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."
‘You are the thorns in the side of the occupation,’ Jerusalem’s grand mufti tells worshippers at flashpoint holy site
Rodrigo Duterte says Muslim holiday is reminder of the value of sacrifice in peoples' lives
For many, the pilgrimage, which runs five days and which all Muslims must perform at least once in a lifetime if physically and financially able, has been a lifelong dream.
Muslims in Tunisia on Friday celebrated Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice, with religious fervor and charitable deeds.
From Saudi Arabia and Egypt to Syria and Palestine, Muslims across the Middle East celebrate the Feast of the Sacrifice
Turkish Red Crescent donates 28,000 sheep for needy people in Ethiopia
Muslims gather in war-torn Marawi City amid heavy firefights to celebrate one of the most important Muslim feasts
New generations better educated, more connected but still face discrimination, says Bertelsmann Foundation survey
Iranian FM expects series of diplomatic exchanges following current Hajj pilgrimage season
The research used computer-generated models of people in prayer positions and analysed he effect on lower back pain.
The late historian Ilhan Bardakci stumbled upon the Ottoman soldier on May 12th, 1972 and decided to write about this incredible meeting:
Worldwide protests have taken place following Israel’s decision to install metal detectors and security cameras at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound. Here’s a summary of what has happened in the last week:
Same as in the past, devotees gathered to pray, so that God cleans their souls.
Millions of Muslims perform Eid prayers in Jerusalem, Cairo, Doha and Amman and elsewhere across Middle East