Nations: Muslim leaders coming from across the world demanded
international action to stop religious insults in a challenge to
U.S. President Barack Obama’s defense of freedom of expression at
the U.N. General Assembly.
Obama made a strong condemnation of “violence and intolerance” in
his speech at the U.N. headquarters on Tuesday. He said world
leaders had a duty to speak out against the deadly attacks on
Americans in the past two weeks caused by an anti-Islam film made
in the United States.
But Muslim kings and presidents and other heads of state said
Western nations must clamp down on “Islamophobia” following the
storm over the film which mocks the Prophet Mohammed, AFP
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, the world’s most
populous Muslim nation, said the film was another “ugly face” of
Yudhoyono quoted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as
saying that “everyone must observe morality and public order” and
commented: “Freedom of expression is therefore not absolute.”
He called for “an international instrument to effectively prevent
incitement to hostility or violence based on religions or
King Abdullah II of Jordan, a close U.S. ally, spoke out against
the film and the violence it sparked.
Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari condemned what he called the
“incitement of hate” against Muslims and demanded United Nations
“Although we can never condone violence, 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 told the assembly.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai took aim both at the anti-Islam
video and publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad
-- the latter occurring most recently in France.
Karzai called the insults to the faith of 1.5 billion Muslims, the
“depravity of fanatics,” and added: “Such acts can never be
justified as freedom of speech or expression,” according to
“The menace of Islamophobia is a worrying phenomenon that
threatens peace and co-existence,” he added in his address to the
Obama said he could not ban the video, reportedly made by Egyptian
Copts, because of the U.S. Constitution which protects the right
to free speech.
“As president of our country, and commander-in-chief of our
military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things
every day, and I will always defend their right to do so,” Obama
told leaders at the U.N. summit.
“The attacks of the last two weeks are not simply an assault on
America. They are also an assault on the very ideals upon which
the United Nations was founded -- the notion that people can
resolve their differences peacefully,” he added.
Obama has sought a new start in relations with the Muslim world
during his first term, but the legacy of the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan where U.S. troops will remain for more than a year
have been hard to shake off.
Stewart Patrick, a specialist on international institutions for
the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, said the film furor
had “exposed a huge fault line regarding the balance between free
speech, which obviously is healthier in the United States, and the
defamation of religion, which is really a red line for many
But beyond the question of freedom of speech, some Muslim leaders
also say the United States has still not gone far enough to
balance its relations with Muslim nations.
Egypt’s President Mohamed Mursi said despite anti-U.S.
demonstrations in Cairo that U.S. support for his country and
others that have seen Arab Spring revolutions could be a chance
for a mutual show of respect.
Over the past four decades, “Egyptian people see the blood of the
Palestinians being shed. And they see that the U.S.
administrations were biased against the interests of the
Palestinians. So a sort of hate and sort of a worry rise out of
that in Egypt and in the area,” Mursi said in an interview with
Charlie Rose on PBS television this week.
“The demonstrations were an expression of a high level of anger
and a rejection of what is happening,” added Mursi. “And the U.S.
embassy represents the symbol of America as a people and
Obama’s efforts, said the Egyptian leader, were “the opportunity
to take these worries, or this hate, out of the way and to build a
new relationship based on respect, communication.”
Earlier on Tuesday in Geneva, the Organization of Islamic
Cooperation -- the world’s largest Islamic body, representing 56
countries -- called for expressions of “Islamophobia” to be curbed
by law in the same way as some countries restrict anti-Semitic
speech or Holocaust denial.