British TV broadcasters defied appeals last night not to show a set of cartoon drawings mocking the Islamic faith, as outrage spread across the Muslim world at the publication of the drawings in a series of European newspapers.
The drawings, first printed in Denmark, triggered a fresh row when they were re-run in several papers which said press freedom was more important that the protests and boycotts they provoked across the Arab world.
Last night the BBC and ITV were among those who used fleeting images of the cartoons in news bulletins as a worldwide furore threatened to provoke violence and a trade boycott of European goods.
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The broadcasters’ move came just hours after Europe’s trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, appealed to editors not to publish the cartoons, saying they were “bound to offend”.
One depicts the Prophet Muhammad in a turban shaped like a bomb and another has him telling suicide bombers that paradise has run out of virgins.
The cartoons are considered blasphemous by Muslims as Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet to prevent idolatry. They have already been published by newspapers in Denmark, Norway, France, Germany and Spain.
The BBC emphasised that the images were broadcast “responsibly”, “in full context” and “to give audiences an understanding of the strong feelings evoked by the story”.
The British Council of Muslims said it thought the BBC was acting responsibly in its “sensitive” use of the images. A spokesman said: “I think the BBC have a good journalistic reason to show the images. I would hope most British Muslims would recognise that whereas some of the newspapers are publishing the cartoons with a view to attacking Islam, the BBC is reporting how the story is developing, which is an entirely different matter.”
A spokeswoman for ITV News said it was showing the image “in the context of it being a news story”.
Meanwhile, feelings are running high in the Middle East and Europe over the divide between the respect for Islam and the right of free speech. In France, the French-Egyptian owner of the newspaper France-Soir, Raymond Lakah, fired its managing editor Jacques Lefranc yesterday after the caricatures were reprinted in the popular daily on Wednesday. France-Soir’s chief editor, Serge Faubert, defended the decision to publish the cartoons. “We believe we have a right to draw these caricatures,” he said.
In Gaza, armed militants surrounded the European Commission office and threatened to kidnap nationals from countries where the cartoons had been published.
Earlier, Mr Mandelson said he had looked at the cartoons and decided that they went beyond acceptable satire. He said: “I regard them as pretty crude and rather juvenile … such cartoons are almost bound to cause offence. Really, I think people should think twice before they go ahead with publication.”
But Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, said the issue had gone beyond a row between Copenhagen and the Muslim world and now centred on western free speech versus taboos in Islam, which is now the second religion in many European countries.
In one development last night, a German citizen was kidnapped from a hotel in the West Bank city of Nablus, the fear being that his capture was retribution over the cartoons’ publication.