The New Straits Times denied complaints by disgruntled Muslim groups that the Non Sequitur, first published in its Tuesday edition, mocked Islam.

In an editorial on Wednesday the paper said that it would let the government decide if the drawing was offensive to Islam.

The editorial suggested that the furore over the sketch was politically and business motivated.

"W
e should ask ourselves whether the attacks on the NST are out of genuine concern for the multi-racial and multi-religious fabric of the country and the image of Islam, or whether there are politics and other personal vendettas involved," it said.

The sketch by cartoonist Willie Miller shows an artist sitting on a chair on a street with a sign next to him saying: "Caricatures of Muhammad While You Wait!" A caption alongside reads, "Kevin finally achieves his goal to be the most feared man in the world..."

Police complaints have been lodged by three Malaysia NGOs and the opposition Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS).

Moderate response

They said the Times, which is controlled by the ruling party, had challenged Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's orders against disturbing the sensitivities of Muslims.

Whilst not as slavishly pro-governmental as it once was, some observers say that the mere publication of the cartoon in the Times would suggest governmental approval.

Predominately Muslim Malaysia is considered more moderate than many nations in the Middle East for example, and reaction to the Danish cartoons has, so far, been more underwhelming than elsewhere, with only small-scale protests and minimal violence.

"We should ask ourselves whether the attacks on the NST are out of genuine concern for the multi-racial and multi-religious fabric of the country"

New Strait Times, Editorial

However, the government has already suspended the licences of two local newspapers for printing a photograph showing the original cartoons.

The newspaper's editors are ready to face the consequences if the government decides that it "crossed the boundaries" and insulted Islam and the Prophet.

"But at the same time, let us ponder the fundamental issue - do we continue to be a society where a vocal few, with personal vendettas and less than honourable motives, can whip up sentiments and make the innocent guilty?" the editorial asked.