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Islam vs tolerance debated in Prophet film's wake

LARA JAKES

Published: Thursday, Sept. 20 2012 4:07 p.m. MDT

"The Arab world is on the edge of choosing between joining the modern world and political development, or to remain as in the last few centuries," he said. "There shouldn't be a trade-off. But it's an enormous challenge, and it will take time."

Iraq was the first Mideast country to embrace democracy after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, but it is arguably more unstable than ever.

"The Muslims are taught to die for God, not to live for God, so I think that the chances of moderation are limited in our Islamic world," Baghdad businessman Hassan Rahim said Thursday. "The West should accept the fact that Muslims might tolerate a specific level of criticism on Islam, but not mockery or blasphemy."

In Egypt, al-Anani said, the government should encourage progressive thinking by pumping more funding into religious schools that offer a range of interpretations of Islamic texts — and not just conservative views. Salafi influences rose in Egypt over the last decade, in part because of the schools and growth of satellite TV, which conservative clerics use to promote extremist views and, often, hate speech against Christians and Jews.

The anti-Islam video, like Danish cartoons mocking Muhammad several years back, is believed by some to be part of a conspiracy against Muslims to provoke them into acts of violence. But even the voices of moderation on the issue are in agreement with the militants that the film, the latest French cartoons demeaning Muhammad and the Danish caricatures before them cannot be tolerated as freedom of speech.

At the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, which is considered to be the primary seat of Sunni Muslim learning and a traditional voice of moderation, Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb is calling for an international law that ensures respect for religions and criminalizes blasphemy.

Judicial authorities in Egypt, meanwhile, have said they would try those behind the film in absentia before a criminal court.

The approach to religion is dividing Egypt, creating a fault line between Islamists and secularists as well as between various shades of Islamists. That Salafis spearheaded the protests is evidence of that schism. The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Islamist President Mohammed Morsi hails, has stayed away from the protests, only condemning the film and calling for peaceful demonstrations.

Morsi's government also stepped up its policing of the riots after President Barack Obama called Egypt neither an ally nor an enemy, but "a new government that's trying to find its way." Washington began airing ads in Pakistan this week condemning the video in an olive branch to the Muslim world.

In Gaza City, Shukri Abu Fadel, a 42-year-old teacher, proudly said he joined protesters who were demonstrating peacefully — a basic tenet of democracy.

"We sent our protest message in a civilized and modern way, and it should be known that this movie has unified Muslims and Christians in the Middle East, and has unified all strong believers in God all over the world," Fadel said as he left a mosque.

Associated Press Writers Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad, Rebecca Santana in Islamabad, Brian Murphy in Dubai, and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed to this report.

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