Brussels, 2 February 2006
As European Commissioner responsible for integration policy as well as the promotion and respect of fundamental rights, integrating communities with different religions, cultures and political affiliations is an objective that I strive for in my everyday activities. This is an objective that flows from the liberal principles that govern the European Union and its institutions, and indeed the life and history of our continent. I can understand the feelings of indignation, frustration and sadness of the Muslim communities over the last few days as they viewed the cartoons published by a Danish newspaper. Such events do not facilitate dialogue between faiths and cultures and provide barriers to the integration process to which the Member States of the Union are committed.
However, one of the founding principles of our Europe is freedom of expression, including the right to criticise.
A difference of opinion, even if it is bitter and disrespectful, often feeds into free polemic debate, in which satire plays a full part. We often discuss matters, sometimes passionately or even rudely, not only in our Parliaments or in the press, but in all manner of public arenas. This is the rule now, replacing armed and violent conflict, using words and ideas to create a society bound by the rule of law.
It is my duty to enter this debate to remind us all that there are delicate issues, particularly in relation to religion and those ideals that are sacred to us. Consequently, I personally regard the publication of the cartoons as somewhat imprudent, even if the satire used was aimed at a distorted interpretation of religion, such as that used by terrorists to recruit young people to their cause and turning them into fanatics, sometimes to the point of sending them into action as suicide bombers.
However, I am not offering these common sense remarks with even the remotest intention of justifying the reactions that are currently being expressed against Denmark and others, including the European Union. Quite the contrary, it should be crystal clear to all that violence, intimidation, and the calls for boycotts or for restraints on the freedom of the press are completely unacceptable and will not bring about a constructive discussion between communities. Indeed, no dialogue is possible with those who would threaten fundamental human rights, nor with those who would resort to terror. The fact is that deprivation of freedom has always generated suffering and sorrow, so we must defend freedom even when that means letting those we disagree with have their say. Preserving freedom is the foundation for dialogue.