UNITED NATIONS, March 28: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday “condemned in strongest terms” the airing of Dutch film-maker Geert Wilders’ offensively anti-Islamic film.
“There is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence,” Ban said, adding that the right of free expression was not at stake there.
The UN chief also acknowledged the efforts of the government of the Netherlands to stop the broadcast of the film and appealed “for calm to those understandably offended by it. Freedom must always be accompanied by social responsibility”.
“The United Nations is the centre of the world’s efforts to advance mutual respect, understanding and dialogue. We must also recognise that the real fault line is not between Muslim and Western societies, as some would have us believe, but between small minorities of extremists, on different sides, with a vested interest in stirring hostility and conflict.”
STRONG REACTIONS: The film drew fire from Muslim and European officials, and a call for calm from Muslims in The Netherlands fearing a violent response, add agencies.
Muslim countries warned of strong reactions to the film, which came two years after a series of caricatures of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) were first published in the Danish media.
The government of Iran was among the first to react, saying the film showed that some Westerners were waging a “vendetta” against Islam, and warning of unspecified repercussions.
A coalition of Jordanian media said they would take Wilders to court over the film and launch a campaign to boycott Dutch products. They urged Arab leaders to review ties with Denmark and the Netherlands.
The government of Bangladesh also condemned the film, saying in a statement that it could have “grave consequences ... because it will offend millions of Muslims around the world”.
However, Muslim leaders in The Netherlands called at a joint news conference for their co-religionists in other countries not to over-react. “We call on them to follow our strategy and not react with attacks on Dutch embassies or tourists,” the head of the Dutch Moroccan community, Mohamed Rabbae, said.
“We feel offended by the link between violence and Islam but we know this guy (Wilders). The best response is a response in a responsible manner.”
The European Union’s Slovenian presidency also attacked the film, saying it served “no other purpose than inflaming hatred.”
British Foreign Minister David Miliband stressed the importance of freedom of speech but said it should be combined with “respect for religious and racial diversity.”
Europe’s top human rights authority, the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, called the film “a distasteful manipulation which exploits ignorance, prejudice and fear”.
“It is simply political propaganda and it plays into the hands of extremists who are given such a prominent role in his film,” the council’s secretary general, Terry Davis, said in a statement.
Wilders himself said that he was pleased with the relatively calm reaction in his country. “It was not my intention to cause riots,” he told AFP.
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende issued a statement condemning the film which he said “equates Islam with violence. We reject that interpretation.”
The Danish cartoonist whose caricature of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) outraged Muslims two years ago meanwhile said he would press charges for copyright infringement against Wilders for reproducing it at the end of his video.
“I won’t accept my cartoon being taken out of its original context and used in a completely different one,” Westergaard said.