Arabs on Thursday criticized a Danish court's decision to exonerate the newspaper that published the Prophet Mohammed cartoons which provoked riots across the Muslim world. Arab politicians and intellectuals said the verdict would widen the gap between Westerners and Muslims, but said mass protests were unlikely.
A court in Aarhus, Denmark, threw out a defamation suit filed by seven local Muslim groups who accused the Jyllands-Posten newspaper of publishing 12 drawings of the Prophet in order to insult him and make fun of Islam.
When the cartoons, first published in September last year, were reprinted in European newspapers in January and February, they sparked mass protests, several of which turned violent.
"This [verdict] will only widen the gap between the Western and Islamic world," said Syrian legislator Mohammed Habash, who heads the Islamic Studies Center in Damascus.
Habash said the cartoons constituted an insult to Muslims.
"The Western mentality still sees in such things a facet of freedom that should be defended. This reflects arrogance because they want to impose their way of thinking on all other nations," he added.
The court conceded that some Muslims had found the drawings offensive, but it found there was no basis to assume that "the purpose of the drawings was to present opinions that can belittle Muslims."
Jyllands-Posten's editor in chief hailed the decision as a victory for freedom of speech. The Danish Muslims who filed the suit said they would appeal.
In Jordan, where two editors were jailed for publishing the cartoons, an Islamist legislator alleged the Danish verdict was an example of Islamophobia.
The ruling "is not a judicial decision," said Mahmoud al-Kharabsheh, an independent legislator who heads the Jordanian parliament's legal committee.
"It is a political decision that expresses the hatred of Islam and Muslims by the Danish government, its authorities and its judicial body," he said. "The dismissal of the lawsuit against the newspaper, which was expected, confirms the ongoing intention to harm our religion and our Prophet."
The two Jordanian editors, who reprinted the cartoons to illustrate reports on the controversy, were fired and subsequently sentenced to two months' imprisonment for harming religious feelings. They have appealed.
In Lebanon, professor Radwan el-Sayyed said the verdict was a "misinterpretation of freedom of expression."
But el-Sayyed, who teaches Islamic Studies at the Lebanese University, said Muslims should not regard the court's decision as an affront.
He did not expect a repetition of February's riots because, he said, people know that they were counterproductive.