Statement by Prof. Hans Köchler, President of the International Progress Organization, Member of WPF International Coordinating Committee, on Islamophobia and the escalation of violence in the Middle East
Vienna, 14 September 2012
The release of the anti-Islamic film "The Innocence of Muslims" in the United States, and the worldwide distribution of English and Arabic versions via the Internet, have triggered a chain reaction all over the Muslim world which will be difficult to contain, and with consequences that threaten religious peace in the long term. The blasphemous "film" is an incitement to religious hatred that resembles fascist propaganda campaigns against religious and ethnic minorities in Europe before and during World War II. It was obviously intended as a provocation to undermine relations between Muslims on the one side and Jews and Christians on the other. In view of the recent history of Islamophobic acts in Western countries, it cannot simply be dismissed as act of an obscure group of anti-Muslim fanatics who should be ignored. The distribution of the film is just the latest act in a series of anti-Muslim propaganda since the affair of the cartoons about Prophet Mohamed in Denmark, the campaign for the burning of copies of the Holy Qur'an in the United States, and similar anti-Muslim provocations by occupation soldiers in Afghanistan. Blasphemy, the denigration of religions and incitement to hatred against believers (of whichever faith) cannot be considered as an exercise of the right to freedom of expression. Human rights do not include a right to defamation of religions and denigration of the sacred. Under the circumstances created by repeated armed interventions in Muslim countries, it is not anymore enough to condemn the film about Mohamed as "disgusting and reprehensible" (U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton); the Government of the United States will have to undertake confidence-building measures of a more profound nature that address the core issues of the Middle East conflict.
The stirring-up of emotions and escalation of inter-religious tensions (apparently intended by the yet unidentified producers of the film in the US) threaten to further destabilize an already volatile situation in the wake of uprisings and civil unrest all over the Arab and wider Muslim world. The violent death of US diplomats, including the country's Ambassador, in Libya has made obvious the dilemma and contradictions in the strategy of those countries that have brought about "régime change" by means of armed force. In view of these facts, it is not enough to condemn those responsible for the death of the US diplomats, and to try to bring them to justice. A vicious cycle of violence has indeed been triggered by the intervention of NATO in Libya, which has effectively made that country a "failed state." The tragic events at the US Consulate in Benghazi have made it more than obvious that there exists no effective government in Libya that would be able to protect diplomatic premises. The destruction of the state structure in that country has enabled the most fanatic groups to operate freely and to influence the political process. The recent destruction of Sufi Muslim shrines in Tripoli and other Libyan cities, with the acquiescence of Libyan police, by Muslim extremists has underlined this dilemma caused by foreign interference in a domestic conflict.
The ongoing interventionist policy of major Western countries and their regional allies in Syria threatens to lead to a dangerous escalation and permanent destabilization in the entire Middle East. Against this background, acts of anti-Islamic propaganda in Western countries - such as the launching of the film on Prophet Mohamed - will only further endanger the Christian communities in the region. Violent acts against Christians in other Muslim countries in recent months and years underline the urgency of the situation.
Responsible leaders in the community of nations, and on both sides of the civilizational divide, should unite in an effort to contain the escalating cycle of violence and stop the process of an ever increasing alienation between religions. They should use the opportunity of the currently beginning session of the General Assembly of the United Nations for urgent consultations on how to commit their countries (1) to a clear and unequivocal condemnation of all forms of anti-religious propaganda, (2) to a policy of non-interference in situations of domestic conflict, in conformity with the UN Charter, and (3) to a consistent policy of inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue at the domestic, regional and global levels. The "Alliance of Civilizations," solemnly declared by a group of UN member states, is meaningless if some of its most influential sponsors engage in the use of force against, or support armed interference in the affairs of, Muslim states. The leaders of governments should heed the lessons of history. Under the circumstances of today's cultural diversity, at national as well as international level, interventionist policies, even if intended for "humanitarian" purposes, may bring about a "clash of civilizations" as unintended consequence.