A Pakistani cricketer has offered a reward for the murder of firebrand anti-Muslim Dutch politician Geert Wilders for organizing a cartoon contest depicting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
The incendiary bounty offer is adding to fears in the Netherlands that the cartoon competition, which was announced June 12, will lead to targeted violence, either in Holland or against Western targets in Pakistan, by religious militants including so-called Islamic State (IS) or assassins inspired by the terror group.
In 2015, two French militants who had sworn allegiance to al-Qaida massacred 12 people at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s offices, ostensibly for the printing of cartoons of Muhammad. The attack was the first in a wave of terrorism in France that has left more than 240 dead during the past three years.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 protesters in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, were prevented earlier this month from pelting the Dutch embassy with stones. Protesters say the contest is sacrilegious.
Khalid Latif, who last year was banned from playing cricket for five years in a spot-fixing scandal, announced a $24,000 bounty on Wilders and his far-right party colleagues on Facebook. Spot-fixing is predetermining the outcome of a particular passage of play, as opposed to fixing the outcome of a match.
Wilders has said he has more than 200 entries for the contest, which will be judged by American cartoonist and former Muslim Bosch Fawstin.
Because the judge is an American, Pakistani Islamists say the United States should also be blamed for holding the contest. The Islamist party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which has demanded Islamabad break diplomatic ties with the Netherlands, says “strict measures should also be taken against the U.S.”
Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former international cricketer, has acknowledged the growing furor, promising in his maiden speech this week in the Pakistani Senate that he will raise the issue of blasphemous caricatures in the U.N. General Assembly. “Very few in the West understand the pain caused to Muslims by such blasphemous activities,” said Khan.
Wilders’ Dutch Party for Freedom, which opposes Muslim immigration to the Netherlands, is the second-largest in the Dutch parliament. Wilders tweeted he had received clearance from the Dutch counterterrorism agency to hold the competition in the PVV’s parliamentary offices.
Wilders’ Dutch critics say the contest is needlessly provocative and Prime Minister Mark Rutte has denounced the competition as “not respectful,” but he has refused Pakistani demands for the contest to be banned, arguing the Netherlands values freedom of speech.
Three years ago, the Dutch parliament turned down Wilders’ plan to hold an exhibition of anti-Islam cartoons inside the legislature’s complex, saying “exhibitions in parliament must focus on the role of parliament and should not offer a platform to party political statements or be controversial.”
Khan says he will campaign for a global ban on cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. A pledge secular-minded critics of the new prime minister say is playing politics with religion. Khan has condemned religious killings, but he supports an article in Pakistan’s constitution mandating the death penalty for any “imputation, insinuation or innuendo” against Muhammad.
“Less than a week in office, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has made blasphemy one of his first issues, empowering militants and initiating international moves, long heralded by Saudi Arabia, that would restrict press freedom by pushing for a global ban,” argues James Dorsey, an analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
On Monday, Pakistan’s Senate approved a unanimous resolution condemning the caricature contest, saying that it “considers the proposed competition tantamount to inciting hatred, racial prejudice, unrest, conflict and insecurity in a world that has already seen much bloodshed, racism, extremism, intolerance and Islamophobia.”
The furor over Wilders’ contest echoes Muslim protests 13 years ago against a Danish newspaper for publishing cartoons depicting Muhammed in bad light. The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a dozen editorial cartoons in 2005, saying it was an attempt to contribute to the debate about criticism of Islam and self-censorship. One of the cartoons showed the prophet with a bomb in his turban. Anger about the publication built up over time.
Now, as then, hardline Islamists began to jump on the controversy.
Last week, the head of an influential madrassa in Lahore, radical spiritual leader Mufti Muhammad Abid Jalali, warned, “In the name of so-called freedom of speech, the West continues to publish blasphemous texts and images. Even certain animals are sometimes used, while knowing how sensitive that is in Islam. If the West perseveres in this, it can expect an appropriate response.”
He told Dutch reporters, “Islam is above all a religion of peace, and we condemn all terrorist groups that commit violence on behalf of Islam. But if non-Muslims have no respect for the prophet, peace with him, or ridicule Islam, as is happening in the Netherlands, we have no choice but to respond.”