02/10/2006, 00.00
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Voices of moderation amid caricature protests

Hamas offers mediation; from Malaysia, the call for Islam and the West to accept each other as equals; similar appeals from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh; hundreds of thousands participate in Hezbollah protest with no incidents to report.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Protests against caricatures depicting Mohammad continue in the Islamic world, and spread to countries in which none had been previously occurred, but there has also been an increase in voices which, from within Islam, are calling for moderation and peaceful demonstrations.  Thus, if from Gaza the Islamic Jihad is threatening "the sacrifice of blood" in case similar episodes reoccur, Khaled Meshaal, leader of Hamas, said that his organization "is prepared to play a role in calming the situation between the Islamic world and Western countries on condition that these countries commit themselves to putting an end to attacks against the feelings of Muslims." This statement arrives a day after Meshaal himself had warned Western press to not "play with fire" by publishing such caricatures.

Also today, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whose country heads the Islamic Conference Organization, urged the Islamic world and the West "to accept one another as equals."  He spoke against those who ridicule religions, but called for protesters to use quieter tones.  And demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur have been peaceful.  Protests by Filipino Muslims have also been free of violence.  Taha Basman, President of the Filipino Islamic Council, said that "press freedom cannot trample on more important religious freedom," but appealed to Muslims "to exercise moderation and restraint."  Appeals for moderation have also arrived from Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia who, after having labelled as "extremely arrogant" the behaviour of Western newspapers that published the caricatures, warned Muslims to not react violently.  And the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka proclaimed a day of protest to condemn the publication of the blasphemous caricatures, but urged people "to conduct the protest in the most peaceful manner without any inconvenience to the public."

There was no appeal for moderation, yet nor were there acts of violence at Hezbollah's demonstration yesterday in Beirut which saw the gathering of 400,000 people, according to police estimates, 700,000 according to organizers.  If on one hand the Shi'ite movement's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, called for "European parliaments to draft laws that ban newspapers from insulting the Prophet," the event, on the other hand, took place in conditions of total calm.

In Afghanistan too, where in past days 8 people died as a result of protest violence, the local press which in some way reflects the positions of so-called "enlightened" Muslims is debating the significance of the caricatures: are they the expression of press freedom or an offense to religion; does press freedom trump the right to respect for religions?  Despite condemning the caricatures as "unacceptable", many national newspapers are criticizing violent reactions as being excessive and for having motives that go beyond religion.  An editorial 3 days ago in Outlook Afghanistan asked "What do we (Muslims) have to gain from this violence?"  And the answer was: nothing; what's more, it harms our imagine in the eyes of international public opinion.  And this is the view of many Muslims in Afghanistan.

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