"The focus is on what we can do to promote inter-cultural dialogue and better understanding of each other," an EU diplomat told the German news agency dpa on Friday, February 25. The new EU drive, expected to be unveiled by the bloc's foreign ministers on Monday, February 27, will focus on improving relations with Muslim governments but will also underline the need for better contacts between the two sides' media, youth groups and NGOS.
"We would like to close this chapter (of tension) and turn a new page in our relations with Muslim countries," said the EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. The cartoons, one of them showing the Prophet with a bomb-shaped turban, were first published in Denmark last year, and have been reprinted by newspapers in many countries on the ground of freedom of expression. Any image of the Prophet -- let alone biting caricatures -- is considered blasphemous under Islam.
A statement to be issued by EU foreign ministers on Monday will voice "regret that these cartoons have caused offence and distress among Muslims across the world." It will underline that "free media are indispensable to a free and open society" but that freedoms "come with responsibilities."
European Union lawmakers on Thursday, February 16, called for freedom of expression to be exercised with responsibility but rejected calls for limits on media freedom in the wake of the row over the cartoons. Muslim countries are pressing for a ban on religious intolerance to be part of the bedrock of a planned new United Nations human rights body.
A cohort of Muslim dignitaries and organizations are calling for the enactment of an international law banning the publication of any insults to religious symbols and values. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Arab League, the Muslim world's two main political bodies, are seeking a UN resolution, backed by possible sanctions, to protect religions following the publication of provocative cartoons.
The EU foreign ministers' statement will also underline the EU's desire to "actively promote dialogue, mutual understanding and respect" with Muslim countries. This will be done through the existing Euro-Mediterranean dialogue which links the EU to several North African and Middle East nations and also through the network of Asia Europe Meetings (ASEM).
The EU is also throwing its weight behind a Turkish-Spanish initiative for an "Alliance of Civilizations," which is also backed by the United Nations. The Qatari capital Doha is on Saturday, February 25, playing host to a roundtable called by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Annan will chair the session and speak of the importance of the Alliance of Civilizations and address issues raised by the cartoons and ways to combat extremism, a UN spokesman was quoted by Reuters as saying.
Chief among participants are Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and EU Foreign Policy and Security Chief Javier Solana. Qatar will also host Sunday, February 26, the second meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations. The three-day event will be attended by a host of dignitaries including former Iranian president Mohamed Khatami, OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Andre Azoulay; a senior aide to Morocco's King Mohamed VI, and outgoing Inter-American Development Bank head Enrique Iglesias.
Denmark has welcomed an initiative by Muslim preacher Amr Khaled to visit the Scandinavian country with a host of Muslim youth to engage in a dialogue with Danish youths and intellectuals and is planning a series of initiatives to build bridges with the Muslim world after the row. The publication of the anti-Prophet cartoons have prompted Muslim minorities in many Western countries to champion local campaigns to raise awareness of the merits and characteristics of the Prophet in West.
Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16