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Are Extremists Instigating the Cartoon Riots?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Feb. 8, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes. And the world ought to call them on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: That was Secretary of State Rice weighing in Wednesday on who is behind the rioting in the Middle East over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. And it’s time to talk about all that with our panel: Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call and Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio, FOX News contributors all.

Clearly Secretary of State Rice made the strongest comment so far by a U.S. official. Fred, do you agree with the secretary that these demonstrations are not only organized but that in fact, Iran and Syria are behind them?

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, we know that the Syrians have — you’re having riots in Syria that the Syrian government has to be behind because it wouldn’t happen otherwise. And the same is true, I guess, in Lebanon, at least it’s been claimed that half of the people involved in torching that building were Syrian intelligence people who never left when the Syrian military left.

And then you see examples such as in Afghanistan, where they were so incensed about these cartoons being published in Denmark that some Afghan Muslims attacked a U.S. military base. I mean the logic of that escapes me.

And then, of course, we saw these Danish flags appear out of nowhere all of a sudden in Gaza. I don’t think they would normally have a lot of Danish flags sitting around in Gaza. So, it is clearly instigated by some Muslim leaders.

Condi Rice said something interesting, though, she said for “their own purposes.” I don’t know what in the world their purposes are, unless they want to frighten Europeans at having so many Muslim immigrants in their country.

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: Well, I mean, — Ahmadinejad — the president of Iran clearly wants to use this as incitement against the U.S. in general. I mean, he is being isolated because of his nuclear weapons development. And he’s trying to show that the Europeans are all anti- Muslim.

You know, it’s also interesting and I think significant, that all over the world, responsible Muslim leaders in Afghanistan, in Jordan — King Abdullah, are all saying that some of these depictions are offensive, but that violence is not called for. And the violence is non-Islamic. And it seems to me that the world ought to separate the radicals, including the government radicals from the responsible leaders and not make this a clash of civilizations and doesn’t need to be.

MARA LIASSON, NPR: Well, I think that’s the big question, because up until recently, there seemed like there were no moderate Muslim voices. I mean, where they — are going for restraint or condemning the violence. Now you are hearing some of that. But I think that clearly Iran and Syria have their own purposes. I mean, the modus operandi of dictatorships in the Middle East have usually been to channel any kind of resentment or dissatisfaction among their people against the United States or against the west. So that’s part of this too.

But the United States has been walking a pretty fine line, you know, trying to identify with the feelings of Muslims who are offended by these, but at the same time, you know, criticize the reaction, which seems to many to be disproportionate.

WALLACE: Let me ask about that front. I mean, there is a balancing act here for U.S. policymakers, which is on the one had, to express sympathy with people being outraged by the depiction and to say, religious sensitivities need to be factored in, but on the other hand, to express support for a free press and condemnation of violence.

I mean, is there even an opportunity or a danger here for U.S. policy makers?

BARNES: Well, there’s probably more of a danger than an opportunity. I don’t think there is much of an opportunity. You know, president has always said, we are fighting against Islamic jihadists, we are not fighting against just the believers in Islam.

I think the problem here is that the forces that have been rallied, these thousands and thousands and thousands of Muslims are not all jihadists. What they’ve done — these are mainstream Muslims that have been whipped up by this, and that makes it more alarming I think.

I mean, these cartoons are really pretty stupid. And clearly, these people are being manipulated. But these are not all Al Qaeda members or anything like that. These are just normal Muslims.

WALLACE: Mort, one of the things that strikes me is the fact that I have to say when this story first broke last week, I thought, well this is going to be a couple of days and it will disappear. Quite the contrary, in fact, it seems to be intensifying. The protests are spreading throughout the Middle East. And they’re getting more violent.

KONDRACKE: Well, it sort of reminds me of race riots in the ‘70s in United States, I mean, it went from town to town to town to town. In those cases, it wasn’t necessarily instigated from the outside. But I think here it is.

And, you know, this kind of stuff goes in waves. I agree with Fred that there is probably more danger than there is opportunity. But there is opportunity here. And it seems to me that the Bush administration has handled this pretty well by making it clear that we don’t approve of insensitivity, religious insensitivity. And at the same time condemning violence. I think that’s exactly the right message to be sent out. And I would be beaming that like crazy all over the Middle East.

WALLACE: Mara, you’ve got the last word.

LIASSON: Although, I think the result of this at least in Europe has been to widen the gulf between Europe and the Muslim world, and the Muslim populations in their own countries. There is no doubt about that, that this — if not a clash of civilizations, this has exacerbated whatever tensions there were.

WALLACE: All right.

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