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Analyzing the fallout of the cartoon crisis
Published in Daily News Egypt on 20 - 04 - 2006

CAIRO: After over three months of protesting the publishing of Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a manner deemed offensive, Danish and Muslim youth are trying to reach an understanding through a multitude of dialogues and joint conferences in Denmark and across the Arab world.
Muslims around the globe protested when a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published 12 caricatures; several showing the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist, a schoolboy and a bearded man with a bomb for a turban.
Muslims staged worldwide protests that turned violent as other European papers reprinted the cartoons. Danish embassies in some Arab countries were closed down after being attacked.
Islamic scholars called for a boycott of all Danish goods and called on their respective governments to cut all diplomatic and trade ties with the country.
In response, Jyllands-Posten initially refused to issue an apology, saying that the publication of such cartoons was a form of freedom of expression. However, under local and international pressure, the newspaper finally said they were "sorry for offending.
The long-term damage done by the cartoons have only started to show lately as analysts have started to evaluate the current political and economic situation.
Senior economist Jakob Jakobsen told Xinhua news service earlier this week that the refusal of millions of Muslims to buy Danish products would cost the country at least 1.5 billion crowns in dairy exports, which is around 10 percent of Denmark's estimated total sales.
According to the news agency, the boycott of Danish goods "has caused an 85 percent drop in Denmark s dairy exports. The national statistics office also told the agency that "exports of dairy products such as milk, butter and cheese dropped to about 130 million Danish crowns ($34.67 million) in February from 840 million in the same month last year.
Denmark did, however, reopen its embassy in Syria last week despite verbal threats against Danes. The embassy had been set on fire during rioting over the cartoons. Also in Indonesia, Denmark reportedly reopened its mission.
Although the aftermath of the cartoons is still shaky, youth initiatives, on both sides, are promising. Despite damage, conferences organized by Arab Muslim and Danish youth have become something of a trend; spreading understanding and aiming to shatter misconceptions on both sides.
This week, the Tabah foundation in Abu Dhabi hosted a delegation of Danish and Muslim youth, and the conference, according to their official Web site, was an attempt by Muslims "to facilitate channels of discussion between the Danish and Muslim people in an effort to live and interact with one another based upon mutual respect . despite different perspectives and world views.
Earlier this month, Al-Jazeera hosted a live conference where Arab youth met with their Danish contemporaries, also over the issue of the cartoons. The conference was aimed at making the Danes understand why Muslims were upset and in some instances violent in reaction to the cartoons.
"According to the Islamic religion, even in times of war . it is forbidden to destroy a church, it is forbidden to attack a religious belief ... Muslims do not interfere in the religious beliefs of others, Arab Student Union Chairman Ahmad El-Shater was quoted by The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) as saying.
El-Shater told the Danish representatives that the Arabs "feelings and emotions were hurt and that their feelings had to be "taken into consideration [by the Danes], even more than their minds. Sudanese Student Union Chairman Muhammad, whose last name was not disclosed, also added that "in our religion [Islam], harming the Prophet is where we draw the line. We are prepared to die to prevent this.
Can this Danish newspaper or any other newspaper in the world draw a cartoon similar to the one about the Prophet Mohammed . about a Zionist rabbi? El-Shater was quoted by MEMRI as saying.
In the wake of the crisis, a daily Iranian newspaper, Hamshahri, had published cartoons about the Holocaust in an attempt to "push the limits of freedom of expression called upon by Europe and the West. Hamshahri had challenged Jyllands-Posten to republish their cartoons.
After initially agreeing to print the Holocaust cartoons, the newspaper retracted their consent, claiming the act would entice more angry reactions and thus more trouble. According to CNN, the newspaper's editor-in-chief Carsten Juste said, In no circumstances will [the paper] publish Holocaust cartoons from an Iranian newspaper.
Also according to The Guardian in th UK, "sensitive cartoons were previously rejected by the Jyllands-Posten. Around three years ago editors turned down "Jesus cartoons on the grounds that they could be offensive to readers and were not funny.
Regarded as "the most prominent conference between Denmark and Muslims was the Amr Khaled-initiated "This is Our Prophet dialogue. Although not a first, the initiative was widely criticized initially by Muslim scholars for "holding a dialogue in the wake of the Danish cartoons.
The dialogue, which was held in Copenhagen more than a month ago, was deemed "immature and "too soon by some; but not for the youth who attended the almost weeklong event.
Sarah Habibti, a Danish Muslim and a youth representative at the conference said she supported the idea of having a Muslim convoy from the Middle East for a Western-Muslim dialogue.
"It was nice to know that we were remembered in the Middle East, said Habibti.


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