BEIRUT — No demonstrations took place in major Mideast and North African cities Thursday, suggesting that the fervor over the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad was easing. But a test may come after weekly Muslim prayers on Friday, when at least one large protest is planned, in Morocco.
Muslim religious leaders and newspapers have been calling for calm, fearing the violence during protests over the past two weeks had only reinforced Islam’s negative image in the West.
The cartoons, first published in a Danish paper then reprinted in other European newspapers, sparked outrage across the Islamic world. Protests turned violent in recent weeks in Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan.
But many in the Middle East watched the stone-throwing, flag-burnings and attacks on European embassies with sorrow.
“It’s bad enough we’ve been labeled terrorists,” said Farah al-Bahili, a 20-year-old Saudi student. “Why do these protesters want people in the West to attach a second label to us: savages?”
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Some – including governments, religious leaders and newspaper writers – are trying to put on the brakes on the outrage, even if they feel Muslims are right to be angry.
“They committed a crime when they violated our prophet’s sanctity,” said a prominent Egyptian Islamist, Muhammad Abdel Qaddous, at a forum on Wednesday in Cairo organized by the Muslim Brotherhood.
“But if we set their embassy on fire, as happened in Syria or Lebanon, we will then be responding to their crime with another crime,” he told the audience of several hundred people.
The Kuwaiti Parliament has urged restraint, saying “irresponsible acts” make the outpouring of emotion that Muslims have shown “look like aggressiveness and destructiveness.”
Iraq’s top Shiite political leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, said that only peaceful protests should be held. And the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, said in Dallas that the violence is “unhelpful and in many cases unnecessary.”
“Our prophet himself was insulted, violence was inflicted upon him when he preached his message to the idolators and nonbelievers, and he met that violence with forgiveness,” Turki said.
Some of those calling for calm complain that extremists have used the outrage over the caricatures as an opportunity to further their own aims.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday accused Iran and Syria of fanning the violence to rally support amid their own political confrontations with the West.
Those trying to tamp down the fires also must contend with rumors and misinformation, sometimes spread on the Internet, that further anger the public. One rumor that made the rounds in Cairo was that Danes were planning a demonstration to burn the Koran. No such burning took place.
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