LONDON (Reuters) – The far-right British National Party (BNP) said on Wednesday it would distribute leaflets showing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad, a move Muslim groups said would provoke protests and was "playing with fire".
A spokesman for the tiny fringe party, which has no seats in parliament but a handful on local councils, said its use of the image was not intended to cause offence, but illustrated how Islam and Western values did not mix.
The party says it is not racist, but its leader Nick Griffin and another activist are due in court on race-hate charges in October.
The cartoon is one of 12 which first appeared in a Danish newspaper and were later reprinted in other European countries, sparking violent protests across the Islamic world. Many Muslims believe it is blasphemous to depict the Prophet.
At least 50 people have been killed during demonstrations around the world, and a Pakistani Muslim cleric last week offered rewards amounting to more than $1 million to anyone who killed any of the Danish cartoonists.
The cartoons have not been published by the mainstream press in Britain.
The content of the leaflets can already be seen on the BNP’s Web site and the leaflets will be circulated ahead of local elections in May.
The leaflet asks "Which Do You Find Offensive? A cartoon of Mohammad with a bomb for a turban or Muslim demonstrators calling for terrorist attacks on Europe and the ‘extermination’ of non-Muslims?"
"PLAYING WITH FIRE"
"By showing you just how mild and inoffensive the cartoon is, we’re giving you the chance to see for yourself the huge gulf that exists between the democratic values that we share, and the medieval views that dominate Islam, even supposedly ‘moderate’ versions," the leaflet said.
The party spokesman said the BNP wanted the cartoon to provoke debate. "We published the cartoon not to offend individual Muslims — that’s most important — but to make a stand for freedom," he said
The move drew immediate condemnation.
"The BNP are playing with fire and there can be no doubt they are doing this in order to try to raise tensions and provoke conflict," the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said.
"We would urge all British Muslims to not fall into the trap laid by the far right," added MCB spokesman Inayat Bunglawala.
"British Muslims should refuse to be provoked and continue to keep all protests peaceful and firmly within the law."
Around 15,000 Muslims staged a peaceful protest against the drawings in London last week.
A demonstration earlier in the month provoked outrage after masked men held up placards calling for the beheading of those who insult Islam, and praised the London bombings last July which killed 52 people.
Ian McCartney, chairman of the ruling Labor Party, condemned the leaflets as "straight out of the Nazi textbook".
The BNP commands a fraction of the support of far-right parties elsewhere in Europe but has several seats on local councils, mainly in poorer areas with large ethnic populations.