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Analysis: Tit-for-tat in cartoon spat

By GARETH HARDING, UPI Chief European Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Lurid newspaper headlines might refer to the recent violent protests at Danish drawings of Mohammed as "Cartoon Wars," but few people in Europe are laughing at some of the tit-for-tat caricatures of Jews and homosexuals circulating on radical Islamist Web sites.

In response to the 12 drawings of the prophet in a Danish newspaper, which have led to violent demonstrations across the Muslim world, The Arab European League Monday began a "freedom of speech campaign" with a series of cartoons designed to prick Jewish, Christian and western liberal sensitivities.

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"Yes Arabs and Muslims are uptight when you touch their religious and national symbols, but Europe has made political correctness, the cult of the Holocaust and Jew-worshiping its alternative religion and is even more uptight when you touch that," writes Dyab Abou Jahjah, the leader of the Belgian-based radical group.

"I am for the absolute freedom of speech everywhere, and that's why I call upon every free soul among Arabs to use the Danish flag as a substitute for toilet paper," continues the Lebanese-born agitator, calling on Muslims to "illustrate every wall with graffiti making fun of everything Europe holds as holy: dancing rabbis on the carcasses of Palestinian children, hoax gas-chambers built in Hollywood in 1946 with Steven Spielberg's approval stamp, and Aids spreading fagots (sic)."

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The cartoons on the Arab European League's website are certainly not for the faint-hearted. One shows Adolf Hitler lying in bed with Anne Frank, the Dutch diarist who hid from the Nazis before being killed in a concentration camp. "Write this one in your diary, Anne," says a half-naked Hitler, reclining against the bed-head. Another has movie-maker Steven Spielberg and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson discussing making a film on the Holocaust. Replies Jackson: "I don't think I have that much imagination."

Denying the Holocaust in which almost six million Jews were killed, is a criminal offense in many European states.

The cartoons, which also rail against homosexuals and gay marriage, sparked an immediate response from pro-Israel groups. The Hague-based Centre for Information and Documentation on Israel has lodged a criminal complaint against the caricatures, according to the Expatica.com Web site. The cartoon of Hitler and Anne Frank is a "a nightmare for the thousands of Jewish victims of the Holocaust who are still alive," said the center's director Ronny Naftaniel, adding that he wanted to teach a "little lesson in democracy" to Abou Jahjah.

The Arab European League is not the only outfit to have commissioned revenge drawings. Iran's largest newspaper, Hamshari, Monday announced it would hold a contest on Holocaust cartoons in response to the Danish caricatures of the prophet.

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According to the graphics editor of the conservative paper, the idea is to raise the question of how far media can publish offensive material in a bid for freedom of expression.

In an interview with Jyllands Posten, the Danish daily that commissioned the 12 cartoons, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried urged those who are demanding a Danish apology to be consistent and condemn offensive drawings in their own media. "There are many, many newspapers in the Middle East which publish anti-Semitic and anti-Christian cartoons that are offensive, and those media are government sponsored."

From a quick trawl through Arabic news sites, one of the favorite topics of the cartoons mentioned by Fried appears to be poking fun at the Holocaust. In 2003, the Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustur published a drawing of railway tracks and barbed wire leading to an Auschwitz-style concentration camp. On top of the buildings, the Star of David has replaced the Swastika. A small sign in the right-hand corner says in Arabic: "Gaza Strip or the Israeli Annihilation Camp."

The press in Saudi Arabia, which has zealously condemned the twelve pictures of the prophet, is also particularly productive when it comes to offensive cartoons. The Arab News, a Saudi English language daily, commissioned one where former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon is standing in a sea of blood, slaying small children with a Swastika-shaped ax.

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European lawmakers have also poured fuel on the flames of the dispute. Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, who spent much of last year in hiding after harshly criticizing the Muslim faith, received 40 death threats within two days of re-publishing the 12 Mohammed cartoons on his Web site.

Over the weekend, followers of the radical Islamist organization Hizb ut Tahrir group handed out leaflets in Muslim neighborhoods of Dutch cities, warning the populist politician of the consequences of his acts. In Nov. 2004, controversial Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh was murdered in broad daylight by a fanatical Islamist for insulting Muslims and their faith.

Cartoons are meant to be funny, but what is most noticeable about the Danish caricatures of Mohammed -- and the revenge drawings they have spawned -- is their distinct lack of humor.

(With additional reporting by Christiane Kirketerp)

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