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Annan Says Mideast Key To Bridging Islam-West Gap

Annan (second from right, bottom row) with members of the group of scholars and leaders in Istanbul (epa) November 13, 2006 -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today the gap in understanding between Islamic and Western societies will not be bridged until the Arab-Israeli conflict is addressed.

He said no other conflict exerts such a powerful force over Muslims around the world.

"We must start by reaffirming and demonstrating that the problem is not the Koran, or the Torah, or the Bible," he said. "Indeed, as I have often said, the problem is never the faith; it is the faithful and how they behave toward each other."

Annan was speaking in Istanbul after receiving a report from a high-level group of scholars and religious leaders on ways to alleviate Muslim-Western clashes and misunderstandings.

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and South African Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu are among the group's members.

The report calls for renewed efforts toward the goal of establishing "two fully sovereign and independent states coexisting side by side in peace and security."

It also says an urgent international conference is needed to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process.

The gathering in Turkey is part of the UN-backed "Alliance of Civilizations" initiative.


Clash Of Cultures

Clash Of Cultures

Indian-born writer Salman Rushdie (epa file photo)

The furor raised by the publication in Europe of cartoons believed by many Muslims to be insulting to Islam is far from being the first time that Western notions of freedom of expression have clashed with Islamic sensibilities. Below are a few of the major incidents in this long-running tension.

2005: London's Tate Britain museum removes from exhibition the "God Is Great #2" sculpture by John Latham for fear of offending Muslims, citing the "sensitive climate" after 7 July suicide bombings in London. The sculpture piece consists of three sacred religious texts -- the Koran, the Bible, and the Talmud -- embedded in a sheet of glass.

2004: Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh is murdered after release of his film "Submission" about violence against women in Islamic societies. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born member of Dutch parliament who wrote script, plans another film about Islam's attitude to gays. She has also received death threats.

2002: Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel incenses Muslims by writing in "This Day" newspaper that Prophet Muhammad would have approved of the "Miss World" contest and might have wed a beauty queen. Muslim-Christian riots in northern city of Kaduna kill 200. Daniel flees Nigeria after a fatwa urges Muslims to kill her.

1995: An Egyptian court brands academic Nasr Hamed Abu Zaid an apostate because of his writings on Islam and annuls his marriage on grounds that a Muslim may not be married to an apostate. Abu Zaid and his wife move to the Netherlands.

1994: Taslima Nasreen flees Bangladesh for Sweden after court charges her with "maliciously hurting Muslim religious sentiments." Some Muslims demand she be killed for her book "Lajja" (Shame), banned for blasphemy and suggesting free sex.

1989: Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini calls on all Muslims to kill British author Salman Rushdie for blasphemy against Islam in his book "The Satanic Verses."

(compiled by RFE/RL)

See also:

Dutch Immigration -- The Death Of Multiculturalism

Report Says No Anti-Muslim Backlash In Europe

Vienna Conference Ends With Appeals For Understanding, Tolerance

A thematic webpage devoted to issues of religious tolerance in RFE/RL's broadcast region and around the globe.