2nd March 2006
The British National Party has been criticised for distributing leaflets containing one of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that has caused controversy worldwide.
The far-right party is thought to have handed out about 5,000 of the documents in north Staffordshire as part of a nationwide campaign to highlight the issue of freedom of speech.
The cartoon is set alongside a photograph of the rally in London last month in which some protestors carried placards which read things like "Slay those who insult Islam".
Dr Phil Edwards, national press officer for the BNP, said half a million copies of the leaflets had been printed off for distribution nationwide.
He said: "It shows Mohammed with a bomb in his turban and there's another photo of all those Muslims in London with their placards about exterminating unbelievers.
"And the leaflet asks 'Which do you find offensive?"'
Dr Edwards said the leaflet was not meant to offend individual Muslims but to show how Islam was incompatible with Western values.
A statement on the BNP website said: "A healthy democracy needs cartoonists to poke fun at humourless fanatics and would-be religious dictators. Threatening to murder cartoonists isn't freedom of speech, it's an example of how Islam and our Western values just do not mix."
Leaders of local faith groups in Stoke-on-Trent met yesterday, at the site of a proposed mosque whose development is being opposed by the BNP, to pray for peace and unity within the city.
The impromptu Act of Solidarity was organised by the North Staffordshire Forum of Faith, and included representatives from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, B'hai and Hindu groups.
In a statement the Bishop of Stafford, the Rt Revd Gordon Mursell, chairman of the forum, said: "It is wrong and irresponsible that this cartoon has been produced by the BNP with the intention of causing hurt to our Muslim brothers and sisters and to divide a community who are working so hard to cement the existing good relations.
"Right-minded people will see through this blatant and desperate exploitation. An attack on any religion is an attack on all religions."