U.S.: Muhammad Cartoon 'Offensive'

Hundreds of Muslim worshippers gather after Friday prayers to shout slogans denouncing Denmark for published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005 at the revered Abu Hanifa Mosque, Friday, Feb. 3, 2006, in Baghdad, Iraq. AP

The State Department criticized on Friday cartoon drawings in Europe of the Prophet Muhammad, calling them "offensive to the beliefs of Muslims."

While recognizing the importance of freedom of the press and expression, department press officer Janelle Hironimus said these rights must be coupled with press responsibility.

"Inciting religious or ethnic hatred in this manner is not acceptable," Hironimus said. "We call for tolerance and respect for all communities and for their religious beliefs and practices."

The 12 cartoons first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September and were reprinted in several European newspapers this week in a gesture of press freedom. When the cartoons were first published five months ago, though, the controversy was low-key, CBS News correspondent Richard Roth reports. Boycotts were called against Danish goods in the Middle East. But the anger spread fast.

One of the drawings shows Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb. Another portrays him holding a sword, his eyes covered by a black rectangle.

Hard-line Muslims in Indonesia stormed a building housing the Danish Embassy and burned the country's flag Friday to protest the caricatures, as outrage over the drawings rippled across Asia.

Pakistan's parliament unanimously passed a resolution condemning the provocative cartoons, and Singapore's top Islamic advisory body said their aim was to incite hatred.

Rowdy demonstrations were held in Bangladesh and Malaysia, where crowds chanted: "Destroy our Enemies!"

In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, 150 demonstrators pelted the high-rise building housing the Danish Embassy with rotten eggs, then pushed their way past security guards.

Before leaving the building in the heart of the Indonesian capital's business district, they tore down the Danish flag and set it on fire.

"We are not terrorists, we are not anarchists, but we are against those people who blaspheme Islam," a protester wearing a white Arabic-style robes shouted outside the building.

Indonesia's government reiterated earlier criticism of the paper's decision to publish.

"This is about insensitivity and a trend toward Islamaphobia," said foreign ministry spokesman Yuri Thamrin.

"As a democratic country we are very aware of press freedom, but we also believe it should not be used to slander or defame sacred religious symbols."

Afghanistan, like Indonesia, has criticized the drawings.

In Iraq, thousands staged demonstrations after weekly mosque prayer services on Friday. About 4,500 people joined rallies in Basra and hundreds at a Baghdad mosque. Danish flags were burned at both demonstrations.

"We strongly denounce and condemn this horrific action," Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said of the caricatures in a statement posted on his Web site and dated Jan. 31.

In Pakistan, where insulting the prophet is punishable by death, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf also expressed outrage, saying there was no way to justify publication of the cartoons.

"I have been hurt, grieved and I am angry," the military leader said, adding that those who printed the cartoons were "totally oblivious of what is happening in the world."

Moderate Muslims were also offended, Musharraf said, and felt their faith had been demonized.
  • Lloyd Vries

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