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Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami and the Cartoon Fracas

On January 10, 2006 Magazinet, an evangelical Christian Norwegian newspaper, printed twelve caricatures-originally published in the right-wing Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on September 30, 2005-of the Prophet Mohammed, one of which depicting the Prophet wearing a bomb-shaped Turban.[1]

The original cartoons had accompanied an article on “self censorship” by the media in the face of threats by radical Islam. In the wake of the publication, a group called the Islamic Society in Denmark, which claims to represent Danish Muslims attempted to get the Danish government to prosecute the independent newspaper that had first published the cartoons. Failing in this, they then sent a delegation to the Middle East to ask the assistance of Egypt’s grand mufti, Muhammad Sayid Tantawi, and Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League. Another delegation went to Lebanon and Syria and met with those countries’ religious leaders. Both delegations met with Arabic media; including Hizballah’s Al Manar TV, which is seen throughout the Arab world.

The delegations distributed a 43-page dossier, which included the cartoons from Jyllands-Posten, along with three-far more offensive-others that they had purportedly received in the mail. The first of the three additional pictures, which are of poor quality, shows Muhammad as a pedophile demon. The second shows Muhammed with a pig snout. The third depicts a praying Muslim being mounted by a dog. It turns out that at least one of these pictures was not a satire of Mohammed at all, nor of any other sacred Islamic figure. The photo of “Mohammed with a pig snout” turned out to be a photo of Jacques Barrot, a pig squealing contestant at the French Pig-Squealing Championships in Trie-sur-Baise’s annual festival. The photo was taken by an AP photographer and the wire service has protested the use made of the photo to incite violence.

Egypt’s foreign minister showed the dossier to a December summit in Mecca of the Organization of the Islamic Conference-a gathering of the world’s 57 Muslim nations, attended by leaders such as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The result was that the foreign ministers of seventeen Islamic countries renewed calls for the Danish government to punish those responsible for the cartoons, and to ensure that such cartoons would not be published again. Large-scale Anti-Danish and anti-Western hostilities erupted the following month.

The inflamed mobs attacked European representatives and embassies (in Damascus, Tehran, Beirut and Istanbul), burned the Danish, Norwegian and German flags, seized the European Union’s station in Gaza, and assaulted Danish soldiers in Iraq and Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan. The printing of the caricatures in additional newspapers throughout Europe-in some instances intentionally to support freedom of expression-only added fuel to the fire. These demonstrations were immediately given a religious shading, and resulted in attacks upon Judaism and Christianity. A Dutch-Belgian Muslim organization printed a caricature depicting Anne Frank lying in bed with Adolph Hitler. The Iranian newspaper Tehran Times accused the Jewish community of being behind the offensive caricatures and of trying to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims. Stones where hurled at a Maronite Church near the Danish embassy in Beirut; as well as various structures in Beirut’s Christian neighborhood Ashrafiyya. In the port city of Trabzon, Turkey, the Italian Catholic Minister Andrea Santoro was murdered in the yard of the Santa Maria Church.[2]

Not satisfied with assaulting representative symbols alone, the infuriated mobs also singled out Western citizens-primarily Danish-in Muslim countries, who soon found themselves threatened and vulnerable to the angry will of the Muslim rioters. For example, the Danish dairy company Arla Foods reported that two of its employees in Saudi Arabia were attacked and beaten by angry customers, and in the Palestinian Authority-controlled Nablus, masked gunmen kidnapped and briefly held a German citizen, releasing him after an hour.[3] In addition, al-Qa’ida’s “Abu Hafs al-Masri Battalions” promised revenge “saturated in Danish blood,” and a radical Islamic group in Indonesia threatened to strike against Danish citizens present in their country.[4]

In light of the numerous threats and incidents of violence, the Danish foreign ministry published a travel warning to its citizens on January 29, cautioning its citizens about travel to Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Other countries, such as the United States and Norway, soon followed suit. At the same time, the Danish government instructed its ambassadors in Iran, Indonesia and Syria, and its representatives in the Palestinian Authority, to return to Denmark out of fear for their lives.[5]

