CAIRO, May 17, 2006 (IslamOnline.net) – The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) criticized on Tuesday, May 16, Denmark for allowing a climate of suspicion and hatred towards Muslims and blasted as provocative cartoons lampooning Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).
"ECRI notes with deep concern that the situation concerning Muslims in Denmark has worsened since its second report," the independent human rights monitoring body said in a new report posted on its website.
"ECRI regrets in this regard that the lack of a strong message that would be sent by consistently prosecuting those who breach Article 266 b) of the Criminal Code has given some politicians free reign to create an atmosphere of suspicion and hatred towards Muslims."
It also cited discrimination against Muslims, together with other minority groups, in employment, education and housing.
Muslims make up around three percent of Denmark’s 5.3 population, making Islam the second largest religion after the Lutheran Protestant Church.
Established by the Council of Europe, the ECRI is specialized in questions relating to racism and intolerance.
It is composed of independent and impartial members, who are appointed on the basis of their moral authority and recognized expertise in dealing with racism, xenophobia and intolerance.
The human rights monitoring body branded as "provocative" the publication of caricatures mocking Prophet Muhammad under the pretext of testing freedom of speech in Denmark.
"ECRI considers that the goal of opening a democratic debate on freedom of speech should be met without resorting to provocative acts that can only predictably elicit an emotional reaction."
It reminded Denmark that combating intolerance and discrimination against Muslims requires that governments "encourage debate within the media on the image which they convey of Islam and Muslim communities and on their responsibility in this respect in avoiding the perpetuation of prejudice and biased information."
The ECRI stressed that the fact that 56% of surveyed Danes saw the caricatures publication as acceptable "is a testimony of the current climate in Denmark."
Twelve cartoons, including one showing the Prophet with a bomb-shaped turban, were first published by the mass-circulation daily Jyllands-Posten before being reprinted by European newspapers on the grounds of freedom of expression.
The drawings, considered blasphemous in Islam, have triggered furor in the Muslim world and strained ties between the West and Muslim countries.
Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has regretted the hurt caused to Muslims by the cartoons but defended the paper's right to freedom of expression.
The human rights monitoring body proposed a set of recommendations for the Danish government.
It advised the government to engage in discussions with representatives of the Muslim minority and consistently involve them in measures directed at improving the situation of the Muslim minority.
Immigration Minister Rikke Hvilshoj had called for excluding imams involved in the cartoon crisis from integration dialogue in the Scandinavian country.
The ECRI urged the government to send a strong signal that incitement to racial hatred against Muslims will not be tolerated.
It recommended that the government "undertake awareness-raising measures in the public sphere as well as in the education system to promote a more objective and informed perception of Muslims."
The human rights monitoring body urged public opinion leaders to promote a more informed and diverse image of Muslims and Islam.
It also stressed that "the media and politicians should play a more responsible role in the manner in which they portray minority groups in general and Muslims in particular."
Click to read the report in full