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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Report: Denmark's foreign minister apologizes for Mohammed cartoons! (updated)

According to Al Arabiya (Arabic), Denmark's Foreign Minister Lene Espersen has apologized to the Muslim world on behalf of her nation for the cartoons of Mohammed that were published in Danish newspapers.

She met with Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Sheikh of Al Azhar University in Egypt.

The report further states that she said her government "will not allow the repetition of such abuses of the Islamic religion or its symbols....The cartoons did not reflect the position of the Government of Denmark."

She met with al-Tayeb in his office today. She told him that the Government of Denmark will take steps to ensure that there will be no repeat of such graphics, or abuse of the Islamic religion, in the future.

Al-Tayeb said "This is a positive step in the right direction towards improving the relationship between the Muslim peoples and the West....The problem of the West is that they do not understand the fact that moderate Islam rejects violence, and that the essence of Islam is tolerance and acceptance of others and peaceful coexistence among all peoples." He added, "Islam does not exclude any other cultures."

This story seems a bit at odds, but not entirely, with the official position of the Foreign Ministry of Denmark stated only a couple of weeks ago, on the occasion of a book being published in Denmark that was reproducing the cartoons:

Of course it can no longer surprise anyone that there are people in Denmark and around the world who feel hurt when they hear that the drawings are printed again.

In light of the experience from the past five years, I have taken steps to prevent a new confrontation which will serve nobody’s good interest. This morning, I have met with the ambassadors of the OIC countries. Furthermore, I met last week with the Secretary General of the OIC, the Secretary General of the Arab League as well as foreign ministers from the Middle East and North Africa.

The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs also has a constructive dialogue with a number of Muslim organizations in Denmark.

My key message is that we have freedom of speech in Denmark. This is a corner stone in our democracy. Accordingly, anybody has the right to write and print books as long as the content is within the framework of the law. These are basic values that we are also promoting internationally.”

At the same time, I would like to make it very clear that Denmark wants to maintain and strengthen our good and friendly relations to the Muslim world. Constructive dialogue is the way ahead.

The Danish Government respects all religious creeds and communities, including Islam as one of the world’s major religions, and the religious feelings of all people.

In the Danish statement at the United Nations General Assembly September 28th 2010 we stressed that a strengthening of mutual understanding between cultures is an important challenge and a valuable opportunity for all of us.
Did Al Arabiya get the story wrong? Did al-Tayeb exaggerate what she said? Is there a Danish law that would prohibit or limit the publication of the cartoons that would make the two statements jive? Or is something else going on?

All I can confirm is that she is on a trip to the Arab world; she was in Syria yesterday.

UPDATE: Michael from Denmark in the comments says that Espersen denies the apology. Here is the official statement:

The Danish government is well aware that many people felt deeply hurt by the cartoons. I would like once again to make it clear that this is something we find regrettable, and do not wish to see repeated.

I would like to make it clear that the Danish government respects Islam as one of the World’s major religions and we condemn any attempt to demonize groups of people on the basis of their religion or ethnic background.

Under the Danish constitution, every citizen has the right to express himself within the limits of the law without interference from the government.