March 10, 2006

World Muslim body criticizes EU over cartoons

By Gideon Long

LONDON (Reuters) - The leader of the world's largest Muslim
body criticized the European Union on Friday for what he
described as an unsatisfactory response to the furor over the
publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organization
of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said that by simply regretting
that Muslims found the cartoons offensive, EU foreign ministers
had not gone far enough at a meeting in Brussels last week.

"We expected the EU to address the issue of cartoons in a
more fair way," Ihsanoglu told a news conference in London.

"I must say that we are not satisfied with the result of
last week's meeting in Brussels. The conclusion published by
the European Union fell short of our expectations."

The 12 cartoons, which Ihsanoglu described as "insulting,
ugly and uncivilized," were first published by a Danish
newspaper and then reprinted by papers across Europe.

They sparked indignation and violence in the Muslim world,
where images of the prophet are deemed blasphemous. At least 50
people were killed in anti-Western protests and three Danish
embassies were attacked.

The furor exposed a gulf of misunderstanding between the
West, which defended the publication by citing the right of
free speech, and Muslims who saw it as an attack on their

In their February 27 statement, EU foreign ministers issued
a strong condemnation of attacks on EU citizens and property.

Diplomats noted the statement was more critical of the
Muslim reaction than one issued days earlier by the United
Nations, the Arab League and the OIC, an umbrella group of 57
predominantly Muslim nations.


Ihsanoglu, the first OIC secretary general to visit Britain
since the body's foundation 37 years ago, praised the level of
integration between Britain's Muslims and non-Muslims.

"I think the situation of Muslims here with all honesty is
much better than the situation of Muslims elsewhere in Europe,"
he said. "That shows that the British model is more successful
than other models."

Britain's tradition of multiculturalism has been called
into question since last year's London suicide bombings,
perpetrated by British-born Muslims. Critics of it say the
British should be more forceful in persuading its immigrant
communities to abandon their ethnic roots and conform to
British traditions.

Ihsanoglu, an Egyptian-born Turk, said he had discussed the
bombings and their impact on Britain's 1.6 million Muslims with
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw and Home Secretary Charles
Clarke during his visit.

"(Muslims) feel they are all under suspicion," he said.
"The Muslim community in its entirety should not be held
responsible (for the bombings)."