EU has Difficulties with Inter-civilization Dialogue

The European Union (EU) has recently experienced difficulties in perpetuating the inter-religion and inter-civilization initiatives that have been ongoing for the last decade.

Non-believer secularist, atheist, and "humanist" groups have strengthened their efforts to prevent the EU from holding discussions among different religions. The last minute cancellation of a meeting for religion representatives, including the Dalai Lama, and the EU Commissioner for Culture and Education, Jan Figel, raised reactions. The representatives told Zaman that Figel's hasty decision was affected by pressures on the Commission, reports Trend.

On May 5, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso's adviser for inter-religion dialogue, Dr. Michael Weninger, invited religious representatives to an "extraordinary" meeting chaired by Commissioner Figel.

Monday's meeting was scheduled to be an exchange of ideas between the EU, which is preparing to declare 2008 as the year of inter-culture dialogue, and religious representatives.

Zaman could not reach Weninger for comment, while a spokesperson for Figel would only say he would attend a conference on "basic rights and mutual respect." The spokesperson commented "everything is possible" on the issue of pressure by outside groups against inter-religion dialogue

The representatives of different religious beliefs emphasize the 24-nation European bloc has made many mistakes after the insulting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed were published in many member countries, and cite Figel's last minute decision not to attend the yesterday's meeting as one of these "mistakes."

Uninvited religious groups on the other side accuse the Commission making arbitrary choices. Jews were also upset since representatives from the Jewish Rabbinate in Israel and Rabbinical Center of Europe were not invited to the meeting.

Nearly 40 religious representatives including the Dalai Lama were invited to the meeting held yesterday.

To represent Muslims, Austrias Islam Congregation President Anas Schakfeh, Religious and Ethnic Harmony Muslim Council member Imam Abduljalil Sayed, and Imam of the Hamburg Islamic Center Ayatollah Sayyed Abbas Ghaemmaghami were invited to the gathering.

The EU received harsh criticism since it failed to adopt a clear attitude about the profane drawings of the Prophet Mohammed published in the Danish daily Jyylands-Posten.

Barroso initially criticized the caricatures; however, later on he told the International Herald Tribune that freedom of speech should be defended at any cost.

The EU had also earlier changed its mind at the last minute and did not attend the United Nations meeting held January in Doha.

Previously announcing they would attend the UN eight-party initiative, EU Term President Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik and EU Foreign and Security Policies Chief Javier Solana did not attend the meeting, giving their demanding schedule as an excuse.

The EU had decided at last Junes meeting to promote inter-religion dialogue. It has been holding dialogue with religious groups, which it accepts as religious "addressees" since the 11th Declaration of Amsterdam Agreement.

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