BEIRUT: Lebanon’s rival leaders voiced support Thursday for the government’s call for adopting an international legislation that prohibits and criminalizes insulting religions. In a statement issued after a meeting of the National Dialogue Committee at Baabda Palace, the leaders from the opposition March 14 coalition and the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc condemned an American-produced film and French caricatures deemed insulting to Islam and the Prophet Mohammad.
“The conferees considered the film and cartoons offensive to Islam as a condemned provocative act aimed at sowing strife, dissension and a struggle among civilizations, religions and cultures,” the statement said.
“Therefore, they supported the Lebanese government in its position calling for an initiative aimed at preparing and issuing an international legislation that prohibits and criminalizes offenses to divine religions,” it added.
The leaders’ statement came as some 30 people have been killed, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, in attacks and violent protests triggered by the film “Innocence of Muslims.” The crudely made film, produced by Egyptian American Nakoula Basseley, has sparked protests in at least 20 countries since excerpts were posted online.
It also came as France was bracing for a backlash after a French satirical magazine published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, including two drawings showing him naked, fueling the flames of protest in Muslim countries over the film. Paris said it would its shutter diplomatic missions, cultural centers and French schools in around 20 Muslim countries Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, for fear of violent protests.
The “Innocence of Muslims” video clip is available on the video-sharing website YouTube. Governments in a number of Arab states have blocked YouTube to prevent people from seeing the short movie, while other countries sent requests to Google – which owns YouTube – to deny access to the clips.
Sidon’s Sheikh Ahmad Assir has called for a rally in Downtown Beirut’s Martyrs Square Friday to protest the movie. Hezbollah is also planning to stage a rally in the eastern city of Baalbek Friday as part of the party’s protests against the film.
Meanwhile, Sunni Muslim preachers condemned the video clip and urged the Lebanese government to block access to it. In a statement issued after an emergency meeting chaired by Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani at Dar al-Fatwa, they also called for the promulgation of an international legislation by the United Nations to prohibit attacks on religion and God’s prophets.
“The scholars at Dar al-Fatwa call on the Lebanese government to take the necessary technical measures to block access to this insulting film,” the statement said.
The scholars said the world was facing “a fierce campaign” against Islam and Muslims by a group of writers and movie producers working to distort Islam by all means in order to incite strife between Muslims and Christians.
“But they will never succeed in this because Muslim and Christian wise men are fully aware of what is being hatched against them by Zionist circles, which want to undermine their common coexistence in the world,” the statement said.
The scholars decided to call on a Muslim-Christian spiritual summit, scheduled to be held in a few days, to form a legal committee to draw up international legal rules aimed at preventing and criminalizing offenses to religion and beliefs in the world.
“The scholars called for the promulgation of an international legislation by the United Nations that bans any form of attacks on religion and God’s prophets,” the statement said.
The scholars also said they would intensify efforts to counter negative portrayals of Islam’s prophet. “We will organize more lectures and sermons and activate websites and TV stations, especially those that are published or broadcast in foreign languages to introduce the attributes of the prophet,” the statement said.
The scholars slammed the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, saying it can no longer evade its responsibility in banning the film under the pretext of freedom of expression. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has condemned the film as “disgusting and reprehensible” and said “the United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video.”
Lebanon’s top Christian and Muslim religious leaders have condemned the film.
The Gathering of Muslim Ulema (religious scholars) called Thursday on Muslim peoples to boycott French products and not to join French cultural centers in response to the publication by the French weekly Charlie Hebdo of caricatures insulting the Prophet Mohammad.
The Ulema urged the French government to act quickly to punish the magazine, “or else it must bear the consequences of the peoples’ rage.” They also called for declaring Friday “a day of rage throughout the Muslim world with processions affirming loyalty to the Prophet.”
The Orthodox Gathering also condemned the movie and the cartoons. In a statement after its meeting, the group, which represents Greek Orthodox politicians, accused Zionism of standing behind the offenses against Islam with the aim of driving a wedge between Christians and Muslims.
It called for the adoption of an international resolution that bans any offense to divine religions.
Hezbollah MP Nawar Sahli also called for the promulgation of laws that ban insulting religions.
Meanwhile, security forces in the northern city of Tripoli have arrested men suspected of involvement in last week’s attack on the Kentucky Fried Chicken and setting it on fire during protests against “Innocence of Muslims,” the state-run National News Agency reported. It said Tripoli’s police commander Brig. Bassam Ayoubi will present the suspects to the media at 10 a.m. Friday before referring them to the relevant judiciary.