Euromed MPs agree on need for dialogue but differ on freedom of expression

Pressmeddelande   •   Mar 07, 2006 17:07 CET

Parliamentarians from the EU and from its neighbours around the Mediterranean debated on Monday ways to overcome the conflict over cartoons depicting Mohammed. In a meeting preparing for the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly later this month, there was a general consensus that a solid dialogue and mutual respect are the only ways forward, but opinions differed on the limits of the freedom of expression.

The Committee on Political Affairs, Security and Human Rights of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA) met on 6 March to prepare a resolution to be adopted at the Assembly's plenary session of 26-27 March. Like EMPA itself, the Political Committee unites MEPs and MPs from the EU member states and the Mediterranean partner countries.

MPs from Jordan, Turkey, Tunisia, Syria, Egypt and the Palestinian Legislative Council stressed that Muslims all over the world had been deeply hurt by the cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper. "Freedom of expression has its limits, as laid down by the European Court of Human Rights", said Metin Yilmaz from Turkey. Salah Tabarki from Tunisia called for "a new vision and a deepening of the dialogue, particularly through the drawing up of laws which will protect against incidents provoked in the name of the freedom of expression." Syrian MP Noumeir Ghanem agreed, saying, "the way and time the caricatures were published, suggested that this was premeditated and that it was therefore difficult to see this as mere coincidence."

Mohammed Aboul Enien from Egypt called on the European Parliament "to encourage countries to make laws which will prevent such abuse of the freedom of expression" and to push for a clear statement by the United Nations Human Rights Commission that "such abuse will not take place". Palestinian representative Zuhair Sanduka said that "using freedom of expression as an excuse had not been very credible." Referring to the conviction in Vienna for holocaust denial, Mr Sanduka said that "the man in the street in the Arab world thinks the west is using double standards". He supported the call for "national and international laws prohibiting insults against religious symbols," as did his Lebanese colleague Yassine Jaber.

Swedish MP Mariam Osman Sherifay said the Danish cartoons bore no relation to the freedom of expression but were the result of discriminatory policies. "We must work to combat Islamophobia in Europe," she said. George Vella of Malta agreed that freedom of expression has its limits, but said these can only be imposed by prudence and respect for each other, not by laws. He called for greater support for the work done by the Anna Lindh Foundation. Portuguese MP Alberto Antunes warned that the politicisation of religion might pose a threat to the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. His Luxembourg colleague Jacques-Yves Henckes advocated more exchanges between media in the western and the Arab world. "The image of the West on certain Arab channels and the image of the Arab world in western media are seriously prejudiced," he said.

German MP Hans Raidel said that media in the Arab world are "often profoundly anti-Christian". He also compared the ease with which mosques are built in Western countries with the "impossibility of having a church or place of prayer in Muslim countries".

Adeline Hazan (PES, FR) called for taking a step back and analysing what has happened, "to turn the page and try to understand what the root causes are for this misunderstanding and miscomprehension". Louisa Morgantini (GUE/NGL, IT) said she had great respect for all religions, provided they do not impinge on fundamental rights. She did not see the incident as a dramatic clash of civilisations, but rather as a result of "frustrations, injustice, poverty, fears and humiliations, rising from the economic and social systems we support both in Muslim and European countries." She opposed "preventing people from engaging in satire, while speaking out against racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia."


Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly
Committee on Political Affairs, Security and Human Rights
Chair: Tokia Saïfï (EPP-ED, FR)

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