A staff revolt at the Daily Star prevented publication of a spoof Islamic version of the paper called the "Daily Fatwa".
Muslim commentators said yesterday that the newspaper's attempt on Monday evening to mock Sharia law could have sparked international protests similar to those that followed publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.
The mock-up "Daily Fatwa", which promised a "Page 3 Burkha Babes Special" and competitions to "Burn a Flag and Win a Corsa" and "Win hooks just like Hamza's", was prepared to run as page 6 in Wednesday's edition of the Daily Star, one of the stable of newspapers owned by publisher Richard Desmond.
The page also included a spoof leader column under the headline "Allah is Great" but left blank save for a stamp with the word "Censored".
But shortly before the Star was due to go to press on Tuesday evening, concerned members of the National of Journalists (NUJ) called an emergency meeting in the 9th floor canteen of Desmond's Northern & Shell building beside the River Thames.
After 25 minutes, the NUJ chapel passed a motion saying that the article was "deliberately offensive" to Muslims.
The motion read: "The chapel fears that this editorial content poses a very serious risk of violent and dangerous reprisals from religious fanatics who may take offence at these articles. This may place the staff in great jeopardy. This chapel urges the management to remove the content immediately."
One source on the newspaper said: "We were worried that the building might be attacked and we thought there would be people outside burning copies of the Daily Star. Many of the newsagents that sell the paper are of Pakistani origin and would have been offended. So we were concerned both for the safety of the staff and the future of the paper."
To the surprise of some of the journalists, the newspaper's management promptly complied, following discussions between the deputy night editor Ben Knowles, the editor Dawn Neesom and the editorial director Paul Ashford.
Desmond and Ashford are understood to have seen proofed versions of the page earlier that evening. A minority of members of staff felt that removing the article went against principles of freedom of speech.
Details of the controversy came as the media is seeking to cover the intense political and cultural debate over the impact of Muslim dress codes. Yesterday Ahmed Versi, editor of Muslim News, said that publication of the "Daily Fatwa" would have had major repercussions for the Star.
"This would have been like the cartoons issue. It would have created a huge, huge backlash and outcry. I'm quite sure there would have been huge demonstrations outside the paper by the weekend and internationally outside the British embassies because the paper would be seen as a British institution."
Barry Fitzpatrick, the NUJ's national organiser for national newspapers, said his union would not normally seek to influence the editorial stance of a paper but said the content in this instance was "beyond the pale". He said: "The idea that this could be seen by readers or anybody else as a joke was ridiculous. The whole thing was appalling."
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