|Crisis-Management Seminar: The Cartoons Row|
On 15-16 May 2006, EuroMeSCo in collaboration with the Turkish Economic and Social Sciences Foundation (TESEV) held a crisis-management seminar on the Cartoons Row in Istanbul.
After some introductory remarks by Dr. Mensur Akgun (TESEV, Istanbul), Prof. Abdallah Saaf (CERSS, Rabat) and Álvaro de Vasconcelos (IEEI, Lisbon), the first debate was introduced by Camilla Wass (Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, Copenhagen). She linked the publication in the Jyllandsposten of the twelve cartoons depicting the prophet to the domestic political situation in Denmark. She argued that the majority of the Danish population agreed that freedom of expression must not be jeopardized and that the cartoons were published as a test of sorts to detect whether a tendency of self-censorship exists.
The subsequent panel focussed on the political significance of the publication of the cartoons in the Southern Mediterranean partner countries and allowed the participants to discuss the reactions and reasons of the relevant political and religious actors. In his presentation, Hesham Gaafar (IslamOnline.net, Cairo) reminded the audience that the reactions in each country had to be seen separately as the individual actors had differing motives. Furthermore, by relating the issue to the debate on the ban on hijabs in French state schools and the unlawful detention of “enemy combatants” at the US Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, he argued that some European political parties seem to have an interest in spurring a crisis between Europe and the Middle East at the expense of Muslim communities’ rights. In turn, it cannot be denied, he went on, that the issue was instrumentalised by some actors in the Arab world in order to radicalise the public opinion. Prof. Abdelali Hamidine (Université Abdelmalek Essaïdi, Tanger) added that the crisis also needed to be seen in the context of 9/11 and the increasingly tense international climate. Finally, it was argued that while in Morocco the emphasis of the debate was put on the developments in Europe, Egyptian reactions represented a cumulation of anti-Western sentiments whereas in the Lebanon the entire issue was ingrained in the domestic pro-/anti-Syrian debate.
The seminar concluded with a discussion on potential policy recommendations destined to avoid similar crises. The participants agreed that first and foremost all relevant actors in the Euro-Mediterranean area need to foster knowledge about the Other. Simultaneously, it was mentioned that citizenship rights needed to be strengthened and that it was important to abandon the predominantly western view of Muslim Youth as carriers of radicalisation.
Last but not least, it was stressed by mainly all participants that