Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Muslim reaction to the cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammed indicates that Muslims think they are "holier" than the rest of the world, an expert on racial hatred said.
Anti-European sentiment spread throughout the Middle East on Thursday after a number of European newspapers reprinted 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.
Islamic scholars say that any portrayal of Mohammed must be avoided since it could lead to idolatry.
Following threats from Palestinian militant groups, European nationals, including diplomats, aid workers and journalists, packed up and left the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Someone threw a pipe bomb at a French cultural center in Gaza on Friday. On Thursday, Palestinian gunmen surrounded the office of the European Union in Gaza demanding its closure; and in the West Bank city of Nablus, a young German teacher was kidnapped and released a short while later.
The violent reaction is not acceptable, but it may be understandable, said Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem.
"The situation is very clear. There's a total lack of comprehension in the Moslem world of freedom of speech and freedom of expression and the ability of people to express dissent," he said.
"Why they found the cartoons so offensive is because it reinforces the stereotype of the Western world," said Zuroff.
The incident "played into the hands of the radicals," but wasn't surprising, said Zuroff.
"It reflects the gap between civilizations and lack of dialogue. Dialogue is basically impossible because they don't understand the concept of freedom and the concept of public behavior," he said. "The notion of freedom of expression doesn't exist in the Muslim world. It's incomprehensible."
The Muslim reaction shows that they are taking a "holier than thou" attitude, Zuroff said.
The Muslim world regularly publishes anti-Semitic and anti-Israel cartoons. They don't see such caricatures as "bold and courageous," but rather as part of the "mainstream opinion," Zuroff said. "There is a lack of civility," and minorities are rejected and oppressed, he added.
Muslims found some sympathy from the Anti-Defamation League, an organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism around the world.
"ADL is opposed to religious, racial and ethnic stereotyping in the media," the ADL said in a statement. "We found some of the cartoons in [the Danish newspaper] Jyllands-Posten troubling, particularly the direct linkage of Mohammad and violence." (One of the cartoons depicted Mohammed as a terrorist.)
Nevertheless, the ADL said it was "gravely concerned" by the "extreme violent reaction" of Muslim communities in Europe and the Middle East.
While it is the right of individuals and governments to disagree with the depictions of the use of violence, threats and boycotts are "highly inappropriate and bode ill for future debates involving Islam, democracy and free speech."
The ADL also noted that "despicable anti-Jewish caricatures" appear daily in the Arab and Muslim press.
"While invoking the supposed 'freedom of the press' in their countries, Arab and Muslim leaders have refused to take any action to stem the drumbeat of anti-Semitism in widely circulated newspapers," the group said.
The ADL noted that Egyptian and Saudi leaders have ignored appeals from the U.S. and Jewish organizations to end incitement in their media. Such incitement is routinely defended under the banner of press freedom.
"One would hope that leaders of Arab and Muslim countries would turn all of the anger being aimed at the European press into a larger lesson for their own people about the power of images," the group said.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned of short and long-term "repercussions" stemming from the "campaign of insults against the noble Prophet," and he said that "irresponsible management" of the situation would "provide further excuses to the forces of radicalism and terrorism."
Jordan's King Abdullah said that while "we respect and revere freedom of speech, we condemn needless desecration and injury of Islamic sensibilities." He also condemned the recent targeting of Christian churches in Iraq.
In an ironic twist, senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar reportedly visited the Holy Family Church in Gaza and offered the clery there protection from Hamas militants.
According to the Iranian IRNA news agency, 17 Arab countries have called on the Danish government to punish those responsible for the cartoons.
Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-Brief.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.