Statement on the Cartoon Crises

Feb 6, 2006 | Statement

Statement from the meeting of the Executive Committee of The European Council of Religious Leaders

We strongly appeal to responsible leaders of all faiths to do their utmost to reject and to stop the ongoing acts of violence and terror, which are carried out in the name of God. We condemn the misuse of freedom of expression to blaspheme that which is holy for believers. All religions hold certain symbols and realities of faith to be holy, and feel particularly strongly about these. These feelings should be respected by all people, regardless of faith. The deeply offensive series of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad are a grievous affront to most of the world’s 1.3 billion MuslimsAs such, they are also deeply offensive to members of other religious communities. We join the appeal from The European Islamic Conference to Muslims not to be carried away by anger, and not to react with violence. We also welcome and affirm the conciliatory message of the Muslim Council of Britain.

We uphold the rights of free expression as fundamental to democracy and human rights, and acknowledge the fact that freedom of religion is closely connected to and dependent upon freedom of expression. We see it as a violation of this freedom when it is used without consideration of possible harmful effects on individuals and groups, especially in a very volatile situation.

The recent acts which are widely considered to be blasphemous should not be allowed to be manipulated by provocateurs or derail the promising process of dialogue and cooperation for common good, which has been developed and intensified during the last decade. True religion should not be held hostage by extremists in any religious or political movement. The recent burning of embassies and churches as well as other acts of riot are totally unacceptable not only from a civil but also from a religious point of view.

These tragic events now unfolding in several countries, can only be stopped if all believers in God, take full responsibility for peace and justice, within their own faith community and as responsible citizens in their own cultural, social and national setting. In all religions there is shared moral duty to love God, and to love your neighbour as yourself, as there is a common spiritual heritage in the call to do unto others what you want others to do to you. These religiously motivated tenets represent honoured spiritual traditions through the ages and they are highly relevant also in our own age. They help us to transcend religious, ethnic, social and cultural boundaries.  They offer a strong motivation to seek new ways to build bridges between cultures especially in these times of tense agitation and confrontation on issues fully or partly related to religion.

We welcome the way the Norwegian Government has addressed the balance between freedom of religion and freedom of expression. And we strongly appeal to all Governments to shy away from any acts and statements that may further escalate the conflict, and to seek diplomatic solutions in a spirit of shared global responsibility. Any transgression of law should be dealt with, not in the court of the streets, but by the appropriate authority within the juridical system of every country, and in keeping with international laws and conventions. The government of countries with a free press cannot be expected to apologize for what appears in the media

This deeply regrettable situation illustrates the importance of strengthening multi-religious understanding and mutual solidarity. The European Council of Religious Leaders, and its global organization Religions for Peace, stands ready to work with any Government or civil society institution truly committed to promoting human dignity and human rights as well as respect for religious beliefs and symbols. We are presently strengthening our long-standing efforts in promoting mutual understanding and reconciliation by the sharing of information, consultation, and appeals for wisdom and restraint.  We want to stress the importance of every religious leader as a messenger of reconciliation and show their responsibility and solidarity with other faith communities, as attack on one is attack on all.

The European Council of Religious Leaders is giving high priority to the unfolding drama, and expect this and similar conflicts to be addressed at the forthcoming General Assembly of Religions for Peace in Kyoto, Japan in August this year.

We strongly appeal to all people of faith not to be overcome by despair but to lift up their hearts in prayers for peace and tolerance.