Thursday, September 09, 2010

Award for Danish Muhammad Cartoonist

Merkel Defends Press Freedom, Condemns Koran-Burning

Chancellor Angela Merkel has paid tribute to the courage of the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, whose caricature of the Prophet Muhammad sparked global protests by Muslims. She also condemned the planned burning of Korans by pastor Terry Jones, saying it was "disrespectful, even repugnant."

The planned burning of the Koran by fundamentalist Christians in a church in Florida has elicited worldwide condemnation, including harsh warnings from the United Nations, the European Union, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the top commander of US forces in Afghanistan. Now German Chancellor Angela Merkel has joined those voices in criticizing the plans.

Speaking at an award ceremony for Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard in Potsdam near Berlin on Wednesday evening, Merkel said that the planned Koran-burning by pastor Terry Jones was "disrespectful, even repugnant, and simply wrong." The action violates respect for religions, she said.

At the award ceremony, Merkel paid tribute to the courage of Kurt Westergaard, whose caricature of the Prophet Muhammad sparked global protests by Muslims in 2005 and 2006. Westergaard was being awarded the M100 Media Prize for his refusal to be intimidated.

Westergaard drew one of the 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on Sept. 30, 2005. The cartoons sparked an international controversy over freedom of expression and led to violent demonstrations by Muslims around the world, who felt offended by the pictures. At least 50 people died in the riots that ensued. Westergaard was threatened with death by radical Islamists and has been under police protection for the last five years.

'The Secret of Freedom Is Courage'

"The consequences for the artist should act as a warning for us," said Merkel at the ceremony, which took place under tight security. She called for more tolerance. As an artist, Westergaard was entitled to produce such cartoons, she said, adding that European countries are one place where such caricatures are possible. "The secret of freedom is courage," said the chancellor.

Press freedom was one of the essential features of a liberal democracy, she said. "In these months, we Germans are remembering the overcoming of the East German Communist dictatorship and the reunification of our country 20 years ago. We still know what it means not to have freedom and therefore we should never forget how precious freedom is."

Joachim Gauck, a respected German pastor who was a human-rights activist in East Germany, also paid tribute to Westergaard in a speech. He thanked him for being brave enough not to be intimidated by the death threats. "Everyone should ask themselves whether we always show enough courage for freedom," said Gauck, who recently stood as a candidate for German president.

The award meant a lot to him, said Westergaard, speaking at the ceremony. "This is the greatest recognition I have received, and I think it is good for freedom of expression." The 75-year-old artist, who narrowly escaped death when his house was broken into by an ax-wielding Somali Muslim earlier this year, said he had "no problem with other religions." He only had a problem with Islamists, he said, stating he would always fight to ensure that people could practice their religion peacefully.

"The prize is intended to send a clear signal," said Potsdam Mayor Jann Jacobs, adding that the M100 committee considers Westergaard to be a "symbol of the freedom of the press and of expression." The association awards the M100 prize annually to European individuals whose work has had an influence on Europe and the world. The 2009 prize went to former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, while the previous year's prize was awarded to French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt who was held hostage by FARC guerrillas for years.

Westergaard 'Trampled on all Muslims'

The Central Council of Muslims in Germany criticized the award ceremony. "Merkel is honoring the cartoonist who in our view trampled on our prophet and trampled on all Muslims," the group's secretary-general, Aiman Mazyek, said on Wednesday, adding the caricatures unfairly labeled all Muslims as terrorists. He said the award was highly problematic, coming as it did at a time of such heated discussion. Germany is currently roiled in a debate about the integration of Muslim immigrants as a result of a controversial new book by Thilo Sarrazin, a member of the board at the Bundesbank, the country's central bank.

Germany's Green Party also reacted to Merkel's appearance with skepticism. "I wouldn't have done it," said Green Party floor leader Renate Künast. It was true that the right to freedom of expression also applies to cartoons, she said. "But if a chancellor also makes a speech on top of that, it serves to heat up the debate."

Merkel's appearance at the ceremony appears to enjoy broad support in Germany, however. The front page of the influential mass-circulation newspaper Bild on Thursday featured a picture of Merkel with Westergaard under the banner headline "Merkel's Most Courageous Public Appearance!"

"It's a symbolic gesture -- but what a gesture," the newspaper wrote in an editorial. "Merkel is not indifferent to what the reaction in the Muslim world (to the award ceremony) will be. But she doesn't let that dictate her behavior. That's something not many of her fellow European leaders do. Kudos to her!"

dgs -- with wire reports

Afghanistan Appeals to the US

Karzai Warns that Koran Burnings Could Cause Violence

By Matthias Gebauer and Shoib Najafizada in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai warns hate preacher Terry Jones: Don't do it!

