Chaos and Carnage

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," February 6, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: New violent protests are taking place across Asia and the Middle East over the publication of those cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. From India to Iran to Indonesia, angry Muslims are throwing rocks, fighting with cops and even attacking embassies. So why all this violence months after the caricatures were first published?

Let's ask Abdel Bari Atwan. He is the editor of Al-Quds newspaper.

So Mr. Atwan, I understand that the Prophet Muhammad is not supposed to be depicted. Nonetheless, this mass outpouring of anger seems a bit over the top considering these were sort of dumb cartoons.

ABDEL BARI ATWAN, AL-QUDS EDITOR: Because it was actually insulting cartoons. You are insulting the prophet of a billion-and-a-half Muslims all over the world.

GIBSON: But right on this very day in New York City in a gallery there is a picture of Jesus Christ depicted as bin Laden. You don't see any reaction of the sort. I mean, there seems to be something extra going on here. What is it?

ATWAN: Actually, because every religion is different from the others, you cannot actually compare Christianity with Islam or the reaction of Muslim people and the Muslim world with the reaction of American people in New York. If you have these pictures, for example, in Egypt where the Coptic community is extremely sensitive about their religion, I don't think it will pass quietly like this.

So it is different from different parts of the world. We cannot compare the religion or the two people or the reaction of people in New York like the reaction of people in Karachi or Islamabad or in Lebanon. It is different. And this is very, very insulting images and, you know, the newspaper was insisting to reproduce it again despite the protest of the Muslim community in Denmark. So, there was a deliberate insult from their side and that's why.

GIBSON: Mr. Atwan. You live in London.

ATWAN: Yeah.

GIBSON: You understand the concept of free speech in western societies. And you understand that the whole idea behind free speech is to tolerate speech you hate. So, what exactly is the problem here?

ATWAN: You know, the problem is, you know, there are limits for the free speech. We knew that and you know that in your station. You do not publish everything. You don't show everything. There are codes of ethics in every station or every newspaper and that's why, for example, in Britain here, they believe in freedom of speech but they did not reproduce these kinds of images because they know it's insulting.

GIBSON: The BBC showed them.

ATWAN: No. They didn't show them in their television. Maybe it was on the Web site and it was removed after that.

GIBSON: But Mr. Atwan, you know the reason this happened in Denmark was that somebody was doing a book about the Prophet Muhammad for westerners, for western kids and they wanted somebody to make these pictures and they couldn't find anybody who would make the pictures. They were afraid. So the newspaper was trying to prove that there is such a thing as free speech in Denmark. Well, it appears there is not. I mean, do you take the position that the Muslim rioters have defeated free speech in Europe?

ATWAN: No. They didn't. You know, as I said, every religion, it has its own taboos and it's absolutely acceptable and we should respect that. For example, in your station you don't show the dead bodies of the American soldiers in Iraq. Why don't you put them down and parade them the way you parade the bodies of ...

GIBSON: But if we did, there wouldn't be rioting in the streets, Mr. Atwan. Nobody's embassy would be torched. Nobody would recall their ambassadors. You wouldn't have entire country's products removed from other countries even if something offensive happened. The kind of thing we have seen in the Muslim world suggests there is a tendency toward violence among Muslims that doesn't exist among other people.

ATWAN: You know, in people, anti-globalism in Detroit and in Rome and other place, they demonstrated and we had the violence. So it is not only this administration and this violence is not only for Muslims. It is your people also demonstrating against world trade treaty and you know that — or World Trade Organization and there were casualties.

So it is not only Muslims causing violence. It is your people doing that also.


GIBSON: Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of Al-Quds newspaper, thank you very much. I hope you were able to explain your point of view. Thank you.

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