of the 57-nation Organi
sation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), urged the Swedish government to immediately apologise for the publication, which observers fear could inflame a new "cartoon crisis" similar to the one which erupted two years ago following publication of defamatory caricatures in Danish and other media.
"The caricatures in question do not bode well for freedom of expression," İhsanoğlu was quoted as saying. He called on the West to act in a "responsible" manner where values of Islam are concerned. "It has become a habit to insult our sacred values now. It is impossible to tolerate what has been done and what has been done cannot be considered a simple incident," İhsanoğlu said.
"Those who are responsible cannot hide behind the principle of freedom of press. Those who remain silent in the face of attacks against Islam may not find anyone by their side when it comes to their sacred values."
Swedish newspaper Nerikes Allehanda published a cartoon on Aug. 18 depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a dog to illustrate an editorial on self-censorship and freedom of expression and religion. On Friday, 200 Muslims protested in Oerebro, a town west of Stockholm where the Nerikes Allehanda is based. Muslim countries, including Iran, Pakistan and Egypt, condemned the cartoon, but the newspaper has refused to offer an apology.
Afghanistan also condemned the printing of the sketch, calling it hostile towards the Muslim world. "Our Holy Prophet’s being cartooned in a Swedish paper has provoked all Afghans," wrote The Kabul Times, publishing a statement by religious scholars, imams and the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, on September 1.
The Swedish government said it regretted any hurt but could not apologise as it was not responsible for the drawing and could not prevent its publication. "In line with our freedom of speech, our democracy and our way of doing things, others make these kind of [editorial] decisions," Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said in a radio interview.
Other cartoons depicting the Prophet sparked worldwide protests last year. Thousands of Muslims took to the streets in several countries in early 2006 in protest of the drawings, which were initially published by a Danish daily and later reproduced elsewhere. Newspapers in Denmark have decided to publish the controversial Swedish cartoon, reports in Turkish press said.
İhsanoğlu said the Swedish newspaper
’s move should definitely be condemned, but added Muslims should remain calm while reacting to the cartoon and avoid violence. He also urged the Swedish government to punish the artist and the publisher.
In an editorial on Saturday, a leading Swedish newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, said the country would not apologise for the publication. Sweden "has a duty from now on to defend its principles and present an open dialogue," it said and added that offended Muslims would not receive the apologies they are asking for.
Lars Vilks, the Swedish cartoonist in question, also said he had no intention to apologise. "You must be allowed to criticise religion, but I am not opposed to Islam," he told Danish agency Ritzau. He had, in the past, also drawn a "Jewish sow," Vilks said. He also said he had received death threats.