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Cartoon furor deepens divisions

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As controversy escalates over the publication in Europe of 12 controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims from Saudi Arabia to Britain are decrying what they see as but one more installment in a worldwide attack against Islam.

"This is a revival of the Crusades of old," says Anjem Choudary, spokesman for Al-Ghurabaa, a radical Muslim group that organized protests in London this weekend.

"European nations are joining hands against Islam. We have seen the invasion of Iraq, the banning of the hijab in France, and now this." The cartoons were first published five months ago by a Danish newspaper to challenge a climate of fear and self-censorship. But Muslim anger escalated after numerous European newspapers republished the cartoons last week, threatening to make the issue a milestone in modern Muslim-Christian relations.

With Muslim anger still strong over the Iraq war, and Islamic radicals such as Hamas gaining strength, the cartoons - and the debate they have provoked about free speech versus respect for religious beliefs - have become fodder for those who say that a clash of civilizations is inevitable.

"The fundamentalists are jumping on this as an opportunity to mobilize people," says Nadim Shehadi, a Middle East analyst at Chatham House in London. "The moderate voices who called for calm and reason are getting overwhelmed."

The newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which first published the cartoons - including one that showed the prophet wearing a turban that held a bomb - apologized last week, but the statement did little to appease Muslim ire. Saudi Arabia called for boycotts last week of Danish goods, and several Muslim nations recalled ambassadors from Denmark. Over the weekend, Muslims set fire to Denmark's embassies in Syria and Lebanon.

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