There were also harsh responses in the diplomatic domain. Saudi Arabia and Iran pulled their ambassadors from Denmark, while Libya completely shut down its embassy in Copenhagen. Other Muslim countries, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, imposed an embargo on Danish products, and Iran announced that it would consider cutting off economic ties and void all trade agreements with those countries that published the caricatures. In Egypt, the parliament’s Economic Committee refused to discuss a planned loan from Denmark in the amount of $72.5 million.[6]

On January 30 Jyllands-Posten issued a public apology, claiming that the publication of the caricatures did not transgress Danish law and was not intended to be a campaign against Muslims in Denmark or elsewhere, but rather was part of a current national public discussion regarding freedom of expression. In addition, the Danish newspaper renounced any connection to additional caricatures publicized in various newspapers around the Middle East, which had never appeared in Jyllands-Posten.[7] On February 10, Magazinet also issued a public apology for insulting Muslims.[8]

The United States, Britain, the United Nations and the European Security Council (ESC) denounced the Danish caricatures, yet also criticized the subsequent violent demonstrations.[9]

The Role of Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami in the Global Wave of Protest

Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami (HT) railed against the publishing of the caricatures, stating “their reprinting in the name of ‘freedom of speech’ has once again illustrated that the ‘war on terror’ means it is open season on Muslims and Islam.” Dr. Imran Wahid, a media representative for HT Britain, viewed the caricatures’ publication as an anti-religious manauever commonly adopted by secular liberal societies that view the insult of religious societies-whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish-as perfectly acceptable. Wahid, whose statement represents the stance of the HT leadership, argued that history has proven that only the Islamic Caliphate can guarantee that Muslims and non-Muslims alike will be protected from such wanton disrespect.[10] Hasan al-Hasan, deputy chairman of HT Britain, depicted the printing of the caricatures as a “false link in a wicked worldwide string whose goal is to humiliate Muslims, as seen in the desecration of the Quran in Guantanamo, the disrespect of Muslims in secret and open prisons and the destruction of mosques.” Al-Hasan argued that such acts occurred because “the large majority of the Western public, specifically the Europeans-and among them the Scandinavians-is Atheist with no (holy) book and no religion and it sanctifies materialism, pleasure and egotism.”[11]

At the same time, HT did not violate its self-imposed image of a non-violent movement-an image which its members stressed in several interviews with the media.[12] HT acted on four main levels: activity on the diplomatic front; organization and encouragement of popular protests; protest via the internet; and the initiation of social gatherings. On all four levels HT maintained a unified stance: that the present confrontation was part of long-term religious confrontation between Islam and the West.

1. Diplomatic Activity

In the framework of diplomatic activities, HT Britain communicated to European ambassadors in London in protest of “the provocative activities” by the media outlets within their countries. In addition, HT encouraged Muslims throughout Europe to contact Muslim diplomats and demand that they implement steps against anybody who took part in, or encouraged, the publication of the caricatures.[13]

On 7 February, HT Britain’s website issued a worldwide petition in the name of the Party and the Islamic Ummah to be signed and sent to the European ambassadors in every country around the world, including the ambassadors of Denmark, Norway, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The petition includes three central demands: that European governments impose pressure on the media in their countries to cease the publication of the caricatures and to apologize for their printing; that the countries initiate sincere intellectual debate regarding Islam and the West; the severing of diplomatic and economic relations between Muslim countries and any European state that continued to permit the showing of the caricatures. At the bottom of the petition HT expressed solidarity with Muslims who are boycotting goods produced by those European countries that have yet to publicly apologize for publishing the caricatures.[14]

