UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Algeria demanded new efforts Saturday to limit freedom of expression to prevent denigrating attacks on Islam, appealing to the United Nations to take a lead as nations engaged in new debate on the tensions between free speech and religious tolerance.
In an address to the General Assembly, Algeria’s foreign minister Mourad Medelci called for global action under the auspices of the United Nations to respond to violent demonstrations provoked by a U.S.-produced video that mocks Muslims and the Prophet Muhammad.
While Medelci didn’t offer precise details of how he believed the U.N. could intervene, his call follows similar demands at the General Assembly from scores of leaders in the Muslim world who want new laws to ban insults against Islam.
On the sidelines of the annual forum, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, told The Associated Press Saturday in an interview that the deaths of two dozen people in violent protests against the anti-Islam film underscored the need for new legislation.
Malaysia’s foreign minister Anifah Aman told the General Assembly that the creators of the anti-Islam film — an amateurish, privately produced U.S. video that mocked Muhammad’s image — and those behind the publication of lewd caricatures of the prophet by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo had shown “blatant malicious intent” toward Muslims.
“When we discriminate against gender, it is called sexism. When African Americans are criticized and vilified, it is called racism. When the same is done to the Jews, people call it Anti-Semitism. But why is it when Muslims are stigmatized and defamed, it is defended as ‘freedom of expression’?” Aman told the General Assembly.
Aman he believed it was “time to dwell deeper into the heart of the problem and the real debate — the relationship between freedom of expression and social responsibilities, duties and obligations.”
Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari had called in his speech Tuesday to the General Assembly for action led by the U.N. to address a “widening rift” between the Muslim world and the West.
Italy and Jordan said Thursday at a meeting on the sidelines of the forum that they were already working on an initiative to promote religious tolerance, which had begun before the anti-Islam video went public. The drive to push better understanding will involve a conference of experts and academics in the coming months.
Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi also called for limits on free speech, to help protect “the world from instability and hatred.”
Morsi said Wednesday his country would respect freedom of expression, but only when it “is not used to incite hatred against anyone, one that is not directed towards one specific religion or culture.”
Yemen’s President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi told the General Assembly on Wednesday “there should be limits for the freedom of expression, especially if such freedom blasphemes the beliefs of nations and defames their figures.”
Zardari warned that the “international community must not become silent observers.” In a speech Tuesday he called for the criminalization of “acts that destroy the peace of the world and endanger world security by misusing freedom of expression.”
Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudnoyne — head of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation — told the General Assembly on Tuesday that previous initiatives at the U.N. had failed to halt intolerance. The “defamation of religion persists, we have seen yet another one of its ugly faces in the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’,” he said.
In his speech Tuesday to the General Assembly, President Barack Obama described the anti-Islam film as “crude and disgusting,” but mounted a defense of freedom of expression.
He warned that “in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics, or oppress minorities.”
“The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect,” Obama said.
Speaking Saturday, Liechtenstein’s Foreign Minister Aurelia Frick said that the “hateful slander of people on the basis of their culture or religion is unacceptable,” but did not join calls for new laws. She urged nations instead to promote values of “tolerance, understanding and mutual respect.”
Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer and Diaa Hadid contributed to this report
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.