Afghan President Hamid Karzai warns hate preacher Terry Jones: Don't do it!

Afghanistan's president is warning of grave conseequences should a Christian fundamentalist in the US proceed with his plan to burn hundreds of Korans in Florida on Sept. 11. Karzai's spokesman told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the development could damage America's relations with the entire Muslim world.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has strongly warned against the planned burning of Korans in Florida on Sept. 11.

"This action assaults Islam in general and all Muslims in Afghanistan," a spokesman for Karzai told SPIEGEL ONLINE. He called on Washington to prevent the event from happening and warned that the consequences could be grave if Islamophobic preacher Terry Jones moves ahead with his plan.

"If the US government lets this happen it endangers not only the relationship with Afghanistan, but also with the whole Muslim world," Karzai's deputy spokesman, Siamac Herawi, said.

On Wednesday, US General David Petraeus, the commander of NATO's ISAF forces, met with Karzai and discussed the explosive issue. A day earlier, Petraeus had taken the unusual step of warning of the consequences that Jones' action could have. "Images of the burning of the Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan -- and around the world -- to inflame public opinion and incite violence," the general wrote in a statement.

'Problems for Our Afghan Partners'

After the meeting in the Presidential Palace in Kabul, NATO headquarters issued a statement that Petraeus and Karzai were both concerned about the planned Sept. 11 action. Both agreed that the possible response to the action would "undermine our effort in Afghanistan, jeopardize the safety of coalition troops and civilians."

In an email to SPIEGEL ONLINE, a spokesman for US General Petraeus also said the action could "create problems for our Afghan partners" because "it likely would be Afghan police and soldiers who would have to deal with any large demonstrations."

Wednesday's meeting underscores how seriously the NATO troops are taking the issue. Past instances where the Koran or Islam were denigrated have triggered protests in Afghanistan, some of which resulted in massive outbreaks of violence.

In 2006, during the global outrage over Muhammad caricatures published in a Danish newspaper, protesters took to the streets in Kabul and went on a rampage at the Norwegian Embassy. Aggressive protesters even dared to attack a military base of the Norwegians, who were part of the ISAF security force. The attacks only ceased after US fighter jets fired warning shots.

'I Can Only Wish that This Affair Doesn't Happen'

The German regional commander, Brigadier General Hans-Werner Fritz, warned in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE on Wednesday that if the Koran burnings do take place on Saturday at the evangelical church in Florida, one must fear that attacks could be perpetrated against American soldiers, US facilities and also against all NATO troops. "I can only wish that this affair doesn't happen," he said, "because it would give an incited people and radicals cause to commit violence against all ISAF troops, including the Germans in northern Afghanistan."

The signs of what could happen were already apparent at a small protest held on Tuesday in Kabul, where demonstrators threw stones at a convoy of American soldiers and chanted "Death to the USA." Organizers at another protest in front of a mosque, however, were able to prevent an outbreak of violence. But Western observers fear that such control would hardly be manageable at mass demonstrations.

In his warning, Petraeus said that images of the burning of the Koran could be used by extremists and would have a similar impact to the images of torture committed by US soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

In 2005, massive protests broke out in Afghanistan after Newsweek reported that the US military officers had flushed copies of the Koran down the toilet in front of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo. Fifteen people died in the mass protests in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan.

Taliban Propaganda against Foreign Troops

Western armies and the United Nations fear that similar protests could erupt should the Koran burnings go ahead. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban's notorious spokesman, warned by phone on Wednesday from an undisclosed location, that the plans to burn the Koran fit in with a pattern of hostility towards Islam by the foreign troops."

"This is not the first time that foreigners have defiled the Koran," Mujahid said. "The Western troops are only here to damage Islam and to oppress all Muslims."

Even if the statements made by the Taliban spokesman are pure propaganda, similar incitement in Afghan mosques could trigger the feared mass protests. Indeed, observers are already concerned that sentiments could be stirred up during Friday prayers, leading to protests or violence in the run-up to Saturday's planned event. If that happened, Afghanistan's burgeoning police force would be hopelessly overstrained; and ISAF troops would be put in danger if forced to intervene.

The statements from the Presidential Palace also make clear how President Karzai will react if worse comes to worst. In recent months, Karzai has resorted to anti-Western sentiment for his own purposes again and again. The fact that he is now placing indirect responsibility for the Koran burnings on the government of US President Barack Obama leads one to suspect that he may be leaving the door open for similar sentiment against Washington again.,1518,716569,00.html,1518,716569,00.html

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