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Saturday, Feb. 11, 2006

Egypt ambassador counsels caution on cartoons

Staff writer

Attacks like the ones on the Danish embassies in Syria and Lebanon last weekend could take place in Japan if the media here insult Muslims by reprinting cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, Egyptian Ambassador to Japan Hisham Badr warned Friday.

News photo
Hisham Badr

"This is not a question of freedom of expression. . . . This is a question of blaspheme of religion," Badr said in an interview with The Japan Times. "It touches a very raw nerve" with Muslims worldwide.

Badr praised both Tokyo for urging media not to reprint the cartoons and news organizations for complying.

Caricatures of the prophet Muhammad that first appeared in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten daily last September and have since been reprinted in the media in several other European countries sparked outrage throughout the Islamic world and caused some violent reactions, including the torching of the Danish embassies in Syria and Lebanon.

The Foreign Ministry on Monday recommended media organizations not reprint the caricatures out of consideration for Muslims and for fear it could trigger attacks on Japanese. The ministry also issued a statement Tuesday saying Japan understands the distress of the Muslims but they should not resort to violence.

"Reprinting (the images) is a provocation," the ambassador said. "It is as if they are saying 'we don't care about your feelings.' "

He added that even pictures of the caricatures that show them indirectly is unnecessary. The Japan Times printed a photograph in its Feb. 4 editions of a person holding a French newspaper that carried the cartoons.

Islam bans depictions, saying they could lead to idolatry.

Badr also said many Muslims around the world have felt frustrated since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington by the negative stereotypes of them.

"In itself, the cartoons are insulting," he said. "But at the same time, it comes as part of a bigger trend of Muslims feeling that they are projected negatively."

Drawing the prophet as a terrorist -- as one of the cartoons did -- is equivalent to saying all Muslims, who account for about one-third of of the world's population, are terrorists, Badr said.

Frustration has continued to grow as other issues arise in Arab nations, including the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the torture of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison and the continued occupation of Palestinian land, he said.

"It is a wakeup call for the West to reassess its policy against the Islamic world," Badr said.

The Egyptian envoy condemned violence, urging Muslims in Japan to express their feelings peacefully.

He said promoting a better understanding of Islam and its followers in Japan was more in line with the peaceful spirit of the religion.

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