“I apologize for the fact that we in Sweden have individuals who are so ruthless that they consciously offend other people’s religion,” Freivalds said.

Additional Reporting By Radwa Hassan, IOL Stuff

STOCKHOLM, February 10, 2006 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – The Swedish government has acted swiftly to prevent what could have been another “cartoon war” when it canceled a contest planned by a Swedish right-wing party on cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

“Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds decided to halt the Web site of the small nationalist party Sweden Democrats, which planned the Prophet cartoons contest,” Abdul Razik Wabri, official of the Islamic League of Sweden, told IOL Friday, February 10.

The move was taken after talks Thursday, February 9, between the Swedish top diplomat and the political parties in the Scandinavian country, he added.

The Web site launched a competition for Prophet Muhammad cartoons on January 10.

One of the 40 contributions it had received had already been published on the site.

The drawing depicted Prophet Muhammad from the back holding up a mirror. The reflection of his face has the eyes barred over and the caption reads “Mohammedan self-censorship”.

Last September, Jyllands-Posten ran 12 cartoons of Prophet Muhammad including one wearing a bomb-shaped turban and another showing him as a knife-wielding nomad flanked by shrouded women.

Many European papers and magazines reprinted the drawings, considered blasphemous under Islam, triggering an outcry across the Muslim world and calls to boycott Danish products.

Provocative

Freivalds blamed the right-wing party, Sweden Democrats, a party too small to be represented in parliament, for provoking threats against the Swedish interests, Agecne France-Presse (AFP) reported.

“It is terrible that a small group of extremists are exposing Swedes and Swedish interests to obvious danger.

“In the current heated atmosphere I consider this very serious. This is a small group that does not have any support in our country,” she said.

“I apologize for the fact that we in Sweden have individuals who are so ruthless that they consciously offend other people’s religion,” Freivalds added.

The Swedish official also hailed the responsible freedom of expression practiced by the Swedish press over the cartoon row.

“Our freedom of expression and the press requires taking responsibility, something Swedish media so far has done, and I would expect the same even of the Sweden Democrats,” she told public radio, referring to the fact that no Swedish newspapers have republished the Danish caricatures.

Newspapers which have published the cartoons claim they were exercising their right to freedom of speech.

Support

File photo of the Islamic Center in the Swedish capital.

The Muslim activist, on his part, hailed the stance of the Swedish government, urging the Arab and Muslim countries to show support to Sweden over the issue.

He said that the Swedish government is expected to come under rebukes from the anti-Muslim groups on claims of freedom of expression.

On Friday, Freivalds also visited the headquarters of the Islamic League in Sweden and met with leaders of the Muslim minority in Sweden.

The top diplomat applauded the role played by the Muslim minority in closing ties between Sweden and the Muslim world.

The Muslim leaders, for their part, welcomed the stance of the Swedish government and press on the insulting drawings of Prophet Muhammad.

They also pledged to highlight the pro-Muslim Swedish stances in the Arab and Muslim mass media.

Muslims in Sweden are estimated at some 500,000, with 70% of them attending schools and universities.

Islam has become the second official religion in Sweden after Christianity, despite the fact that the Muslim community is a relatively new one, unlike that of other European countries such as France.