2. Organization and Promotion of Popular Protests

The Islamic Liberation Party in all countries jumped on the bandwagon of the wave of popular protest against the publication of the caricatures, and organized protests in various Muslim communities and Islamic organizations around the world. HT once again managed to mobilize thousands of people in the streets by means of a well-oiled and well-organized propaganda apparatus. In every location HT stressed the need for peaceful protests and demonstrations devoid of violent incidents. HT denied any link between itself and the protest held on 3 February in London, during which calls for violence against the publishers of the caricatures were heard.[15]

Following are a few of these protests:

3 February – The Party’s branch in Bangladesh organized a mass rally outside of the national mosque in Dhaka City immediately following Friday prayers. The protest was led by Muhi al-Din Ahmad, the chief coordinator and spokesman of HT in Bangladesh, who used radical religious motifs in denouncing the publication of the caricatures. “The terrorist West is conducting a crusade against Islam in the name of free speech and war on terror,” he said, adding that, “the disbelievers around the world are joining their ranks to attack Islam, abuse the Quran, insult the Prophet, kill and torture Muslims and loot the resources of the Muslim Ummah.” Nor did Ahmad spare the Muslim leaders, who he characterized as “corrupt” and “agents of the West”, arguing that they failed to defend Muslims and the Islamic faith. He called upon the government of Bangladesh (“the submissive agent of the imperialist crusaders”) to recall its ambassadors from Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Norway and Holland, to close all Western embassies in the country, and to sever all diplomatic and economic relations with those governments that continued to permit the display of the caricatures.[16] Kazi Murshid al-Haq, Ahmad’s deputy, called upon the West to curb what they consider ‘freedom of speech’, and threatened that if not “you will not be spared.”[17] One week later, on February 10, another protest was held in front of the Danish embassy in Bangladesh after Friday prayers, while at the same time the women’s branch of HT created a human chain outside the French Cultural Center.[18]

4 February – The leadership of HT held a large demonstration in central London. The demonstration was attended by HT leaders, Imams, and various leaders of the Muslim communities throughout Britain. The participants called upon European countries to pressure the media outlets to cease the display of the caricatures and to apologize to all Muslims.[19]

10 February – HT in Pakistan organized a protest outside the Farooq Azzam mosque in Karachi in protest of the caricatures. According to Naveed Butt, spokesman of HT in Pakistan, the Pakistani police arrested a member of the Party and another unidentified individual at the end of the protest on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity.[20]

11 February – HT in Indonesia organized a mass rally in Jakarta against the publication of the caricatures.[21]

12 February – Members of HT Britain participated in an emergency meeting arranged by the Muslim community in Luton in protest of the caricatures.[22]

18 February – Members of HT Britain participated in a mass march organized by “The Muslim Action Committee” in London. The march departed from Trafalgar Square towards Hyde Park and at its end, senior figures of the Muslim community in Britain delivered speeches denouncing the publication of the caricatures. Organizers of the protest, led by Faiz Saddiqi, sought to clarify that their struggle is not a political one but a religious one.[23]

3. Protest via the Internet

The internet, predictably, was one of HT’s most useful channel for protest. This took two main forms: the various internet websites of the Party were used to spread its message. Secondly, e-mails were sent to those registered on the Party’s various websites.[24]

On 4 February, HT’s UK leadership published a statement on its internet website under the title “Defending the Honor of the Prophet: A Message to the Muslim Community”. In this message, HT condemned the West’s two-faced persona, which on one hand restricts Muslims from discussing repression and injustice, yet on the other hand permits the assault on Islam and Muslims under the guise of the war on terror. HT argued that Islam is the only alternative to Western colonialism and the only opposition capable of countering the massive support of the “hypocritical” Western governments for the “brutal (Muslim) dictatorships”. The message condemned the link depicted in the caricatures between Islam and terror and between the Prophet Muhammad and terrorist. At the end of the message HT called upon Muslims in Britain to implement the following steps: that they call attention to the “hypocrisy” of the West and any attempt to export the Western lifestyle to Muslim countries under the guise of the war on terror; that they join in the protest campaign organized by HT, which calls upon the EU to apologize on the part of the newspapers that published the caricatures, and until then to sever all diplomatic and economic relations with the EU; and that they, the HT constituency, not to be dragged into violent acts of protest that are likely to serve the defamers of Islam. The HT called upon its members to use the situation to spread the message of Islam and encourage the Jewish and Christian communities to denounce the assault on the prophets and the religions. The message argued that the Islamic Caliphate will respect and defend all of the religions and is the only framework capable of unifying them.[25]

