Protests against cartoons satirising Mohammed continued around the world yesterday.
In London, a crowd of 1,000 Muslims clutching orange placards demonstrated outside the Danish embassy. Two dressed as suicide bombers were allowed to stand next to a police van while officers – who had made no arrests the previous day – tried to prevent photographers from taking pictures of them.
The protesters chanted Allah Aqbar (God Is Great), and their placards bore slogans including: “Free Speech Equals Cheap Insults”; “Rudeness, Slander, Disrespect: Is This Freedom Of Speech?”; “Leave Muslims alone” and “Freedom is hypocrisy”.
Another placard had pictures of Tony Blair, George Bush and Ariel Sharon with the caption: “Wanted terrorists”.
There were sporadic skirmishes when the demonstration broke up at lunchtime, but emotions were not running as high as on Friday.
The uniformity of the placards suggested that the protest had been organised to prevent a repetition of the scenes the previous day when demonstrators carried placards declaring: “Butcher those who insult Islam” and chanted slogans threatening a July 7th attack.
The group behind yesterday’s more controlled protest is believed to be Hizb Ut-Tahrir, an Islamic splinter group with a reputation for shrewd dealing with the media and the police.
One of protesters, Mehdi Gashi, 26, originally from Kosovo but now living in London, said the cartoons degraded the Prophet. “The people who printed the cartoons should be punished,” he said.
“There’s one cartoon of the Prophet with a bomb on his head and this intimates that he is the root of terror, that Islam is terrorism, which is very insulting.”
One Muslim leader yesterday condemned Friday’s protest and said it should have been banned.
Asghar Bukhari, the chairman of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, said police should have stopped the demonstration because protesters advocated violence. “The placards and chants were disgraceful and disgusting,” he told BBC News Online. “I condemn them without reservation. These people are less representative of Muslims than the BNP are of British people.”
Rather than dying down, anger over the cartoons appeared to be growing more organised and determined.
In the most serious incident yesterday, hundreds of demonstrators stormed the Danish embassy in Damascus, the Syrian capital, setting fire to the building. Windows were broken but nobody was injured.
In Pakistan, the foreign ministry called in ambassadors from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Holland, Hungary, Norway and the Czech Republic to protest at publication of the cartoons.
The Vatican, while deploring violence, said that certain forms of criticism represented an “unacceptable” provocation. “The right to freedom of thought and expression cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers,” a statement said.
Anger from European Muslims has not matched the furious scenes in Islamic countries. In Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, on Friday protesters clashed with police outside the Danish embassy. The fresh protests came as the journalist who approved publication of the cartoons last September said he was merely upholding Denmark’s tradition of satire.
Fleming Rose, the culture editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, justified the images by saying Denmark simply wanted to treat Muslims “as we treat everybody else”.
Mr Rose told BBC News 24’s Hardtalk programme: “In Denmark, we do have a tradition of satire and humour. We make fun of the royal family. We make fun of Jesus Christ.”
He was interviewed with Ahmed Abu Laban, the Muslim cleric responsible for leading much of the angry reaction across Europe.
Mr Laban insisted that Muslims were right to protest, saying they had been “looked upon as a pupil who should sit on his desk, keep quiet and behave”.
The drawings included a cartoon depicting the Prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb. Another shows him announcing that paradise is running out of virgins.
The BBC disclosed yesterday that it has received more than 2,400 complaints after showing “fleeting images” of the cartoons in news reports.
The vast majority said either that they should not show the images again (1,116 respondents), or that they should never have been shown (950 respondents). Just 20 people wanted the cartoons shown fully.
However, despite the uproar, the corporation confirmed that BBC News Online, its flagship site, was still providing links to the material. The majority of complaints to the corporation were from Muslims.
Yesterday, Doug Marlette, one of America’s most acclaimed cartoonists, told Radio 4’s Today that he had received death threats and hate mail after drawing the Prophet driving a pick-up truck with a missile in the back. More than 20,000 people complained to the newspaper where he worked and another 20,000 complained to his website.
A BBC Radio 5 Live poll which asked whether the cartoons shown in Denmark should be published in Britain found that most respondents opposed the idea. Forty-two per cent said they approved of publication but 58 per cent did not.