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Assembly deplores cartoons publication, violence, urges dialogue

23 February 2006

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In the wake of the controversy over cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, the World Council of Churches at its 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre has "deplored" both the publication and the violence which has ensued, and urged its member churches to strengthen dialogue and co-operation between Christians and Muslims.

A Minute on Mutual Respect, Responsibility and Dialogue with People of other Faiths stresses the importance of interfaith dialogue on a local and a global level and urges churches and councils of churches to "create platforms for such dialogues".

It says, "As people of faith we understand the pain caused by the disregard of something considered precious to faith. We deplore the publications of the cartoons. We also join with the voices of many Muslim leaders in deploring the violent reactions to the publications."

The Minute stresses the right to freedom of speech, describing it as "both a right and a responsibility", which "works best when it holds structures of power accountable and confronts misuse of power". However, it continues, "By the publication of the cartoons, freedom of speech has been used to cause pain by ridiculing peoples' religion, values and dignity." This misuse should nonetheless be met by "non-violent means like critique and expressions of firm disagreement."

It acknowledges that the tensions over the cartoons reflect other issues such as the Arab-Israeli conflict and the war in Iraq. It continues, "The real tension in our world is not between religions and beliefs, but between aggressive, intolerant and manipulative secular and religious ideologies."

Nevertheless, it says, "We recognize a growing respect and tolerance in all cultures. Many are learning that it is possible to be different, even to disagree and yet remain in calm dialogue and work together for the common good."

In formal proposals adopted by the Assembly, the Minute asks member churches and ecumenical partners to show solidarity with those experiencing attacks on their religion. It recommends that they address the underlying social, economic and political reasons for division. It specifically urges churches in contexts "where religion interacts with politics in a way which causes division" to deepen inter-faith dialogue and develop common codes of conduct.

It calls on member churches and ecumenical partners to address racism, caste, stereotyping and xenophobia, and reaffirms the commitment to the right to freedom of speech while calling member churches to contribute to a reflection on "how to uphold the need for ethical behaviour and good judgement in using this right."

The full text of the "Minute on Mutual Respect, Responsibility and Dialogue with People of other Faiths" is available at

www.wcc-assembly.info/en/theme-issues/assembly-documents/plenary-presentations/committee-reports/public-issues-committee/final-report.html

Assembly website:www.wcc-assembly.info

Contact in Porto Alegre:+55 / 51 8419.216