4. Social Gatherings

On 13 January, a meeting between representatives of HT and 15 Danish journalists was held in London. Absent from the meeting were representatives from the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. The meeting was planned before the appearance of the caricatures, however in light of subsequent events, the topic was discussed as well. Four central issues were on the agenda: the state of Islam in Europe and the role played by European governments in alienating Muslims from their societal neighbors; the publication of the caricatures in the European media; the state of the Muslim woman in Europe; and the uniqueness of the Islamic Caliphate whose creation is called for by HT.[26]

The Party promised to host additional meetings with members of the academia, philosophers, religious leaders, journalists and politicians in order to emphasize the need for sincere discussions regarding Islam and the West.[27]

The Islamic Caliphate as a cure for the helplessness of Muslim World

The publication of the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad raised the criticism-particularly by fundamentalist Islamic figures-that the current leaders of the Muslim world are helpless to alleviate the distress of Muslims around the world. In a critical article published by HT Britain under the title Europe Closes Ranks over Cartoon Controversy as Muslim Rulers Offer Platitudes, it was argued that the “deficient response” of Muslim leaders vis-à-vis the publication of the caricatures comes as no surprise to millions of Muslims around the world: “These rulers have become adept at mouthing slogans of unity and brotherhood to reflect the sentiments of the Muslim masses, whilst doing everything possible to prevent unity in the Muslim world and assist in its fragmentation.” The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would not have been possible if not for the availability of open air, land and sea access provided by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Qatar and Bahrain, and other logistical aid to American forces and their “cohorts”. The Authors of the article infer from the present situation that Muslims can’t expect help from their leaders in other instances, just as they failed to defend the Prophet Muhammad. Nevertheless, the authors entreat Muslim leaders to boycott those European countries that permitted the printing of the caricatures, such as Germany, Italy and France. The article called upon all Muslims around the world to speak with one voice and cooperate towards the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate, which according to them will solve the problems facing Muslims throughout the world.[28]

Summary and Conclusions

The wave of violent and non-violent protests in over 20 countries around the world in response to the publication of the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad are a wake-up call to the Western world-particularly to the European Union, which as in the cae of the events of October-November 2005 in France, is once again unable to put the religious genie back in the bottle.[29]

Regarding HT, since the beginning of the wave of protests, the Party has attempted to maintain the image of a moderate party which communicates its messages using non-violent methods, even in response to an assault on the Holiest of Holies of Islam-the Prophet Muhammad. This claim, however, is no different than the hypocrisy that HT commonly attributes to the West. On the one hand the Party calls for peaceful protests, public discussions, religious tolerance and the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate that will provide security and respect for all religions. On the other hand, it does not hesitate to use radical religious terminology which is likely to incite violent religious confrontations between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors. HT cannot hide behind its image of a pragmatic movement while characterizing the publication of the caricatures as “part of the West’s terrorist crusade against Islam,” depicting the West as “an infidel that seeks to assault Islam and the Koran, insult the Prophet Muhammad and kill and torture Muslims,” depicting the war on terror as “open season on Muslims and Islam,” and describing Muslim leaders as “corrupt” and as “agents of the West” who failed to protect Muslims and the religion of Islam. Such radical religious terminology is no different from the terminology used by Islamic terrorist groups like al-Qa’ida, Hizballah and the Egyptian al-Jihad. Thus, HT’s rhetoric places it in the company of global Islamic terrorist groups, even if it does not openly espouse violence.

