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Christians, Muslims must join hands to douse cartoon ‘fire’ says WCC

Christians and Muslims must work together to "put out the fire" created by recently published cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad, the World Council of Churches’ top official has said.

The Rev. Samuel Kobia said the WCC’s ninth assembly which runs from 14-23 February "may well have something to say" about the furore surrounding the cartoons. But ending the crisis, which has resulted in violent demonstrations in several places around the world requires "a global contract for respect".

"Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right," WCC general secretary Kobia told a gathering of journalists on the opening day of the church grouping’s meeting, "but not a freedom to say anything for any reason. When it is used to devalue human dignity, it devalues the very freedoms on which it is based."

Any further publication of the cartoons could jeopardise dialogue that needs to take place for a better understanding between different groups in society, said Kobia.

The cartoons were first printed in Denmark in September, but when they were published again in January, they ignited the ire of Muslims, sometimes violent, throughout the world. Followers of Islam believe publishing images of Muhammad is blasphemous. The crisis over the cartoons created a furious debate about religious sensitivity and press freedom.

The moderator of the WCC, Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Apostolic Church, said people of all faiths "must live as a community, recognising and respecting our diversities". He said, "Whether we like it or not, we are neighbours. We are no more strangers * This means we cannot impose our norms on our neighbours."

Kobia said disparagement of other religions by the adherents of any faith "will only breed tension between majorities and minorities going both ways". He also warned that violent protests against the cartoons risked offering justification for the caricatures, one of which portrayed Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban.

Societies must learn to respect the importance of religion, as communities everywhere become more multicultural. "This crisis, if we can together put out this fire, offers that opportunity,"
Kobia asserted.

(c) Ecumenical News International