Prophet Video Controversy Reaches Europe

8:57 PM, Sep 19, 2012   |    comments
A protester shouts slogns as Palestinian Salafists burn the Israeli and US flags during a demonstration against an amateur film mocking Islam on September 14, 2012. (SAID KHATIB/AFP/GettyImages)
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Berlin (written by Charles McPhedran/Special for USA Today) -- Europeans worried over becoming the next battleground over an anti-Islam video: German officials mulled a ban on a planned screening in Berlin while a French weekly magazine published cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, including some of him naked. Officials and Muslim community leaders appealed for calm.

German officials are exploring legal options to ban the video, The Innocence of Muslims.

Russia's government planned to ban the film and possibly block access to it on YouTube in the country. To head off confrontations, France banned a planned protest against the video, produced in California by an Egyptian American.

"There's no reason to let this conflict -- one that doesn't involve France -- enter our country," French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.

Violent Muslim protests against the video in the Middle East and North Africa have left Europeans worried over the reaction of their own Muslim populations, which number about 6 million in France, 20 million in Russia and 4 million in Germany.

The German fringe party Pro Deutschland, which has clashed with Muslims in the past, wants to screen the film in a Berlin theater in November. The party has contacts with Florida Pastor Terry Jones, who has threatened to burn Muslim holy books as a way to express his opposition to the faith.

"The public has a right to see this film and to make up its mind or express an opinion after having seen the film in full," Pro Deutschland leader Manfred Rouhs said.

In the past decade, European officials have been increasingly concerned over the rise of extremism, both among its Muslim populations and from far right factions that oppose Muslim immigration. The publishing of material deemed offensive by some has given rise to a debate in Europe over freedom of speech.

The French government defended the right of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, whose offices were firebombed last year by unknown assailants, to publish the cartoons. The weekly was acquitted in 2008 by a Paris appeals court of "publicly abusing a group of people because of their religion" after a complaint by Muslim associations.

The German Interior Ministry said it is looking into whether it can prevent a screening of The Innocence of Muslims in Berlin. Some German officials have called the film an abuse of free speech laws and called for laws against insulting religion, so called anti-blasphemy laws.

"I want more respect for people's religious beliefs," said German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich.

Free speech advocates disagreed with that approach.

German Social Democrat lawmaker Dieter Wiefelspuetz told German daily newspaper taz that a ban should be a last resort.

"A purely foreign policy-related consideration is not enough to warrant limiting basic civil rights," he said.

Government authorities and some Muslim leaders urged calm.

"This is a disgraceful and hateful, useless and stupid provocation," Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Paris Mosque, told the Associated Press. "We are not like animals of Pavlov to react at each insult."

Germany's Muslim population includes thousands of Salafists who believe in Islamic states and say any depiction of Islam's prophet Mohammed is blasphemy and must be banned. It is largely Salafist clerics who have organized protests in the Middle East against U.S. embassies and other targets.

Clashes erupted between the Salafist Muslims and far-right activists in the former German capital Bonn on May 6. Scores of police officers were injured in violence that started after a group affiliated with Pro-Deutschland displayed Danish cartoons of Mohammed, the same ones that led to protests in 2005 in which dozens of people died and Western embassies were damaged. Police have asked organizers to reconsider screening the film.

"In the past, we've seen police officers attacked and severely injured by Salafists," said Reiner Wendt from the German Trade Union of the Police.

Muslim leaders warned that not all Germans would react to any screening of the film with moderation.

"There is reason to fear that extremists on both sides won't refrain from violence," said Secretary of the German Central Council of Muslims Nurhan Soykan.

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