A few years ago, a stupid publisher sparked a row in the Middle East and beyond when he displayed copies of the infamous booklet Protocols of the Elders of Zion at the Cairo Book Fair.

The book, an awkward description of a fake and bizarre conspiracy by Jews to take over the world, is believed to have been written by Russian intelligence during the Tsarist era to pit the people against the Jews. It was a hate-motivated plot against a religious minority who lived in a conservative Christian society.

The publisher was rebuked by organisers, flayed by the Arab media and probably packed up his books the same day.

Never mind that few people, in the Arab world and even Europe, believed the book was genuine. For the majority of Arabs, despite their animosity with Israel, which continues to occupy Arab lands, the book was an insult to the Jewish religion. They could not condone that. The same argument applies to the banning of the movie The Last Temptation of Christ in all Arab states. It was considered blasphemous to Christianity, henceforth, to all religions, including our own, Islam.

There is a genuine feeling of respect of religions amongst Muslims devout and secular alike. And the one of the holiest of all is the Prophet (PBUH). Thus more than one billion Muslims felt personally abused by the publication of the offensive cartoons in Denmark and other countries.

"It is a crime by all religious and secular standards. Insulting a great Prophet and grand personality such as Mohammad (PBUH) should be condemned by devout and secular, Muslims and non-Muslims ? by Islamists and liberals. Mohammad's legacy represents a world heritage that should be respected."

These words are not of a Muslim cleric. They are the words of an icon of Arab liberalism. Dr Mohammad Jaber Al Ansari of Bahrain. The widely read professor of humanity spearheaded most Arab attempts to secularise society and introduce genuine political and social reforms, not only in his country but also across the region.


Publishing the offensive cartoon under the pretext of freedom of the press doesn't stand. It was indeed a premeditated attempt to provoke Muslims.

Flemming Rose, the culture editor of Jyllands-Posten, who decided to run the infamous cartoons, says it was not. "Our goal was simply to push back self-imposed limits on expression that seemed to be closing in tighter," he explains. On occasion, Jyllands-Posten has refused to print satirical cartoons of Jesus, he admits. Then why did he decide to expand his limits of expression on the expense of Mohammad? Certainly, he cannot attempt that on other religions. It seems that in the age of terrorism and counter-terrorism age, Islam and its holy symbols have become free for all. A US senator has already threatened to "nuke" Makkah if his country was attacked by "Islamic terrorists". An Israeli minister last year described Palestinian [Muslims] as "cockroaches" waiting to be quashed.

Rose further says that "some people" have been offended by the publication of the cartoons. Obviously, he didn't see the worldwide protests he instigated. "But we cannot apologise for our right to publish material, even offensive material. You cannot edit a newspaper if you are paralysed by worries about every possible insult," he adds.

May we remind him of his country's own laws that prohibit even intellectual debates of many issues, including and not only the Holocaust. It is considered a crime of hate. Edit that Mr Rose. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can send you enough material.

Nobody here suggests that the Holocaust should be ridiculed or underestimated. That would be wrong and unfair to the millions of victims of Nazi Germany. But one standard should be applied to all. That is exactly why the Egyptian publisher was vilified by his fellow Arabs.

Finally, Rose suggests that a debate should be taken place within "Islam" in order to force "the conservatives" to accept secular rules. It seems he lives in his own-built fantasyland.

Even the non-conservative Muslims the liberals will not accept those rules if they meant insulting the Prophet. Dr Al Ansari would tell you that. So would hundreds of newspapers' editors across the region.

Rose also claims "the integration of Muslims into European societies has been sped up by 300 years due to the cartoons".

Certainly, publishing the cartoons didn't benefit press freedom. On the contrary, the reaction will lead to the curtailing of emerging freedoms and reforms in this region.

Is that all what democracy and reforms are about? We will be told by regimes. The freedom to insult the Prophet? Surely Mr Rose you can guess the answer.

What in fact he did is to play into the hands of Muslim extremists who can now point at the cartoons and tell their fellow Muslims, "look at what the West is doing to you".

By all means, this is the fastest way to recruit terrorists and suicide-bombers.