France is launching a “cultural workshop” starting in September in a bid to promote understanding between the West and the Islamic world, the diplomat in charge of the project said Thursday. The workshop, which is the brainchild of French President Jacques Chirac, will hold its first session in Paris on September 13-15, ambassador-at-large Jacques Huntzinger told AFP. Huntzinger, in Doha to attend an inter-faith dialogue, said the workshop aims at “countering the risk of the development of misunderstandings, prejudices and fear among peoples and civil societies” on the two banks of the Mediterranean. According to a presentation of the project, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, the second session will be held in the Spanish city of Seville February 7-9, 2007 and the third in the Egyptian port of Alexandria in June next year. Participants in the “dialogue of peoples and cultures” will come from non-governmental organizations although organizers will seek the support of the governments concerned. “The platform must be given to historians, educators, researchers and new thinkers on both banks. With the help of the media, satellite channels and the Internet, they will know how to fight stereotypes,” the document says. The series of workshops will be open to Arab countries of the Maghreb, Levant and Gulf, in addition to Israel, Turkey and member states of the European Union. Themes to be debated will range from the role of media to the relationship between society and religion in secular systems and those based on sharia, or Islamic law. The need for an inter-cultural dialogue was highlighted by the crisis sparked by the publication of cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed in European papers, which infuriated Muslims across the world, according to the document. The cartoons row showed the degree to which “the Arab-Islamic world resents the West, notably Europe,” a feeling which can resurface any time, the document warns. Preparations for the dialogue are taking place in close cooperation with Spain and with the backing of Egypt, it said.
PARIS — A gang of young Muslims wielding iron rods has forced a Paris cafe to censor an exhibition of cartoons ridiculing religion, the owners of the establishment said on Friday. Some 50 drawings by well-known French cartoonists were installed in the Mer a Boire cafe in the working-class Belleville neighborhood of northeast Paris, as part of an avowedly atheist show entitled, “Neither god nor god”. The collection targeted all religions – including Islam – but there were no representations of the Prophet Mohammed such as sparked the recent crisis between the West and the Islamic world, according to Marianne who is one of the cafe’s three owners. “We used to give glasses of water to a group of local boys aged between 10 and 12 who played football across the street. On Tuesday a few came in, flung the water on the ground and accused us of being racists,” said Marianne, who did not wish to give her family name. “Later more of them came back with sticks and iron rods and tried to smash the pictures. They managed it with a few of them. With the customers we chased them away, but they kept coming back,” she said. Later the cafe-owners were approached by a group of older youths. “They said they did not approve of what the youngsters had done. But what we were doing was unacceptable, too. They warned us that if we didn’t take down the cartoons they would call in the Muslim Brothers who would burn the cafe down,” said Marianne. “They kept saying: ‘This is our home. You cannot act like this here’,” she said. Refusing to dismantle the exhibition, the owners have placed white sheets of paper inscribed with the word ‘censored’ over the cartoons that were targeted by the gang. “To take down the cartoons would have been a surrender. But on the other hand we cannot expose ourselves to this kind of violence. This way you can still see the pictures if you lift the paper,” said Marianne. One of the cartoons that aroused the wrath of the youths was a bar scene, in which the barman offers a drink to an obviously inebriated man who says “God is great”. The caption is: “The sixth pillar of Islam. The bar pillar.” In France a “bar pillar” is a barfly or drunk. The aim of the exhibition was to poke fun at all religions, according to cartoonists who took part. “Putting on this type of show in this place was not in the least a provocation. Unless you think that freedom of expression in itself is a provocation,” the cartoonist Charb told Le Parisien newspaper. The Belleville neighborhood of Paris’ 20th arrondissement is racially-mixed, with a large population of North African origin, but Marianne said that there were few outward signs of religious extremism. “There are areas near here which do have a reputation for Islamists. But here it’s different. These are street gangs for whom religion has become a kind of mark of identity,” she said. The owners of the Mer a Boire, which means “the sea you can drink” and opened in September, have filed suit with the police.