The argument by Hasan al-Hasan, deputy chairman of HT Britain, that the Party is unjustly forbidden from operating in numerous locations, despite the fact that it “hasn’t perpetrated even one act of terror,”[30] is no different from that of the terrorist handler who argues that his hands are clean, since he is not the one who committed the act.

[1] “Norway Apologizes over Muhammad Cartoons”, The Brussels Journal, (January 27, 2006); Islamic tradition forbids any depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, even complimentary ones, from the fear that such depictions are susceptible to lead to blasphemy or deification.

[2] Donna, Abu Nasr, “Muslims Protest Danish Newspaper Cartoons of Prophet Muhammad”, AP, (January 30, 2006); “French satirical weekly reprints cartoons of prophet Muhammad”, Pravda, (February 8, 2006); Ibrahim, Barzak, “Protests Over Muhammad Cartoons Escalate”, AP, (February 2, 2006); Lee, Keath, “Thousands Protest Against Prophet Drawings”, AP, (February 11, 2006); “Norway apologises for Mohammed cartoon”, The Daily Mail, (February 10, 2006); Roi, Nahmias and Ilan Marsiano, “Rabanim Meganim et Haqariqaturot ‘al Muhammad” (“Rabbis Condemn the Caricatures of Mohammed”), Ynet, (February 6, 2006); “Mehumot Haqariqaturot: Shagrirut Denmark in Beirut Hutstah” (“The Caricature Riots: Danish Embassy in Beirut set on fire”), Ynet, (February 5, 2006); “Turkish teenager charged over priest’s murder”, Middle East Times, (February 10, 2006); The call by the “Organization of Islamic Conference” (OIC), comprised of 57 Muslim member-states, for all Muslims around the world to maintain peaceful protests against the Danes was not effective. “We request all members of the Islamic Ummah to express their opinions in calm and civilized manner, and not be dragged into mistakes unfitting to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad”, read the organization’s message. Simultaneously, approximately 200 Muslim Danes set out under the leadership of a Muslim member of parliament to protest against the violent assaults towards Denmark. Hhowever this protest – and others like it around the world – were barely noticed; see, Nahmias and Marsiano, Ibid.

[3] Abu Nasr, Ibid.

[4] “Denmark Horta le-Ezrahea La’azov et Indonesia” (“Denmark Ordered its Citizens to Leave Indonesia”), Walla, (February 11, 2006); Nahmias and Marsiano, Ibid.

[5] Barzak, Ibid; “Denmark Pulls Envoys From Syria, Iran and Indonesia”, AP, (February 11, 2006); “‘Iton Deni Hitnatsel ‘al Qariqaturot shel Hanavi Muhammad” (“Danish Newspaper Apologized for the Caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed”), Ynet, (January 31, 2006).

[6] Abu Nasr, Ibid; “The Caricature Riots: Danish Embassy in Beirut set on fire”, Ibid.

[7] “Honourable Fellow Citizens of the Muslim World”, Jyllands-Posten, (January 30, 2006); Despite the apology, ‘Abd ‘Arfan, a Muslim religious scholar and acting president of a well-known Muslim court in the Utar Pradesh district in India, issued a religious decree that determined that the only punishment deserving for the artists of the caricatures that insulted Islam and the Prophet Mohammed is death, see, “Fatwa bi-Qatl al-Mutasabibin bi-al-‘Isa’ah wa-Mutalabah Danamarkiyyah bi-al-Tahqiq” (“Religious Decree calls for the Killing of those who caused the insolence and a Danish Demand to investigate”), al-Jazeera, (February 21, 2006).

[8] “Norway apologizes for Mohammed cartoon”, Ibid.

[9] Donald Macintyre, Justin Huggler and Robert Verkaik, “From London to Jakarta, fury at Mohamed cartoons grows”, Khilafah (Hizb al-Tahrir), (February 7, 2006); Shlomo, Shamir,”Ha’um, Hamo’atzah Ha’islamit ve-Hamo’atzah le-Bithon ‘Eropa Ginu Haqariqatura” (“The UN, the Islamic Council and the EU Security Council Condemn the Caricatures”), Ha’aretz, (February 8, 2006).

