"Apparently, there is a reciprocal lack of understanding about the crucial importance of fundamental human rights like freedom of expression, that constitute the basis of democratic societies, and on the other hand, the religious feelings of millions of people in Muslim countries," said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen, when asked to comment on the 'cartoon row'.
" We do not want governments to apologize for respecting the freedom of expression. However, newspapers in Western Europe that deliberately insult Muslims act irresponsibly, as do those who have resorted to violence to express their frustration." EI supports the statement issued by partner Global Union, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which is calling for media on all sides to avoid actions that might provoke community tensions both at home and abroad. IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said that " controversy over the cartoons revealed a gulf in understanding that needs to be corrected through an awareness-raising exercise allowing journalists from the Muslim world and colleagues from other religious and cultural traditions to learn from the lessons of recent events." " Like journalists, teachers also have special responsibilities. Our schools should help bridge the gap between cultures and religions, and fight ignorance, prejudice and fear which are underlying the current 'cartoon row'," added Fred van Leeuwen. " while we should be paying extra attention to teaching about democracy and human rights which supercede religious doctrines." " The issue of religion in schools is looming as one of the big challenges facing the profession," continued Van Leeuwen. " People with fundamentalist beliefs are inclined to impose those beliefs in schools, and that is true for different religions and in many countries – not just for one religion or for one part of the world. In so doing they sow conflict and division when in a global community we simply have to learn to live together and accept that people have different identities and traditions. That is why it is so important to have public schools open to all, without discrimination. That is also why our schools should enable young people to understand the importance of freedom of expression, while learning how to exercise that fundamental right as responsible citizens," he said. EI has plans underway for a new initiative in its programme to promote understanding between cultures, including questions of religion. Details will be announced shortly.