Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende issued a brief response to the release of Geert Wilders’ anti-Quran film ‘Fitna’ saying that he is pleased with the even-handed reactions from the Muslim world. However, Balkenende rejected the film’s equation of Islam with violence and said that the film had no goal other than to hurt feelings. He continued, saying that the problem… is not religion, but the misuse of religion.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen distanced himself from remarks made by Geert Wilders, who praised Rasmussen in a television interview for backing the freedom of speech concerning the reprinting of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. Rasmussen said he does not condone attempts to demonize religious or ethnic groups, saying I strongly condemn Geert Wilders’ condescending statements about Muslims… I find these expressions extremely offensive. Wilders film criticizing the Quran is due for release by the end of the month.
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende requested France to show solidarity should his country suffer any fallout over an anti-Islamic film made by Dutch right-wing parliamentarian, Geert Wilders. Without going into any details, Balkenende told reporters, We have indicated that if necessary we will need diplomatic support. Sarkozy’s spokesperson responded that the French president had suggested establishing a European Union fund to protect people threatened by murky fanatics over issues of freedom of speech in the EU.
From 12-16 October, Muslims in Britain have been celebrating Eid-al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan. Both the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury were among those sending greetings – suggesting that such festivals are an important opportunity for people to find common ground. In his message, PM Gordon Brown talked of the Ramadan fast as “an opportunity for self-reflection”, and added of the feasting marking its conclusion: “This celebration is also important for everyone in our country as it reminds us all of our shared obligation to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
An international conference on Islam is being held in London next week but without the participation of such mainstream organizations as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). Last year, the British government altered its strategy of bringing into dialogue, such organizations as the MCB, while promoting new groups that it was more prepared to cooperate with. The two-day program, entitled Islam and Muslims in the World Today, opens Monday by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Pakistan counterpart Shaukat Aziz. Speakers also include the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shaykh Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia Mustafa Ceric and Britain’s Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly. The concluding session is also being addressed by the UK’s opposition Conservative leader David Cameron.
Tony Blair yesterday told radical Muslims that they had a “duty to integrate” into British society and warned them they could not be allowed to override what he described as the country’s core values of democracy, tolerance and respect for the law. “Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. Conform to it; or don’t come here. We don’t want the hate-mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed,” Mr Blair said. In a speech to an invited audience in Downing Street, Mr Blair offered his most explicit support yet of attempts to limit the wearing of the Muslim veil in public and said ethnic and religious groups who want grants from the state would have to show they were promoting cohesion and integration. While endorsing the concept of multiculturalism – which has been criticised by, among others, Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality – Mr Blair argued: “For the first time in a generation there is an unease, an anxiety, even at points a resentment that our very openness, our willingness to welcome difference, our pride in being home to many cultures, is being used against us; abused, indeed, in order to harm us.” Faith schools are to be required to abide by guidelines on teaching tolerance and respect for other faiths, and will be encouraged to twin with schools from different religions. The Equal Opportunities Commission is also looking at how to address the ban on women in some mosques, and the government has announced a crackdown on foreign imams by requiring them to have a proper command of English before they are allowed to enter the UK. Mr Blair admitted that “the 7/7 bombers were integrated at one level in terms of lifestyle and work” and that “others in many communities live lives very much separate and set in their own community and own culture, but are no threat to anyone”. Religions had a “perfect right to their own identity and religion, to practise their faith and to conform to their culture”. But he said: “When it comes to our essential values – belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage – then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common. It is what gives us the right to call ourselves British. At that point no distinctive culture or religion supersedes our duty to be part of an integrated United Kingdom.” Mr Blair sympathised with Jack Straw, the leader of the Commons, who provoked controversy by announcing that he asked Muslim women to remove their veils when coming to his constituency surgeries in Blackburn. He offered firmer support for Kirklees council in west Yorkshire, which sacked a classroom assistant after she refused to do the same when teaching. “It really is a matter of plain common sense that when it is an essential part of someone’s work to communicate directly with people, being able to see their face is important,” Mr Blair said. The prime minister said that in the past money had been “too freely awarded” to groups representing different religions and racial groups, as “very good intentions got the better of us”. In future, grants would “promote integration as well as help distinctive cultural identity”. But Mr Blair also offered an upbeat assessment of the progress made in race relations in the UK in the last 40 years. He praised David Cameron for delivering a turning point in political debate. “I think it is great that in British politics today no mainstream party plays the race card. It is not conceivable, in my view, that this leader of the Conservative party would … misuse the debate on immigration and that is both a tribute to him and to the common culture of tolerance we have established in this country today,” Mr Blair said. Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, told Mr Blair that he could not “agree more” with his positive remarks on multiculturalism and integration. But in a statement he added: “It was disappointing to see that the PM continues to see the phenomenon of terrorism as a clash of values rather than being prepared to examine whether some of our misguided policies in the Middle East have contributed to gravely exacerbating the threat from extremist groups. It was also worrying to see the PM using emotive language such as Britain ‘being taken for a ride’ or its good and tolerant nature being ‘abused’. That can only help reinforce a ‘them and us’ attitude, when the reality is that there are a tiny group of people – from various different backgrounds – that commit criminal acts and should be dealt with firmly using due legal process.”
ROME: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi sought on Wednesday to distance Italy from Muslim outrage over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) by condemning the images, after anti-Italian rallies in Libya left 11 dead. Satire must not be disrespectful, he told the Arabic satellite television channel Al-Jazeera in an interview to be broadcast later Wednesday.
