- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The 10 members of the Danish parliament’s Foreign Policy Committee, including Denmark’s former Foreign Minister Mogens Lykketoft, erred when they canceled recently a trip to Iran two days prior to scheduled meetings. The purpose of the trip was to meet with members of the Iranian parliament and look into such issues as the country’s human rights and uranium enrichment.

During this same time period Danish police arrested two Tunisians and a Dane of Moroccan descent on Tuesday, accusing them of planning to kill a cartoonist who drew a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad that was then published in Danish newspapers two years ago.

One presumes that Denmark upholds due process, and that in Denmark arrests are not equated with guilt, but remarkably 15 Danish newspapers reprinted this very same cartoon on last Wednesday in protest against the alleged plot. The alleged plot.

Even if these papers had waited for a guilty verdict following due process, an infantile provocation of this magnitude is more than reproachable. Considering the vast difficulties worldwide that derived from the initial printing of these cartoons, there are simply no words to describe the decision of not one or two deranged editors but a coordinated effort among 15 newspapers in what is generally regarded a modern nation.

Publishing the cartoons two years ago led to protests and rioting in Muslim countries around the world. At least 50 people were killed and three Danish embassies attacked.

As explained in a Feb. 16 Reuters article:

‘The Iranian parliament had demanded an apology of the Danish parliamentary delegation, which they of course cannot accommodate,’ Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller said in a statement. … Moller said the committee could not apologize for the fact that Danish media carried out its obligation to inform as it could not apologize for freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Danish constitution.

Here is where Mr. Moller commits a gross and arrant mistake. Why of course? No one asked him to apologize for freedom of expression, or to apologize that Danish papers have a duty to inform their readers. It would be simple enough for Mr. Moller or his spokesperson to express a reasoned apology, even seizing the opportunity to elaborate on those social virtues sacrosanct in Mr. Moller’s mind.

Here is what Mr. Moller could have said:

Respected citizens of Iran, indeed respected world citizens who seek to live as true Muslims in elevated and peaceful ways, we of the Danish parliament who will soon be guests in Iran, wish to express profound apologies for any offense that happens in our country to that which you hold sacred. We hope you will understand our traditions in which freedom of expression must be guaranteed, and though it pains us to see abuse of these freedoms, the Danish government will never seek to encroach on what we believe to be a vital pillar of any free society. As Danes, we are sorry that Islam has been offended in our country. Likewise, we pray in earnest that all who call themselves Muslims will follow Islam as it advises us all to embrace its highest virtues of tolerance and harmony seen in the Hadith: ‘You do not do evil to those who do evil to you, but you deal with them with forgiveness and kindness.’ (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

While we cannot undermine the all important democratic principle that guarantees freedom of expression, we can apologize for Danes who abuse this freedom to offend. As we try to elevate the mentality and public discourse in Denmark, we hope likewise that if newspapers or government policy in Iran espouses views that offend or incite Muslim believers against Christian and Western democratic sensibilities, that this too can change.

We hope that our upcoming visit to Iran will help us grow in our mutual understanding of one another, and lead to more harmonious relations among our peoples.

For a government to stand behind actions that are reprehensible as a unified media decision to offend religious believers around the world, and then to poison international relations by canceling a high-level diplomatic mission is a nearly perfect error, and a missed opportunity.

FRANK KAUFMANN

Executive director of the Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace, editor in chief of Dialogue and Alliance (a scholarly journal on religion and peace), and editor in chief of the New World Encyclopedia. He has worked in religion and conflict resolution for 29 years in more than 65 countries.


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