Afghans add voice to Muhammad cartoon row

The war of words over a Swedish cartoon depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad has continued over the weekend. Afghanistan is the latest country to condemn the publication of the caricatures of Muhammad with the body of a dog in newspaper Nerikes Allehanda. Meanwhile, a leading Swedish newspaper has said Sweden should not apologize.

In Afghanistan, religious leaders said the cartoon had “provoked all Afghans,” according to Reuters. A statement by religious leaders and the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, published in the Kabul Times, called on those behind the cartoon to be punished by the courts

“The sold-out enemies of Islam draw the cartoon of the respected Prophet of Islam once more. This has disturbed the Islamic world and aroused the indignation of all Muslims,” the statement said, according to Reuters.

A leading Swedish newspaper on Saturday said the country should not apologize for the recent publication of a cartoon of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad which has inflamed devout Muslims around the world.

Dagens Nyheter said in an editorial Sweden “has a duty from now on to defend its principles and present an open dialogue”.

It said offended Muslims would not receive the apologies they are asking for.

Nerikes Allehanda published the cartoon on August 18th to illustrate an editorial on self-censorship and freedom of expression and religion.

Any depiction of Muhammad is viewed as offensive by many, although not all, Muslims. The latest cartoons are seen as particularly objectionable by some, as dogs are considered unclean by most Islamic scholars.

The publication of the cartoon has previously prompted angry reactions from Iran and Pakistan, which have both summoned Swedish diplomats to protest. The 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference has also condemned the publication and urged the Swedish government to punish the artist and the publisher and demand an apology.

But Lars Vilks, the Swedish cartoonist in question, said he had no intention to apologize.

“You must be allowed to criticise religion, but I am not opposed to Islam,” he told Danish agency Ritzau. He had, in the past, also drawn a “Jewish sow”, Vilks said.

He also said he had received death threats.

Svenska Dagbladet, another broadsheet, said Sweden was now in a situation “which could escalate and slip away from Swedish control”.

Some observers did, however, note important differences with Denmark, where the publication of cartoons deemed offensive two years ago caused deadly riots in several countries.

Unlike its Danish neighbor, Sweden has a reputation for taking in refugees and immigrants, the paper said. Sweden is the primary destination in Europe for asylum-seeking Iraqis, who are the second-largest immigrant community there.

On Friday, 200 Muslims protested in Örebro, a town west of Stockholm where Nerikes Allehanda is based.

Ulf Johanssen, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, spoke with the head of the demonstration, but refused to offer any excuses to the protesters.