WASHINGTON – Many conservative Christians have long regarded the media as enemy territory, where traditional values are at best misunderstood and often mocked. So you might think they would relate sympathetically to Muslim outrage over the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. That outrage has sparked violent protests throughout the Islamic world. But concerns about the goals of radical Islamic leaders, a sense that a double standard pervades the Muslim media and a general distaste for organized violence have overridden any empathy most Christian conservatives might feel for angry Muslims. “Unfortunately, the protesters are hinting that the cartoonist might have been right,” said the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. “They’re killing fellow Muslims and destroying property. Maybe the radical protests are validating the cartoon instead of proving that cartoon wrong.” No Christian leader ever espoused violence to retaliate against Piss Christ, the controversial 1989 artwork — a photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine — by Andres Serrano, even though that riled many Christians, noted Gary Bauer, president of American Values and a longtime leader among religious conservatives. “I understand why any religious person would get upset if they think their faith is disparaged in a drawing or a cartoon,” Bauer said. “But… how can (the cartoons) engender a greater emotional reaction than the daily bombings and attacks by groups claiming to do them in the name of Allah? “It doesn’t look like a call for respect,” Bauer concluded of the Muslims’ protests. “It looks like a call for submission.” Indeed, many evangelical Christians see militant Islam replacing communism as the greatest global threat, said Allen Hertzke, professor of political science and director of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma. “They see this phenomenon as part of an orchestrated effort by what they call Islamo-fascists to take over the Islamic world,” Hertzke said. Then there’s the apparent double standard for acceptable religious satire in Muslim media, especially regarding Jews. Jews are routinely lambasted and stereotyped in the Muslim media. Hertzke recalled a Syrian TV program shown in Jordan that depicted Jews using the blood of children to make matzo. A recent cartoon on a Muslim group’s Web site showed Adolf Hitler in bed with Anne Frank, a teenage Jewish martyr during World War II, saying, “Write this one in your diary, Anne.” “Many evangelicals have very positive views toward Jews, and evangelicals support Israel,” said John Green, a professor at the University of Akron who specializes in religion and politics. “And it’s interesting that in the protests of these cartoons, the language quickly turned anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. That sends up a red flag for evangelical Christians.” Christian conservatives also generally echo the views of the Bush administration, which condemned the Muslim violence but backed off early criticisms of the cartoons themselves. President Bush pointed out that such are the vagaries of life with a free press. “The appreciation of pluralism is something that every religious group has to grow in,” Haggard of the evangelicals’ group said. “We evangelicals struggle with this issue every time we send one of our kids off to college. But we think pluralism is a high value…. Radical Muslim extremists have to grasp that pluralism is a fact of life for all cultures. We’re into a new world.”
LONDON (Reuters) – Four out of 10 British Muslims want sharia, or Islamic law, introduced in predominantly Muslim parts of the country, a poll showed on Sunday. One in five of those polled for the Sunday Telegraph also said they sympathised with the “feelings and motives” of suicide bombers who killed 52 people in attacks on the London transport system last July. British Muslims emerged from the poll as becoming more radicalised and alienated from mainstream society but 91 percent did say they feel “loyal” to the United Kingdom. Sharia is implemented to varying degrees in several Muslim countries including Iran and Saudi Arabia, where religious courts can impose punishments including stoning, amputation and execution. In other countries sharia is applied to specific areas such as family law, banking, or religious rituals. The poll came just one day after 10,000 Muslims took to the streets of London to express their anger and hurt over the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad. They were first published in September in a Danish newspaper and were then reprinted by papers in other countries but not Britain. The publication prompted uproar in the Islamic world, with thousands taking to the streets to protest. Five people were killed in protests in Pakistan and 10 people were reported to have died in clashes in Libya. Sixteen died in Nigerian riots. Many Muslims believe it is blasphemous to depict the Prophet. In London, a small demonstration in front of the Danish embassy earlier in the month provoked outrage as masked men called for those who insulted Islam to be beheaded.
A Danish newspaper on Monday issued an apology to the world’s Muslims for publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that had sparked a furor in the Islamic world, and major boycott of Danish company products The drawings “were not in violation of Danish law but have undoubtedly offended many Muslims, which we would like to apologize for,” said the Jyllands-Posten’s editor in chief, Carsten Juste, in a statement.