The images that have been circulating in the past few days have alarmed us and unsettled us. They inspire both sadness and anger. We have seen, on the one hand, a hurtful portrayal of Islam’s holy Prophet, most likely disseminated with the intention of provoking. And on the other side we have seen enraged crowds gathering outside Western embassies, crowds that have not shrunk from violence or murder. We have been forced to witness what religiously motivated extremism and fanaticism are capable of.
What these images create is a distorted impression of reality. In the Western world, as in the Islamic states of North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, it is only a minority that adopts the language of confrontation and provocation, that seeks to sow hatred and incite blind violence.
The reality is not what these images suggest. The vast majority of people on both sides want democracy and genuine opportunities in life – just as we do. The people are – like us – filled with revulsion by a video that vilifies people of a different faith and offends them with its appalling prejudices. Like us, they object to the hateful wave of violence it has triggered.
We are responding in concert, sending a joint message of understanding and tolerance. We speak on behalf of the overwhelming majority. We are most decidedly opposed to the extremists in our countries whose sole goal is to drive a deep wedge between our societies rooted in their Islamic and Christian traditions.
We can understand the outrage felt by many Muslims around the world. We can understand the many people who have protested peacefully against the vilification of their religion. But we also agree that there is no justification for the outbreaks of violence we have seen over the past few days. Violence is not the right response to actions which are themselves iniquitous.
We must use our freedom responsibly. Freedom of opinion is one of the greatest goods in any democracy. And precisely because it is so important, it must not be hijacked to spread hatred and fanaticism and undermine the conditions of our peaceful coexistence.
The Arab spring swept away authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and several other Arab states. There is now a chance, one that may never come again, to build a new democratic and pluralistic society on the ruins of the old autocratic system – but only if that aim is pursued in earnest. And that is why the new freedom, which was so hard won, must not be misused or considered an invitation to attack people who hold different beliefs or to shake the very foundations of public order.
The revolution began in Tunisia, and it was from Tunis that it spread like wildfire to other Arab countries. The radical changes set in motion by the Jasmine Revolution are well under way. That success presents us with a historic opportunity to transform and improve relations between the civilizations on both sides of the Mediterranean, building on tolerance and mutual respect.
We stand together before major challenges and tasks. These include finding a peaceful solution to the conflicts in the Middle East, above all the terrible crisis in Syria. They also include creating real opportunities for people to live in dignity and safety. And they include continuing the ongoing work on a culture of tolerance, dialogue and respect both for others within our own societies and among our peoples.
We must not permit radical forces to squander the opportunities inherent in our cooperation and our desire to live together peacefully as nations and peoples in partnership with one another.
We all long for a world built on tolerance, integration and mutual respect, far removed from any kind of hatred, violence and fanaticism.