PARIS – French and German newspapers on Wednesday republished caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that have riled the Muslim world, saying democratic freedoms include the "right to blasphemy."
The front page of the daily France Soir carried the headline "Yes, We Have the Right to Caricature God" along with a cartoon of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian gods floating on a cloud. Inside, the paper reran the drawings.
"The appearance of the 12 drawings in the Danish press provoked emotions in the Muslim world because the representation of Allah and his prophet is forbidden. But because no religious dogma can impose itself on a democratic and secular society, France Soir is publishing the incriminating caricatures," the paper said.
Germany's Die Welt daily printed one of the drawings on its front page, arguing that a "right to blasphemy" was anchored in democratic freedoms. The Berliner Zeitung daily also printed two of the caricatures as part of its coverage of the controversy.
The Danish daily Jyllands-Posten originally published the cartoons in September after asking artists to depict Islam's prophet to challenge what it perceived was self-censorship among artists dealing with Islamic issues. A Norwegian newspaper reprinted the images this month.
The depictions include an image of Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse, and another portraying him holding a sword, his eyes covered by a black rectangle. Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet to prevent idolatry.
Angered by the drawings, masked Palestinian gunmen briefly took over a European Union office in Gaza on Monday. Syria called for the offenders to be punished. Danish goods were swept from shelves in many countries, and Saudi Arabia and Libya recalled their ambassadors to Denmark.
The Jyllands-Posten — which received a bomb threat over the drawings — has apologized for hurting Muslims' feelings but not for publishing the cartoons. Its editor said Wednesday, however, that he would not have printed the drawings had he foreseen the consequences.
Carsten Juste also said the international furor amounted to a victory for opponents of free expression.
"Those who have won are dictatorships in the Middle East, in Saudi Arabia, where they cut criminals' hands and give women no rights," Juste told The Associated Press. "The dark dictatorships have won."
Demonstrations and condemnations across the Muslim world continued.
The Supreme Council of Moroccan religious leaders denounced the drawings on Wednesday.
"Muslim beliefs cannot tolerate such an attack, however small it may be," the statement said.
In Turkey, dozens of protesters from a small Islamic party staged a demonstration in front of the Danish Embassy. About 200 riot police watched the crowd from the Felicity Party, which laid a black wreath and a book about Muhammad's life at the gates of the embassy building.
Despite the show of solidarity among Europe's newspaper editors, not all Europeans appreciated the drawings.
Norway's deputy state secretary for foreign affairs, Raymond Johansen, said they encourage distrust between people of different faiths.
"I can understand that Muslims find the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in the Norwegian weekly ... to be offensive. This is unfortunate and regrettable," Johansen said on a visit to Beirut.
There was also anger in France, which has Western Europe's largest Muslim community with an estimated 5 million people.
Mohammed Bechari, president of the National Federation of the Muslims of France, said his group would start legal proceedings against France Soir because of "these pictures that have disturbed us, and that are still hurting the feelings of 1.2 billion Muslims."
French government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope struck a neutral tone, saying France is "a country that is attached to the principle of secularism, and this freedom clearly should be exercised in a spirit of tolerance and respect for the beliefs of everyone."
France Soir, which is owned by an Egyptian magnate, has been struggling to stay afloat and bring in readers in recent years.
French theologian Sohaib Bencheikh spoke out against the pictures in a column in France Soir accompanying them Wednesday.
"One must find the borders between freedom of expression and freedom to protect the sacred," he wrote. "Unfortunately, the West has lost its sense of the sacred."