Dutch Muhammad cartoon contest sparks protests in Pakistan

Organiser of march said if he were in power he would order a nuclear strike on the Netherlands if its government allowed the competition to go ahead

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2018, 6:19pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2018, 10:28pm

Hundreds of Islamists are marching on Islamabad on Wednesday to demand that Imran Khan’s new government sever diplomatic ties with the Netherlands over a “blasphemous” cartoon competition.

The protest march, organised by Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a political party dedicated to the punishment of blasphemy. Last year a similar protest by the TLP shut down the capital for almost a month.

In June, Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam MP who leads the country’s second largest party, invited submissions of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, which Islam forbids. The US$10,000 competition is due to start in November and 200 entries have been submitted so far.

“We can be martyred or arrested,” said Peer Afzal Qadri, one of the TLP’s leaders, “but we will not return until either the cartoon contest is stopped or the Dutch envoy is expelled.”

Khadim Rizvi, the firebrand cleric who founded the TLP, said condemnation of the contest by the Pakistani government was not enough and “jihad” was the only solution.

Before Pakistan’s general election last month, Rizvi said if he had the power he would order a nuclear strike on the Netherlands if its government allowed the competition to go ahead.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the event “disrespectful” but defended the right to hold it on the grounds of freedom of expression.

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On Monday Pakistan’s senate passed a resolution condemning the competition and Khan vowed to take up the issue at the UN general assembly in September. He said Islamic countries should cooperate to create laws against blasphemy similar to those against Holocaust denial in European countries.

“If [Western countries] feel pained discussing the Holocaust, why haven’t we been able to convey to the west how much we feel pained when they do blasphemous things against Islam and our beloved Holy Prophet, peace be upon him?” said Khan.

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The TLP knows how to force the government’s hand. For three weeks in November, Rizvi and around 2,000 followers blockaded a motorway between Islamabad and its sister city, Rawalpindi, over minor adjustments to an election oath they declared blasphemous. The army eventually brokered a deal with the government, which included the dismissal of the law minister, Zahid Hamid, and several further concessions.

The march on Islamabad began in Lahore and ends at an unspecified part of the capital.