COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A Muslim leader said his group would accept some blame for international protests over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, but he insisted the group took its complaints to the Middle East because Denmark’s government would not listen.
Meanwhile, the nation’s prime minister said the uproar posed the biggest foreign policy challenge to his nation since World War II.
Ahmad Akkari, a 28-year-old Lebanese immigrant to Denmark, told The Associated Press his network was willing to accept one-third of the responsibility for the firestorm, if the government and the Danish paper that first published the drawings shared the rest.
The government has accused the group of misrepresenting Denmark during trips to Lebanon, Egypt and Syria, and a recent poll showed most Danes hold the group responsible for the crisis.
“Let’s say we bear one-third of the responsibility. Could the other two parts not take their responsibility?” Akkari said in an interview at a mosque in northern Copenhagen.
He said the group, claiming to represent 27 Danish Muslim organizations, traveled to the Middle East because the Danish government would not listen to its concerns that the drawings were offensive.
“It wasn’t our intention, going to Cairo and Lebanon, to have these worldwide demonstrations,” Akkari said. “We wanted these two countries and their representatives to come with a voice to talk to Denmark, to help us in our case.” ( Related story: Can anything be done to limit future culture clashes?)
Islam widely holds that representations of Muhammad are banned for fear they could lead to idolatry.
The group carried a dossier with purported examples of images offensive to Islam, including photocopies of the 12 Muhammad cartoons and three additional images — two offensive drawings of the prophet and a copy of an AP photograph that had nothing to do with the controversy.
That photograph, showing a bearded man wearing fake pig ears and a pig nose, was from a pig-squealing contest in France in August and had no connection with Islam or the Prophet Muhammad caricatures.
Akkari said the picture and the two additional drawings were sent in hate mail to Muslims in Denmark, who passed them on to the group.
Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Tuesday it would take time to defuse the crisis, calling it “a very considerable task.”
“We don’t see the solution around the corner,” he said. “We find ourselves in the biggest foreign policy challenge Denmark has faced since World War II.”
The government has said it cannot apologize for the actions of an independent newspaper. Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said the government had not done anything wrong, so an apology would be pointless.
Akkari said he is not seeking an apology from the government, but he wants the Jyllands-Posten newspaper to apologize for printing the caricatures. The paper has apologized for offending Muslims but stands by its decision to print the drawings, citing freedom of speech.
Akkari said he had invited Fogh Rasmussen to jointly contact Arab media and clear up any misunderstanding, but he had not received an answer.
“We are not extremists. We are not terrorists,” he said. “My hand is wide open on behalf of the group.”