World Bulletin/News Desk
Muslim leaders were in unison at the United Nations this week arguing that the West was hiding behind its defense of freedom of speech and ignoring cultural sensitivities in the aftermath of anti-Islam slurs that have raised fears of a widening East-West cultural divide.
A video made in California depicting the Prophet Mohammad as a fool sparked the storming of U.S. and other Western embassies in many Islamic countries. The crisis deepened when a French magazine published caricatures of the Prophet.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said it was time to put an end to the protection of Islamophobia masquerading as the freedom to speak freely.
"Unfortunately, Islamophobia has also become a new form of racism like anti-Semitism. It can no longer be tolerated under the guise of freedom of expression. Freedom does not mean anarchy," he told the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly on Friday.
"Freedom does not mean anarchy. It means responsibility. The purpose of the Islamophobia is clear and simple: It aims to create an abstract, and an imaginary enemy from the millions of peace loving Muslims all over the world. Regretfully, accepting generalities, stereotypes and prejudice as truth, many people unknowingly become Islamophobic. However, no agenda, no provocation, no attack, no incitement of hatred can darken the bright face of Islam," he said.
Davutoglu said international community needed to take swift measures, adding that the United Nations, in particular, must lead this effort and should provide the international legal framework to that end.
"We are resolved to actively pursue this objective and work diligently with the like-minded nations and international organizations to ensure that we take a united and effective stance against Islamophobia and all forms of hate crimes," he said.
Egypt's newly elected president, Mohamed Mursi, voiced similar sentiments in his speech on Wednesday.
"Egypt respects freedom of expression, freedom of expression that is not used to incite hatred against anyone," he said. "We expect from others, as they expect from us, that they respect our cultural specifics and religious references, and not impose concepts or cultures that are unacceptable to us."
Mursi was one of the first leaders to be democratically elected after Arab Spring revolutions that led to changes in the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen last year.
While repeating his condemnations of the video, U.S. President Barack Obama staunchly defended free speech, riling some of those leaders.
"The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech - the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy," Obama said in a 30-minute speech dominated by this theme.
Speaking after Obama, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, where more than a dozen people were killed in protests against the anti-Islam film, demanded insults to religion be criminalized.
"The international community must not become silent observers and should criminalize such acts that destroy the peace of the world and endanger world security by misusing freedom of expression," he said.
Highlighting the anger of some, about 150 protesters demanded "justice" and chanted "there is no god but Allah" outside the U.N. building on Thursday. One placard read: "Blaspheming my Prophet must be made a crime at the U.N."
Foreign ministers from the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation met on Friday. The film topped the agenda.
"This incident demonstrates the serious consequences of abusing the principle of freedom of expression on one side and the freedom of demonstration on the other side," OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu told reporters.
Human Rights First and Muslim Public Affairs Council, two U.S.-based advocacy groups, warned of the risks of regulating such freedoms.
"Countless incidents show that when governments or religious movements seek to punish offences in the name of combating religious bigotry, violence then ensues and real violations of human rights are perpetrated against targeted individuals," they said in a joint statement.
The 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council, dominated by developing states, has passed non-binding resolutions against defamation of religion for over a decade. Similar ones were endorsed in the U.N. General Assembly.
European countries, the United States and several Latin American nations in the council opposed the resolutions, arguing that while individual people have human rights, religions do not, and that existing U.N. pacts - if enforced - were sufficient to curb incitement to hatred and violence.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle attempted to dampen talk of a clash of civilizations on Thursday.
"Some would have us believe that the burning embassy buildings are proof of a clash of civilizations," Westerwelle said in his U.N. address. "We must not allow ourselves to be deluded by such arguments. This is not a clash of civilizations. It is a clash within civilizations. It is also a struggle for the soul of the movement for change in the Arab world."
Cham Muslim minority believed to have come to Cambodia from ancient kingdom of Champa in what is now Vietnam centuries ago.
Muslims currently account for between 5 and 12 percent of the country's total population of roughly 14.2 million.
Celebratory gunfire heard across Mindanao island following sighting of crescent marking end of Ramadan month of fasting
Muslims performed prayers at open grounds and parks that were filled with worshippers donning white attire.
President of the Addis Ababa Islamic Affairs Supreme Council called on the faithful to pursue peace in the country, blaming "foreign elements" and "non-Muslims" for recent clashes between Muslim protesters and police in the Ethiopian capital.
An ongoing Israeli offensive on the blockaded Gaza Strip also dominated the Muslim prayer
Addressing worshippers at the Al Zarah playground in Juba, Sheikh Juma Said Ali, the chairperson of Central Equatoria Muslim Council, called for peace and stability in South Sudan.
In the main sermon at Cairo's Al-Azhar mosque, the preacher called for supporting the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip
Saleh and incumbent President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi performed the prayer at the Al-Saleh mosque in the capital Sanaa.
Commodity price hikes in Juba have been exacerbated by the looming Muslim Eid holiday, local traders and shoppers say
Five countries – Oman, Morocco, Gabon, Tanzania and Azerbaijan - have so far announced that Eid al-Fitr will start on Tuesday
The feast is due to start on Monday in Gaza as well as in some other Islamic countries
Monday has been declared a national holiday by the Interior Ministry
The confusion was set earlier Saturday when JNI spokesman Khalid Abubakar said in a statement that Sunday could mark the start of Eid al-Fitr if the new moon was sighted.
Official figures suggest Muslims make up 12 percent of Malawi's 14 million while Muslim groups put the percentage at 36.
Three were hospitalized after a fire broke out in scaffolding.