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In Arab world, report's damage may be done

Newsweek's report of alleged desecration of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, at Guantanamo Bay outraged the Arab world and lead to official demands for an investigation and an apology from Cairo to Riyadh. NBC's Charlene Gubash reports.
(FILES) This file photo dated 08 May 200
Pakistani men reading the latest edition of the Newsweek at a book shop in Islamabad on May 8.Farooq Naeem / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

Newsweek's report of alleged desecration of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, at Guantanamo Bay outraged the Arab world and lead to official demands for an investigation and an apology from Cairo to Riyadh.

But newspaper editorials also alluded to a deeper cultural rift and attack by Americans on Islam — a belief that may or may not go away despite Newsweek's retraction of the story on Monday.

The report in the magazine’s May 9 issue sparked protests across the Muslim world, from Afghanistan — where 16 people were killed and more than 100 injured — to Pakistan, India, Indonesia and the Gaza Strip.

Official condemnation
Prior to Newsweek's retraction on Monday, most official government responses called for a speedy investigation and harsh punishment of those responsible in order to discourage a recurrence of the incident. 

The 22-nation Arab League issued a statement asking "if the news is correct — that the U.S. administration deal with these accusations with the required seriousness and punish with the harshest possible penalty all those proven to have played a role in or planned such a crime.”

The Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes six Gulf countries, warned on Sunday that such acts can fuel hatred between religions and insisted on the harshest punishment "to ensure that the incident is not repeated and the dignity of Muslims is preserved.” 

The secretary general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) said through a spokesman, "such loathsome practices which reflect a sick mind, require a lot more than mere condemnation and make it incumbent upon U.S. authorities to make exceptional efforts in order to deal properly with the situation.” 

Egypt's religious leader, the Grand Mufti, quoted by the official Egyptian news agency, MENA, called it "an unforgivable crime against monotheistic religions" and warned that "Muslims will not remain silent in the face of an aggression on their religious values.”  

Sunni and Shiite clerics in Iraq condemned the alleged incident, while in Beirut a top Sunni cleric called for an international investigation. Egypt's moderate Muslim Brotherhood and Lebanon's radical Shiite Hezbollah party also expressed their anger.

Retraction not enough
As a result, the damage already may be done.

Al Hayat, the prestigious pan-Arab newspaper, said in a editorial on Tuesday that Newsweek's retraction does not undo the American insensitivity toward Muslims that the original report revealed.  

"Newsweek went back on its story about desecrating the Quran in Guantanamo. [The retraction] doesn't negate the results of incidents such as this, just as it doesn't negate the possiblility of such practices occurring or of the promise to investigate it.

"From the start, the U.S. policy in the Muslim countries, and the world, doesn't care much about religious sensitivities and how it reflects on Arab republics. It doesn't lead to understanding and did not succeed in understanding when it launched its campaign to improve Washington's image in the eyes of Arab World," Al Hayat said.

Pakistan also dismissed the apology and retraction by Newsweek as inadequate on Tuesday.

“The apology and retraction are not enough,” Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told Reuters.

“They should understand the sentiments of Muslims and think 101 times before publishing news which hurt feelings of Muslims.”

Meantime, some editorialists alluded to a darker message behind the alleged desecration. An editorial in Qatar's Al Watan newspaper said, "it reflects a depth of hatred inside some Americans toward Islam."

A Jordanian columnist wrote, "We hate America because it does not stop offending us, because it does not stop making fun of us, our religion, and our identity."

Street response muted for most part
But official ire was hardly reflected in the Arab street. While most Arab capitals were quiet, thousands of Yemeni students in Sanaa waged a peaceful protest, as did thousands of Palestinians in Gaza's Jebaliya refugee camp. 

Response on pro-militant sites on the internet was surprisingly mild and limited.

One writer condemned Saudi clerics for speaking out for the protection of foreigners in Saudi Arabia while failing to show the same zeal in defending the Quran. 

Another writer claimed that the 'barbaric Americans' have desecrated the Quran in Iraq too by tearing it up and drawing crosses on it.