Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Choreographed Chaos


photo: Mohammed Omer
Masked gunmen from several Fatah-linked armed factions protested noisily in Gaza City against the insult offered to Islam by cartoons published in a Danish magazine.

Mohammed Omer filed this special report with Morgenbladet (a Norwegian weekly)a few hours ago.

Choreographed Chaos?
By Mohammed Omer
reporting from Gaza City, Occupied Palestine

Norwegian nationals, heeding s strong request from their government, left the Gaza Strip under the protection of the Palestinian security forces on Monday, 30 January. Over the weekend, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, the armed wing of the defeated Fatah party, distributed a leaflet in Gaza City demanding that all Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes leave Gaza within 48 hours, pending an apology from the governments of Denmark and Norway for cartoons insulting the Prophet Mohammed published late in 2005.

The offending cartoons, caricaturing the Prophet as a terrorist, first appeared in Denmark's Jylland Posten and were later republished in one Norwegian magazine. The Danish paper, in the wake of the resulting furor throughout the Islamic world, published an "apology" that made matters worse, saying that they had not meant to insult anyone. Since all visual portrayals of the Prophet Mohammed are strictly forbidden to Muslims, and the disrespect in the images was flagrant, the Danish newspaper's statement, coupled with their government's defense of free expression, only inflamed the situation.

A Fatah spokesman, Abu Qusai, explained his position by saying: "We respect other religions and cultures. It's a must that they should respect ours as well." Asked if their insistence that Danish and Norwegian nationals leave Gaza might have an adverse effect on Palestine, both internally and internationally, he replied, "We don't want these Danes and Norwegians to be harmed. We understand they personally had no part in the insult to the Prophet. But we do hope they'll press their governments to apologize to the Islamic world. Actually, we welcome foreigners as our guests, but basic respect for religion is a red line that no one should cross."

The Al Yasser Brigades, another militant faction linked to the defeated Fatah, demonstrated against the Nordic countries over the weekend, while the Popular Resistance Committee, a third armed militant group, staged a second demonstration in which people trampled the Danish flag and burned Danish and Norwegian flags. "The Danish government doesn’t want to apologize to Muslims for what they did to them," one of the demonstrators said. "We belong to Fatah. We defend our religion. So we ban Danes and Norwegians from entering the Gaza Strip until the Danish government apologizes."

The militant groups, however, constitute about 5000 men among the 1.3 million citizens of Gaza. Ordinary Palestinians expressed quite different views from the fiery rhetoric of the Fatah-linked militants. "When Fatah asks Danes and Norwegians to leave Gaza, that doesn’t mean that all Danes and Norwegians are bad. We understand that. We know the insult to the Prophet was the work of only a few," said one Gaza resident, Umm Wael Salam, 45.

The landslide victory of the Islamist movement Hamas in last week's parliamentary elections is not without its ironies. While one might expect the overtly Islamist Hamas members to be the first to take to the streets to demonstrate against an insult to the Prophet, instead the new ruling party distributed a somber, even statesmanlike, press release demanding that the issue could not and should not be resolved by violence against foreigners. Their statement insisted the resolution had to be a diplomatic one via a formal apology. It is, in fact, the militant wings of the defeated secular Fatah party that are creating disorder over the humiliation offered to Islam. Astute observers are wondering if the real humiliation of interest to Fatah is not disrespect to the Prophet, but the embarrassment Hamas may suffer in the international community if it cannot control the unruly militants. So far, though, the demonstrations against the Nordic oountries have been loud, but brief, with no harm done to any Danish or Norwegian citizens.

43 Comments:

At 9:26 PM, Blogger July Canute said...

I hope that the Palestinians can come together and that Hamas can create an effective government. The jews count on the Arab people fighting among themselves and living in chaos. I think they should stick together long enough to defeat their true enemies and they surely are not Danes and Norweigians.

 
At 1:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am wondering whether or not the cartoonist is a Christian or a jew.
Is it forbidden to ask that question?
How about this then, is the publisher a Christian or a jew? I was born a Christian, and now I don't know what that means anymore. Bloody Jesus? Who has done that?...Jim

 
At 9:48 AM, Blogger Erika said...

July Canute,

Thanks for your comments--your view that cartoons insulting the Prophet Mohammed is hardly the worst problem the Palestinians face has been echoed, I discovered this morning, by a wire service report quoting an Al Aqsa Brigades spokesman saying much the same.

Still, if you've been following the story, the depth of the flouting of Islamic customs is something that manages to offend ALL Moslems, from the most conservative to most secular. I don't think it's fair to expect Moslems to ignore the matter while nobody would be surprised or outraged if Jews or Christians launched protests against insults to their founders or revered historical figures.

That said, the mainstream media has been leaning on sensational headlines and lumping all protests together. If you read further, you discover the Gaza protests have been relatively mild. This morning's spate of wire-service stories headlined the bombing of the French Cultural Center in Gaza City. OK, but read on, and shots were fired at an empty building at 2am, and a bomb was thrown but--ends the report--did no damage. Not that this is wonderful, or productive, but it's a lot less dramatic than the headline alone would indicate.

Also, apart from the feelings of Palestinian Moslems, neither Hamas nor PA President Abbas can afford to alienate the larger Islamic world at the moment. With threats of funding cut-offs from the West, the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia are the very people they may very well approach for aid. Hamas seems to be urging non-violence in the strongest possible terms.

 
At 10:04 AM, Blogger Erika said...

Hi, Jim (anonymous)

I've been hunting around on the web and can't find a definitive answer about the background of the original Danish cartoonist. However, Jyllands Posten, I heard an analyst explain on PBS (US public television), is a conservative paper and, he speculated, may have wanted to cash in on anti-immigrant sentiment among its readership. The Norwegian "Magizinet" that reprinted the cartoons is widely identified as an "evangelical" publication, so I think it's safe to assume the editor/publisher is Christian.

I certainly don't consider your question "forbidden" but, while the personal background of publishers and editors is interesting, it shouldn't--just my opinion--be that important. There are matters of basic good taste and good manners that--you'd hope--would be universal. And, of course, there are all kinds of things the law of the land allows that may not be sensible, kind, or ethical.

As someone who isn't religious (but got a heavy dose of it as a child) I do empathize with any Christian bewildered by the range of Christian opinion--from far-FAR right to vastly saner and more calm. There's simply no one-size-fits-all "Christian position" any more than there's absolute unity of opinion in the Islamic world.

 
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