Hungarian papers fuel Muslim anger

Dailies print “blasphemous” cartoons citing press freedom as motivation

The liberal daily Magyar Hírlap and left-of-centre daily Ne’pszabadság last Thursday became part of a growing international row by republishing “blasphemous” cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, originally published in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten.

A string of European newspapers last week reprinted the sketches, one depicting Mohammad as a terrorist with a time-bomb turban, citing freedom of expression as their motivation.

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Magyar Hírlap printed two of the cartoons, including one showing a band of suicide bombers queueing to get to paradise being told by Mohammed, “Stop, stop! We’ve run out of virgins.”

Some believe Islam teaches that God will give martyrs 72 virgins each in paradise, although this interpretation is hotly debated – others interpret the passage in the Quran as referring to grapes.

Pál Szombathy, editor of Magyar Hírlap said on TV2 last Thursday: “I consider freedom of speech to be more important than whether this is right or wrong at the present moment. I think the situation is overblown.” The newspaper did not publish the pictures on its website, nor did it justify the publication of the pictures in the newspaper itself.

Saudi Ambassador to Hungary Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz Hashem reacted angrily to the cartoons in the newspapers on the grounds that they are deeply offensive to Muslims. Freedom of the press must not be allowed to surpass certain limits and attack or offend the feelings of any religious people, the right-leaning Magyar Nemzet reported him as saying.

Whilst his country greatly appreciated efforts by the Hungarian state to guarantee the free practice of religion, the publication of such cartoons by a Hungarian newspaper does not help such efforts, the Ambassador said. Islamic law, based on clerics’ interpretation of the Quran and sayings of the prophet, bans depictions, even positive ones, of the Prophet Mohammed in order to prevent idolatry.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Ferenc Somogyi told the Danish news agency Ritzau last Friday that some Muslim individuals and institutions have not reacted in an appropriate way to the caricatures depicting Mohammed.

Hungary has also been put on the list of countries that have offended Islam, according to Kossuth Rádio. It asked the Hungarian Ambassador in Ramallah, in the Palestinian Territories, if anti-Hungarian sentiment had risen as a consequence. He replied that although people were aware of the issue and it was a hot topic, it was not the most serious security issue in the region. He said that the newly-elected Hamas was manipulating public opinion against EU countries anyway.

Péter Vajda, spokesman for Hungary’s National Security office told The Budapest Times and Budapester Zeitung last Friday that he had no information on whether there was an increased terror threat to Hungary due to the sketches published.

Growing numbers of European newspapers published the pictures last week. Spain’s El Pais reprinted a cartoon that had appeared in France’s Le Monde newspaper portraying the head of the Prophet Mohammed, formed by lines that read “I must not draw Mohammed.” British tabloid The Sun reprinted the front page of French daily Le Soir and the Danish paper, but obscured pictures of Mohammed with red boxes marked “censored.” Bulgaria’s Novinar, the French daily Liberation and the Italian right-wing daily Libero were also among those to publish the cartoons.

France Soir’s Egyptian-French owner fired the paper’s managing editor Jacques LeFranc after the cartoon ran, but the newspaper’s editorial staff continued to defend the reasoning for running the cartoons. A Jordanian tabloid weekly newspaper fired its editor after he reprinted the cartoons and withdrew copies of the newspaper from sale. The editor apologised and said the newspaper had printed the cartoons to demonstrate the extent to which Islam had been insulted.

Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that sparked the row, had asked cartoonists to draw images of the prophet “to examine whether people would succumb to self-censorship, as we have seen in other cases when it comes to Muslim issues,” according to its editor Flemming Rose.

The publishing of the cartoons led to widespread protests in the Middle East, and thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets after Friday prayers in protest. Over ten rallies were organised by protesers demanding an apology and a boycott of Danish products.

Many protestors said the refusal of the Danes to apologise showed that the West displayed deep-rooted animosity toward Islam. Protests and similar views were apparent in many other Muslim countries, and within Muslim communities in western countries. Protests were not confined to the civilian population – Pakistan’s Senate last Friday passed a motion condemning the cartoons.

Despite much of the media protesting that the cartoons were reprinted as a defence of freedom of speech, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw condemned the decision to publish the cartoons as insensitive and disrespectful.

“We all respect freedom of speech. But there is no obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory,” he said. “I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong.”

Editor’s comment [By the editor of The Budapest Times]
As most of our regular readers will know, it is not the usual policy of The Budapest Times to carry an editorial. However, we feel that this week’s lead story – the printing in Hungary of the now-notorious cartoons of the prophet Mohammed which have outraged Muslims around the world – cannot pass without comment on the way we have decided to present it.

We deliberated long and hard over whether our story reporting the controversy should include images of the cartoons. We consider it our utmost duty to report the news in a fair, unbiased and unlimited fashion. We do not believe in censorship of any kind. However, in view of the fact that the cartoons first appeared several months ago, we believe that the full reproduction of them at this stage would merely add to the offence already caused and be little more than grandstanding.

Our professional duty to report the news whatever its content is accompanied by our moral duty to avoid causing unnecessary offence. This we do not regard as censorship – we have decided not to censor or omit content in the past for reasons of taste and abandon this now would be inconsistent and disingenuous. We believe that digitising parts of the Hungarian cartoons fulfils our duty to show our readers what the Hungarian public have seen, by depicting their nature and context without explicitly revealing the details which have caused such outrage.

Despite our decision to run the images in censored form, we must stress that we unreservedly support the right of other newspapers to make a different decision. This right is a fundamental part of our culture and civilisation – a right we believe the Islamic world too should respect.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Budapest Times, Hungary
Feb. 6, 2006

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