Cartoon tensions in the Netherlands

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MARCO WERMAN: In the Netherlands prosecutors are planning to charge an Arab group under the country's hate crime law and it follows the online publication of a cartoon deemed offensive to Jews. The Dutch-based Arab European League published the cartoon on its website to highlight what it calls Europe's double standard on freedom of expression. Many Dutch-Muslims are angry that authorities have dropped charges against the politician who published controversial cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. The World's Gerry Hadden reports.

GERRY HADDEN: The cartoon on the Arab European League's website depicts two Jewish men counting bones. One says, �I don't think these are human.� The other responds, �But we've got to get to six million somehow.� The cartoon refers, of course, to the number of Jews killed in the holocaust. Ronny Naftaniel says the drawing's message is an affront to Dutch-Jews.

RONNY NAFTANIEL: The Jewish community in the Netherlands is offended if the Holocaust is ridiculized or denied.

HADDEN: Naftaniel is with the Amsterdam-based Center for Information and Documentation on Israel. He took his cartoon grievance to Dutch prosecutors and they agreed that it's offensive. They've given the Arab European League two weeks to take the cartoon down or face trial under the country's hate speech laws. But the league says it won't bend to such pressure.


HADDEN: League spokesman, Abdoulmouthalib Bouzerda, told Dutch television that he would have preferred that the cartoonist not be charged. �But now let's move forward and let the judge decide,� he said. �But at the same time,� he said, �let's have an open debate about freedom of speech.�

Bouzerda wants that debate to center on what he and many Muslims believe is western hypocrisy when it comes to freedom of speech. In August, even as prosecutors were preparing charges against the Arab European League, it dropped similar charges against controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders. Last year Wilders made a documentary criticizing Islam. In it he included a cartoon first published in Denmark in 2006. It shows the Muslim Prophet Muhammed with a time-bomb in his turban. This cartoon and others set off riots across the Muslim world. So Wilders gets away with insulting the prophet but Muslims go on trial for insulting Jews. What's the difference? Dutch prosecutors did not return requests for an interview but plaintiff Ronny Naftaniel offers his take on the legal reasoning.

NAFTANIEL: If you insult Muhammed you insult the prophet. You don't insult a people. Of course a people can feel themselves insulted but you don't insult the people. But if you have a cartoon where Jews are depicted or Muslims are depicted saying that they are lying and that they are playing around historical truths �

HADDEN: Then you've crossed a legal line. In other words under Dutch law you can insult symbols of a people, even their God, but not the people themselves. Dutch Muslim leaders say that's a legal technicality that doesn't erase the emotional insult or the double standard. They believe the law should be changed. For The World I'm Gerry Hadden.

WERMAN: We have a global cartoon section on our website. It does not include the cartoons just mentioned in that story but how about Japanese political parties depicted as sumo wrestlers. Take a look at The World dot org slash cartoons.