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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 February 2006, 12:46 GMT
Religious discord
On Sunday 05 February 2006 Andrew Marr interviewed Taji Mustafa, Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Taji Mustafa
Taji Mustafa, Hizb-ut-Tahrir

ANDREW MARR: Now, outside the Danish embassy in London yesterday, the protests continued - they were noisy but they were peaceful. In the Syrian capital, Damascus, however, events turned violent.

The anger among Muslims doesn't show much sign of abating.

Now in a minute, we're going to talk to the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, but first Taji Mustafa, of the Muslim group Hizb-ut-Tahrir Mr Mustafa, do you accept that for an awful lot of people in this country some of the posters and some of the ways people were displaying themselves in the protests were just as offensive as anything in the cartoons?

TAJI MUSTAFA: I think just the first point to make in the lead in to the programme just now, the images shown were from Friday's protest, which Hizb-ut-Tahrir did not organise and had nothing to do and we condemn -

ANDREW MARR: So just to be clear about that - the posters talking about beheading people -

TAJI MUSTAFA: That's right - holocaust -

ANDREW MARR: - and all of that stuff - that's nothing to do with you.

TAJI MUSTAFA: Absolutely nothing to do with us and we condemned those - those are not -


TAJI MUSTAFA: - those are not acceptable. And many Muslim groups have condemned the Friday protest and these images that were used there.

Our protest yesterday was very peaceful and what we say to the Muslims is that we must not in this time stoop to the level of those who want to resort to insults and the prophet of Islam as a terrorist etcetera.

We should engage in peaceful, responsible protest, and that's what occurred yesterday, in order to press home the demands that these offensive cartoons, the media outlets should apologise, they should retract them and they should issue an undertaking that they will not repeat this offence in future.

ANDREW MARR: What about the argument that this is simply how everybody in the West conducts themselves; that there are cartoons which deeply offend Christians, there are cartoons which deeply offend any political point of view and it's just something that everybody has to put up with? It's a different kind of society.

TAJI MUSTAFA: It's not a mark of a civilised society for us to go round insulting each other. There are limits and people appreciate one and other's limits. Nobody, as far as I am aware, is arguing that images of child abuse should be published freely. We accept there are limits. Journalists accept there are limits in their work - there are laws against libel and offending other people etcetera.

So here, it's an issue of respect here. Let's not bring the argument of freedom of speech; this is spurious. Freedom of speech is always qualified, there are limits. Don't say freedom of speech, we can do whatever we like.

And to simply say well you 20 million or so Muslims in Europe, if you want to live there you should accept to be insulted and live with it. That's not the way forward for any of us, if we talk about harmony and tolerance, we should respect one another and appreciate, we should not go round insulting.

ANDREW MARR: There is something about lack of proportion, though, isn't there in all of this? Here are some cartoons - not particularly well drawn or staggeringly clever cartoons, in a Danish newspaper - and somehow a few drawings have set off worldwide turmoil.

TAJI MUSTAFA: It misses the point - it's not just about cartoons. What's the context here? The war on terror, thousands of Muslims arrested throughout the world, sent to places like Guantanamo Bay, the invasion of Muslim countries, the demonisation and vilification of Muslims as, they're terrorists etcetera.

This is what is the context. And then on top of that comes a cartoon which depicts the prophet of Islam as a terrorist and which says to people the root of terrorism, the source of it all, is their prophet and their religion. That is the context we mustn't forget and so, seen in that context, Muslims definitely were enraged because they see themselves being vilified and demonised.

ANDREW MARR: It's been a very unpleasant few days. Do you think things are calming down now?

TAJI MUSTAFA: If the newspapers, the media outlets, issue apologies, if they meet the demands to retract these and if they meet the demand to issue statements that they will no longer pursue to repeat this offence, hiding behind this veil of freedom of speech, then -

ANDREW MARR: I don't think those apologies will come. I mean I think that you're probably pushing people too far but let's leave it at that and turn to the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, who was brought up in Pakistan - and born in Pakistan - but speaks for the Church of England on interfaith issues and multiculturalism.

The Church of England has, broadly speaking, been on the side of those who thought that the cartoons should not have been published - am I right?

BISHOP NAZIR-ALI I think that's right. I mean there are all sorts of issues here that go beyond the immediate situation. There is the question of freedom of speech, and I think the Church would want to uphold that, and, to be quite honest, I think people in some Muslim countries need to appreciate the need for freedom of expression, of belief, more than they do.

So that's quite clear. Also criticism of religion, whether from the outside or from the inside - I mean quite often people of faith want to be critical about their sources of faith and so forth - and that also needs to be taken seriously.

ANDREW MARR: It wasn't long since we had blasphemy laws of one kind or another in this country which people were worried about and yet the Church of England, other Christian churches, have lived with the situation where there can be pretty aggressive things said about Jesus, pretty aggressive things said about the Church - has it done you any harm?

BISHOP NAZIR-ALI No, I was going to say, it's not done us any harm. I think that the more people say things about Jesus, the more the integrity of his character comes out. People want to know about him.

And I think that, you know, if you look at how Jesus is seen the world over, I think the sorts of things that have been said have not done him any harm - let's put it like that. But having said that, not everyone is the same, and people do respond differently to criticism. I, just to go back to something that Taji was saying, I really do think that we need a new sort of consensus in Britain, and maybe in Europe, about what is close to people's identity.

Now he was saying there are certain things where self-censorship is exorcised already, actually, the holocaust - I mean the no one would make fun of the holocaust, I hope. It is a very serious matter -

ANDREW MARR: Well you say that, I mean there have been plenty of cartoons by Palestinians and others connecting the holocaust, connecting Hitler with the current Israeli government.

BISHOP NAZIR-ALI Well yes, but that's a different thing, that is saying 'you who were victims once are now actually doing the sorts of things that were done to you' - that's a different issue.

But the holocaust is certainly an example where I feel we should not be poking fun at any aspect of it because of its sensitivity to a particular faith community. Racism, overtly so, in the mainstream media anyway is avoided, rightly.

Desecration of national flags - I mean there are 50 states, all 50 states in the US have petitioned Congress to make the desecration of the American flag an offence.

ANDREW MARR: So there are limits. Can I just ask you directly then, when you see something like the cartoon published on the front page of the Independent on Sunday today, which is anti-Semitic in its implications, what's your response to that?

BISHOP NAZIR-ALI Well I've not seen it but if it is anti-Semitic then I believe we should be very careful, given the history of anti-Semitism in Europe and also in a different way in parts of the Middle East. What I was going to - if I may just finish what I was saying - I think there needs to be a new consensus and we've got to get the balance right between law and convention.

Now I think the incitement to religious hatred bill and what happened to it, from my point of view the way Parliament has decided is just about right - initiated by the House of Lords may I say. But, in addition to the minimum provisions of law I think we need conventions that recognise what is nearest to people as far as their core identity is concerned.

ANDREW MARR: So, in effect that we assert free speech but also assert that we're not going to deploy it aggressively in, for instance, this example.

BISHOP NAZIR-ALI Well absolutely. If, for instance, this newspaper in Denmark had published a study of the relationship between what happened in the life of the prophet of Islam and what is happening in contemporary Islam, I would have been the first to support it.

But cartoons and bad taste that are highly inaccurate, and anachronistic in fact, is hardly the way to go about it.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Well thank you to you both - we'll hear much more about this, I think, over the week ahead.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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