* Muslim leaders call for rules on blasphemy
* West defends the right to freedom of speech
* Germany dismisses suggestions of clash of civilizations
By John Irish
UNITED NATIONS, Sept 28 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 and a deadly suicide bombing in
Afghanistan this month. 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
Egypt's newly elected Islamist 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 r evolutions that led to changes in the
governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen last year.
Western states that backed the uprisings have urged these
countries to quickly foster democratic reforms and adhere
stringently to human rights principles and basic freedoms.
They fear a more austere version of Islam could hijack the
protest movements. Most Western speakers at the United Nation
defended freedom of speech, but shied away from calls by Muslim
leaders for an international ban on blasphemy.
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.
'CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS'
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
"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
"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."