Islamists enraged by reference to religion in toon

LONDON — Some 50 Islamist protesters in Tunisia were arrested by police Sunday for an attempted arson attack on the Tunis offices of satcaster Nessma TV after it screened “Persepolis.”

Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi’s toon, which aired Friday, is based on Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel charting life in Iran after the 1979 revolution, when the broad-based overthrow of the shah was taken over by theocrats.

The protesters claimed the toon, winner of the jury prize in Cannes in 2007, offends Islam. Many were particularly outraged at a scene in which God appears before Satrapi to give her a lesson about forgiveness.

Some 300 protesters marched to Nassam’s offices but were dispersed by the poice. The country’s main Islamic party, Al-Nahada, condemned the protest, deeming the incident “isolated.”

Nessma TV was launched in 2007 by Tunisian media businessmen Nebil and Ghazi Karoui, who together own 50% of the company. Quinta Communications topper Tarak Ben Ammar and Silvio Berlusconi’s Italian broadcaster Mediaset each own 25%.

“The deplorable actions of the small fringe of protesters this weekend speaks volumes about the dangers inherent in allowing any party not committed to dialogue, open society and freedom to gain power in the country,” Ben Ammar said. “Thankfully, the Tunisian security forces acted quickly and decisively to protect Nessma’s brave and patriotic employees.”

He added that all political parties in Tunisia, including Al-Nahada, have condemned the attack on Nessma and expressed their solidarity for freedom of the press.

The protests come just two weeks before the country’s elections for a constitutional assembly and will be the first vote in Tunisia since longtime President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown in January. Since his fall, conservative Muslims have become increasingly vocal in the country.

“Nessma TV has always stood for liberty and freedom of expression,” Ben Ammar said. “It stood for this before the Jan. 15 revolution, despite being threatened at times by the former regime, and it most certainly continues to stand for it now.

“We will always welcome different points of view and respect our differences but we will never bow down before the voice of intolerance or injustice.”

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