The United Nations, the European Union and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference yesterday issued a joint appeal for an end to violence around the Muslim world, following the publication of cartoons deemed offensive to Islam.
But they also asserted that while that free speech was a right, it was one that entailed “responsibility and discretion”, and “should respect the beliefs and tenets of all religions”.
The UN-brokered statement was issued by Kofi Annan, UN secretary general, Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, and Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, OIC secretary general, in an effort to curb days of protests, some violent some peaceful, at the publication and republication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
“The anguish in the Muslim world at the publication of the offensive caricatures is shared by all individuals and communities who recognise the sensitivity of deeply held religious belief,” it said.
But the statement also warned: “the recent violent acts surpass the limits of peaceful protest”, and condemned the “deplorable attacks on diplomatic missions” in Damascus, Beirut and elsewhere.
“Aggression against life and property can only damage the image of a peaceful Islam,” the three leaders said. “We call on the authorities of all countries to protect all diplomatic premises and foreign citizens against unlawful attack.”
But as diplomatic efforts to calm tensions were stepped up, European diplomats cautioned against exaggerating the impact of the cartoon controversy. Disapproval of the caricatures, said diplomats, was being exploited by some regimes for political purposes. The most violent protests have been in Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iran. “This is not the Muslim world jumping against western values. It is Iran, which is being sent to the UN Security Council over its nuclear programme. It is Syria because it reacts to policies that have been taken (against it) by the international community . . . It is Afghanistan because the security situation there is fragile and deteriorating,” said a diplomat.
The controversy over caricatures of the Prophet comes at a time of rising tensions between Iran and the European Union over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
The cartoons appeared to have little impact in Shia Iran last week, compared with louder protests in Sunni parts of the Muslim world, but dozens of demonstrators yesterday attacked the Danish embassy in Tehran for a second day.
The ministry of commerce confirmed Iran had suspended all trade with Denmark but said trade with all other countries where the cartoons had been published would continue pending a government review.
Per Stig Moller, the Danish foreign minister, yesterday protested to Iran over the failure to protect the Danish embassy. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, supported protests throughout the Muslim world as “timely”.
Hamshahri, a high-circulation middlebrow daily newspaper, yesterday said it would raise a debate about free speech by launching a competition for readers to offer cartoons on the Jewish holocaust.
Additional reporting by Païve Munter in Stockholm
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