Vatican paper slams Texas event that depicted Mohammed

The Vatican’s newspaper has criticised an event in Texas featuring caricatures of Islam’s prophet Mohammed, at which there was violence.

On Sunday, two gunmen, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, allegedly shot and wounded a security guard near the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest at Garland, Texas.

The two gunmen were subsequently killed by local police.

Media reported that the men attended a mosque in Phoenix, Arizona.

A front-page headline in L’Osservatore Romano decried the artwork at the event as “blasphemous”.

The accompanying article stated that “ultraconservative European politicians” were expected at the exhibition, with its portrayals of the “prophet Muhammad”.

Geert Wilders, a right-wing Dutch politician, was a keynote speaker at the event in Garland.

Speaking of the “need to approach the religious experience of the other” with a respectful attitude, the unsigned article in L’Osservatore Romano criticised the exhibit’s “provocative intent, almost wanting to throw gasoline on the fire”.

The event, organised by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), featured a “draw the prophet contest”.

AFDI’s Pamela Geller maintained her event was simply a celebration of free speech.

On her blog soon after the attack, she declared that “this is a war”.

The AFDI, which also goes by the name Stop the Islamization of America, is designated a hate group by civil rights organisation the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at SPLC, which tracks hate crimes, said “Speech has consequences, though that doesn’t mean that people don’t have a right to speech.”

“Of course the violence is unacceptable and outrageous, but that doesn’t excuse Pamela Geller,” Ms Beirich said.

“She’s still responsible for the hate speech she’s propagated.”

This was a sentiment echoed by Muslim community leaders and local residents.

“The depiction of the prophet in the worst of ways is asking for these crazies,” local lawyer Khalid Hamideh said.

Muslim leaders in North Texas condemned the gunmen’s actions.

The incident came four months after gunmen in France killed 12 people in the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in what was said to be revenge for its cartoons.


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