Fires continue to burn as thousands of Islamists rally against the published cartoons of Muhammad in Western newspapers.
Around 5,000 people protested in North Waziristan Tuesday along with thousands of others in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, many shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest) and "Down with America," according to Reuters.
"ICC (International Christian Concern) is concerned that as Muslim outrage grows against the publication of these cartoons, Christians will increasingly be targeted because of their association with the Western world," read a statement released by the Washington-DC based human rights group yesterday.
ICC noted weekend attacks by Muslims in Beirut and Pakistan where a Christian neighborhood was rampaged, a church was ransacked, and Christians beaten.
Christians are "under increased threat," said the statement.
Violent protests have spread throughout the Middle East with Pakistan's northwest rally being the largest since the controversy sparked.
The recent controversy stems from 12 drawings of the Muslim prophet Muhammad published last September in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. In one of the twelve caricatures, Muhammad has a bomb as a turban while another shows the prophet standing on a cloud as he tells a group of suicide bombers that paradise has run out of virgins said to await martyrs upon their death, according to reports.
Muslims consider any depiction of God and the prophets to be blasphemy.
Though the controversy was low-keyed with the first publication, it grew in January when a Norwegian newspaper reprinted the 12 depictions. Several other European newspapers followed soon thereafter, saying the freedom of the press was more important than religious taboos.
By the end of last week, cartoons of the prophet had been reprinted in Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand, Norway and Poland in addition to Denmark.
Muslim countries have condemned the Western countries, calling it "absolutely wrong."
ICC sympathized with the outraged Muslims for the mocking depictions of Muhammad, saying their “indignation is understandable as they feel persecuted by having their religion mocked and ridiculed.”
“Muslim Christians too have been ridiculed,” the group stated. “Depictions of our Lord in artwork and in the press have often been used in a way that is less than reverent.”
Still, ICC added, “indignation … is never a reason for violence.”
Jeff King, president of ICC, pointed out two ironies in the entire uproar: "One is the fact that their reaction is an illustration of exactly what the cartoons are depicting. The second irony is that while Muslims are crying 'persecution' in regards to a depiction of Muhammad in a cartoon, this pales in comparison to the crimes committed against Christians, Jews, and Hindus in Muslim-majority countries because of their faith."
While media coverage has exploded on the violent attacks over the cartoons, King noted that Christian persecution, which is ongoing, remains off the media radar.
"The daily persecution of Christians by fundamentalist Muslims remains an obscure issue that many people know nothing about," he said.
The Bush administration also noted the poor treatment of religious minorities in predominantly-Muslims regions, criticizing cartoons and articles in the Arab world that attack Christians and Jews.
In issuing a broad appeal on Monday to "all governments to take steps to lower tensions and prevent violence," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that opponents of the controversial Danish caricatures should "forcefully speak out against all forms of hateful speech, including cartoons and articles that frequently have appeared in the Arab world espousing anti-Semitic and anti-Christian views."
ICC recently posted a few of the controversial cartoons on its website, with the added note: "It is not our desire to provoke. Rather, we are publishing the pictures of the cartoons since so many Western papers have chosen not to, in effect rewarding the violent behavior of Muslims around the world."