The cartoon crisis has once again reminded Europe of Turkey’s importance. The European Union (EU) Term President Austria emphasized Turkey’s vital importance in maintaining dialogue with Muslim countries, and the union expects Ankara to play a pivotal role in the solution to the crisis. The insulting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed created a troublesome situation for European countries. The Council of Europe, the European Commission and European Parliament (EP) representatives emphasized freedom of expression must be used in a responsible way. Austria, leading the opposition to Turkey’s full membership on October 3, announced that a joint dialogue initiative will be instigated with Muslim countries and declared Turkey will play a key role in solving the crisis. Former Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrupp Rasmussen said the publishing of the controversial drawings was a big mistake. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso mellowed in support to Denmark and said freedom of expression must be used responsibly. A bill on the cartoon crisis will be put to the vote at an EP General Council assembly today. Austrian Minister for European Affairs Hans Winkler, in the speech made during yesterday’s meeting, underlined that freedom of expression cannot be used irresponsibly. He said that limits must not be exceeded when dealing with the religious freedoms. The cartoon crisis shook the mutual confidence that existed between the EU and the Muslim world at its foundations. We must ask ourselves where we went wrong. The Austrian minister reminded that an initiative of dialogue must begin to overcome the crisis, and that Turkey will play a crucial role in the process. Winkler said he is in close contact with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. Barroso, who earlier gave full support to the Danish government, has recently softened his discourse and said: Freedom of expression is not a disputable right but is based on the individual using it in a responsible way as it is with other rights. We must respect the Muslims’ religious sensitivities and tolerate them to protest the caricatures in a peaceful way. Barroso reminded that freedom of expression is not limitless and there are restricting articles in all European Union countries. I agree with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen who said he respects Islam and supports no action intended to degrade Muslims. I want to tell the Danish people, the most open and tolerant society of the world, that the EU is with them. Former Danish PM: Cartoons were mistake Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen received a severe rebuke from his predecessor Poul Nyrupp Rasmussen. The former prime minister said the publication of the scandalous cartoons was outright irresponsibility, and that Rasmussen’s refusal to meet ambassadors from Islamic countries was an incomprehensible attitude. In his speech at the European Parliament, the former prime minister said on behalf of the Social Democrats that it is wrong to force the entire Danish population to pay for the mistake made by one Danish newspaper. Other Danish parliamentary members focused on the issue of the commercial boycotts. Karin Riis Jorgensen argued that European Union officials had failed to support Denmark in handling the cartoon crisis: How sensible would it be to talk of European camaraderie when a European company boycotts goods from another European country? asked Jorgensen in condemnation of Carrefour, a French company participating in the boycott of Danish products. Jens Peter Bonde, a Danish Democratic parliamentarian, said: Islam is not above Danish laws. Denmark cannot make concessions to freedom of expression. The Christian Democrats and the Socialists, the two largest groups in the European Parliament, shared the opinion that careless use of the right of freedom of expression cannot be tolerated, because respect must be shown towards religious values. We need to show far more respect for Muslims in Europe if we want them to show equal respect to us too, said Cohn Bendit, spokesman for the Greens, criticizing discrimination against Muslim migrants. Several French rightwing extremists believe that Turkey’s membership to the European Union should be shelved because of what happened during the cartoon crisis. According to Javier Solana, High Representative of the European Union for Common Foreign and Defense Policies, the United Nations will have the assurance that respect for different religions will not be violated. The idea is to bridge the gap between Europe and the Islamic world once again, said Solana at a meeting with Jordanian King, Abdullah II. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodrigues Zapatero meeting with representatives of the Islamic Society in Spain reiterated the joint call for calm, an appeal that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier shared with his Spanish counterpart.
A movement in response to the storm of protest that erupted after the publishing of the Danish caricatures of Mohammed has been started by a group of Danish MPs, among whom there are several Turks. The movement, called “The Democratic Muslim Foundation,” is being headed up by ethnically Lebanese Danish citizen Naser Khader, who is the leader of the Radikal party. At the forefront of the new group are also three ethnically Turkish politicians, Omer Kuscu, Yildiz Akdogan, and Gulay Sahin. Danish Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen is expected to meet with the group today. Commenting on the goals of the “Democratic Muslim Foundation,” founding member Akdogan said “There was a huge media disruption and a lot of misinformation following the caricature episode here in Denmark. We wanted to form a group in response to this, and to show the Danish people that there are in fact democractic Muslims.”
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking on the Al Jazeera television channel yesterday evening, delivered a strongly worded message regarding what the caricature crisis coming out of Denmark may have in store for certain freedoms. “Freedoms are not without some limitations, these first must be recognized,” said Erdogan, who also noted that he was thinking about starting a process within Turkey of defining what the limitations are to certain freedoms, and ensuring that people and organizations respected them. “I am of the mind to start this process in my country. There are limits to every area, and these must first be defined, they must be recognized, and people must stay within them,” said Erdogan. On other fronts, Erdogan noted that while anti-semitism was counted as a human rights crime, “Islamaphobia” should also be counted as such, and that he wanted to work with the United Nations on this question. Erdogan also underscored the importance of calm at this time throughout the Middle East, delivering a “Friday warning” to Al Jazeera audiences about how critical it was that Friday mosque prayers not be exploited for the purposes of crowd incitement.