[10] “Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain Comments on European Newspaper Cartoons”, Khilafah (Hizb al-Tahrir), (February 1, 2006); According to the charter of HT, the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate will be achieved through Islamic “Da’wa” (propaganda), that will call upon Muslims to repent and follow a Muslim lifestyle in accordance with “Shari’a” (Muslim religious law). HT refuses to actively partake in armed Jihad against “infidel” Muslim rulers prior to the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate.

[11] “Madha dahahum, al-Nabi ‘Irhabi’! uffan lahum” (“What Happened to Them, The Prophet ‘Terrorist’! Ah to Them”), Middle East Online, (February 6, 2006).

[12] Taji, Mustafa, “Religious discord”, BBC Sunday AM, (February 5, 2006).

[13] “Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain Comments on European Newspaper Cartoons”, Ibid; “Letter from Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain to French Ambassador”, Hizb al-Tahrir Britain, (February 9, 2006).

[14] “Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain and the Muslim Ummah Demands Retraction and Cessation of Offensive Caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) – Worldwide Petition”, Hizb al-Tahrir Britain, (February 7, 2006).

[15] “Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain – For the Record”, Hizb al-Tahrir Britain, (February 5, 2006); “Emergency Meeting: In Response to the Offensive Pictures of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)”, Hizb al-Tahrir Britain, (February 7, 2006).

[16] “Attack on the Prophet (SAW) is part of the terrorist West’s crusade against Islam!”, Office of the Chief Coordinator and Official Spokesman of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Bangladesh (Press Release), (February 3, 2006); “Hizb ut-Tahrir Bangladesh announces protest march to the Danish embassy”, Office of the Chief Coordinator and Official Spokesman of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Bangladesh (Press Release), (February 4, 2006).

[17] Macintyre, Huggler and Verkaik, Ibid.

[18] “Hizb ut-Tahrir Bangladesh announces protest march to the Danish embassy”, Ibid.

[19] “Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain – For the Record”, Ibid.

[20] Naveed, Butt, “The Government arrested a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Karachi from a protest organized against the insulting cartoons”, Hizb ut-Tahrir Pakistan, (February 11, 2006). Naveed Butt blamed the “treacherous” Pakistani leaders not only since they are allies in the “war on terror” but also allies in the “war against the Prophet Mohammed”.

[21] “Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia Demonstrate Against The Vilification Of The Prophet (saw)”, Hizb al-Tahrir Britain, (February 13, 2006).

[22] “Emergency Meeting: In Response to the Offensive Pictures of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)”, Ibid.

[23] “Demonstrate : In Response to the defamatory cartoons depicting our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)”, Hizb al-Tahrir Britain, (February 9, 2006); Nick, Britten, “100,000 Muslims to vent anger in London at cartoon protest”, Telegraph, (February 9, 2006).

[24] “Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain Demands Retraction and Cessation of Offensive Caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)”, Hizb al-Tahrir Britain, (February 4, 2006); “Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain Hosts Delegation of Danish Journalists”, Hizb al-Tahrir Britain, (February 4, 2006).

[25] “DEFENDING THE HONOUR OF THE PROPHET (SAW) : A Message to the Muslim Community”, Hizb al-Tahrir Britain, (February 4, 2006).

[26] “Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain Hosts Delegation of Danish Journalists”, Ibid.

[27] “Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain Demands Retraction and Cessation of Offensive Caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)”, Ibid.

[28] “Europe closes rank over cartoon controversy as Muslim rulers offer platitudes”, Hizb al-Tahrir Britain, (February 18, 2006).

[29] See, Asaf, Maliach, “Letting the Genie out of the Bottle in Europe: France as a Case Study“, ICT Articles, (November 25, 2005).

[30] al-Hasan, Ibid.