Lebanese Muslims, both Sunni and Shiite, took to the streets on Friday to protest against an anti-Islam film and French cartoons insulting the Prophet Mohammed, with radical clerics issuing death calls.
Protests were staged in several cities across Lebanon, including in the capital, the southern port of Sidon, Tripoli in the north and the eastern city of Baalbek.
French schools closed and the army guarded French institutions in Sidon, Beirut and Tripoli, in anticipation of a backlash against the publication of obscene cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a French satirical magazine.
In Sidon, Sunni clerics called “a day of rage” against insults to the Prophet Mohammed but urged followers to contain their anger to inside their mosques.
The Sunni authority for Sidon and several clerics in Tripoli called for Saudi Arabia and Egypt’s Al-Azhar — the highest authorities in Sunni Islam — to issue a fatwa condoning the murder of anyone associated with the film and for those who denigrate Islam or its prophet.
“He who dares to insult Islam and the Prophet Mohammed shall not live. There are things that cannot be tolerated and insulting the Prophet Mohammed is one of them,” Sheikh Maher Hammoud, imam of the Quds mosque, said in his sermon.
“Every one of these should be killed.”
An AFP correspondent in Sidon said that after weekly Muslim prayers, protesters burned US and Israeli flags while chanting “Death to America, death to Israel!”
In Tripoli, radical Islamist cleric Omar Bakri called on the “soldiers of Islam” to avenge the creators of the film mocking Islam that was produced in the United States and publishers of the cartoons, an AFP correspondent reported.
Bakri asked fellow Muslims to support a fatwa that would make it “legitimate to kill those who have insulted the Prophet Mohammed.”
“I’m not in favour of the demonstrations that condemn, because they do more harm than good. They are not a solution to stop these continuous abuses against our religion; this can only happen with a strong response,” Bakri said.
Outside Tripoli, Sheikh Mustafa Malas decried the silence of Arab and Muslim officials toward their American and French counterparts.
“Arab and Islamic countries must take a decisive stand against the United States and France after the insults to our Prophet, and boycott their goods,” he said in a Friday sermon.
Protesters also burned American and Israeli flags outside a Beirut mosque, where troops stood guard nearby. Demonstrations in the capital were peaceful and also attended by Syrians.
“This is the most important thing for me, to be here right now, even more important than my home and my country,” said Rima, a teacher who had fled her home city of Aleppo in northern Syria two months ago.
She had come to Beirut’s Matryr’s Square to listen to Sheikh Assir, who for the past year has steadily spoken out against the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Hundreds of rows were filled to capacity with people facing the Mediterranean and the stage which featured a banner reading “Jews are the enemies of Muslims and Christians” next to a bloody Star of David.
The crowd was drawn by one cause, and their appearances in liberal Lebanon ran the gamut — from bearded men in long traditional tunics to young men with gelled hair and tight shirts; from fully covered women to bleach-blonde Zeinab.
“I’m here for everything: the insults against the Prophet, because I love Sheikh Assir, because I am Sunni. But the most important is the Prophet,” said the nursery schoolteacher, dressed in skinny jeans and a trucker hat as she attended Assir’s rally.
Zeinab lashed out at the makers of the insulting video.
“Why do they do this, at this time? There’s a limit,” she said.
“Every year is the same thing. But we’re peaceful. My grandmother is Christian, it makes no difference,” she said. “We respect all religions. Why don’t they?”
Nearby, some 50 young men waved Islamic banners and the Syrian revolution flag. The crowd cried out: “God curse you, son of Hafez!” referring to Bashar’s father and predecessor.
When Assir spoke, he had a strong message for the United States and France.
“The states who allow those extremists to commit aggression against other religions are extremist countries and they are producing extremism in the world,” he said. “We are not extremists,” he added, to cheers.