Religious leaders condemn caricature-related violence

  • 2006-02-22
  • Baltic News Service
RIGA - Leaders of traditional religious communities in Lithuania have condemned the wave of violence around the globe triggered by publishing of Prophet Muhammad cartoons in West European media.

"All leaders said unanimously that violence was not a good thing," Romualdas Krinickis, mufti of the Lithuanian Sunni Muslims, said after President Valdas Adamkus met with heads of traditional religious communities on Feb. 20.

Krinickis stressed that "no religion or belief propagates violence or wars."

"The promulgation is carried out by certain forces and certain individuals," he said.

In the mufti's words, not all Muslims around the globe have taken up arms in protest against Muhammad cartoons. "Not everybody responded in this manner. God created us as different nations, different cultures and different people so that we could get to know each other," said the spiritual leader of the 5,000-member community.

Noting that Muslims had been living in Lithuania for more than 600 years without having their rights or values breached, Krinickis stressed that the community was shocked when the insulting cartoons were republished in Respublika, a local daily newspaper.

Chairman of the Lithuanian Conference of Bishops, Kaunas Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, said the meeting with the president addressed ways religious freedom could contribute to the development of tolerance.

Asked to specify the country's response to the developments of past weeks and the aspiration to freedom declared by the media, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairman Simonas Alperavicius said, "It is up to everybody's conscience."

The idea to organize Adamkus' meeting with representatives of religious communities came up after Muhammad caricatures published in Western press triggered outbreaks of violence around the world. The caricatures, first published by a Danish newspaper in September last year and later republished by the press of several other European countries, set off a wave of protests around the world.

The newspapers that published the cartoons said they exercised freedom on speech, while critics said the caricatures were meant to offend.

Adamkus described the Muslim world's reaction to the caricatures as unjustifiable, but added that people's feelings or beliefs must not be offended under the disguise of free press.

"The global Muslim reaction cannot be justified. I think that by using violence, killing, burning, destroying 's we will never change the situation and will not change the thinking of people with different beliefs," Adamkus said.

The president added that he had always supported the freedom of speech and press, and would never give up these principles, noting that people's feelings or beliefs could be offended when using such liberties.

Meanwhile, the Lithuanian Journalists and Publishers Ethics Commission stated that neither legislative acts nor the Code of Ethics was violated by publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

"The commission held a meeting and decided that the caricatures did not instigate religious hatred," Edita Ziobiene, chairwoman of the Journalists and Publishers Ethics Commission, told the Baltic News Service on Feb. 21.

In Ziobiene's words, it was also decided that the cartoons did not violate the Journalists and Publishers Ethics Code provision that prohibited sneering at religious beliefs.

The State Security Department earlier asked the commission to look into the controversial caricatures.

Lawyers and political scientists are yet to present their assessments as to whether or not the publication of the cartoons inflames national strife.