The Quest for Peace in the Islamic Tradition
by Abbas Aroua
7.3.3 Example of Mediation
In early 2006 the Cordoba Foundation of Geneva (CFG) was requested by some of its partners to attempt mediation between the Danes and the Muslims during the cartoon crisis. The CFG approached the Danish authorities (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mission in Geneva) as well as a number of transnational Muslim organizations with big influence on the civil societies, representing both Sunni and Shiite schools.
The Danish authorities and several Muslim NGOs accepted the offer of mediation and agreed to send delegations for a first contact and exchange meeting in Geneva, planned for 13 February 2006, at the offices of the Cordoba Foundation. The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs appointed a 3‑member delegation representing the political, scientific and religious authorities, headed by a Muslim Dane, Ambassador Whlers Ole Olsen. The delegation of the Muslim World was mandated by the Global Anti‑aggression Campaign, the International Committee of Support of the Final Prophet and the Union of Muslim Scholars, among other NGOs.
A couple of days before the Geneva meeting, the CFG attended a meeting held in Paris, on 9 February 2006, co‑organized by Reporters Without Borders, the Arab Commission Human Rights and five other organizations defending human rights, aiming at resuming the dialogue and putting an end to the violence prompted by the publication of cartoons. The CFG was involved in drafting the "Paris Call" signed by Arab and European intellectuals, journalists, philosophers, leaders of religious organizations, writers.
The Geneva meeting of 13 February 2006 lasted four hours and the discussions were frank and friendly. At its request, the Danish delegation was assisted by a Muslim adviser, Prof. Tarik Ramadan, and the Muslim delegation by a Scandinavian one, Prof. Johan Galtung. This contributed a lot in confidence building and helped assuring a fluid exchange.
After the presentations and a brief description of the situation and the main phases of the crisis, the Danish delegation explained the social and political context in which took place the publication of cartoons: effect of globalization, a feeling of loss of identity, sense of isolation and loss of influence and insecurity, the extremist having the right aloud and acknowledged that the Danish Prime Minister erred by refusing to receive the delegation of Arab ambassadors, which lead to the escalation. The delegation of the World Muslim informed that the situation in the Muslim world is characterized by intense popular widespread anger, with the feeling that the honor and sanctities of Muslims are trampled and that although there is a determination to continue the boycott of Danish products, the majority of Muslims favors dialogue and finding a solution that rehabilitates and prevents the repetition of such behavior. The Muslim delegation stressed on the popular character of the reactions that have nothing to do with governments, and that with the exception of two incidents in Damascus and Beirut, condemned, these reactions have been non‑violent; the boycott and peaceful demonstrations, democratic rights, were mainly used. The Muslim delegation said that this crisis is indicative of the resentment of Muslims against Western policies in the Muslim world: various forms of aggression, particularly the military invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan (Denmark being involved in both cases).
The consequences of the crisis on the Muslim/western relations were evoked, as well as the negative impact on Muslim minorities in Denmark and Christian minorities in the Muslim world. The delegations agreed that the crisis must be handled, not by governments but by all segments of the society.
At the end of the meeting, the Muslim delegation of submitted a list of demands to the Danish delegation to convey them to the Danish Government, and Ambassador Olsen said he will examine them at the ministry of Foreign affairs. They including for instance: (a) to distance the official Danish position from the that of Jyllands‑Posten and to take measures of appeasement expressing goodwill; (b) to establish legislation that protects the rights of Muslims and which prevents it from harming the image of Islam; (c) to recognize Islam as a component of religious landscape in Denmark and work for it to be seen in practice at the same footing as other religions; (d) to establish an observatory funded by official authorities to monitor the realization of respect for Muslims and their religion in the political, economic, cultural, and educational fields; (e) to organize an international conference on dialogue among civilizations in Copenhagen or in another European country chosen by common agreement; (f) to withdraw of Danish soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Geneva meeting was successful given the quality of the exchange that took place. At the end of the meeting the two delegations agreed on the need to organize as soon as possible a second meeting enlarged to other personalities.