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Lebanon News

Summit plans to lobby for religious insults ban

Lebanon’s religious leaders gather for the spiritual summit.

BEIRUT: A spiritual summit of Lebanese Christian and Muslims leaders decided Monday to form a committee to lobby the United Nations and Arab League to pass resolutions protecting monotheistic religions in the wake of the anti-Islam movie that sparked protests in dozens of countries.

“They [attendees] decided to form a committee of specialized legal experts in international law to draft the appropriate text and to study measures to protect monotheistic religions from insults and slander, with these offenses facing legal prosecution,” said a statement issued after the summit, which convened under Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki.

Participants in the summit called on the U.N., the Arab League and other relevant organizations to take action to prevent the abuse of the freedom of expression to insult religions, which they said has negative repercussions on Islamic-Christian ties and leads to strife.

Religious leaders also took advantage of the event to criticize the state of Lebanon’s economy and other issues facing the country.

Attendees asked the National Committee for Islamic-Christian Dialogue to create a mechanism to implement the summit’s recommendations.

The spiritual summit comes after a trailer for “Innocence of Muslims,” a low-budget movie produced in the United States, drew outrage for its insulting portrayal of the Prophet Mohammad.

Amid the backlash, a French satirical magazine fueled the controversy by publishing a cartoon depicting the Prophet naked last week.

Attendees of the summit condemned the film as well as the violent reactions to it, which they said hurt innocent people and targeted places of worship in some countries.

Attending the summit were Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, the deputy-President of the Higher Shiite Islamic Council, Sheikh Naim Hasan, the head of the Druze Spiritual Council, Beirut Greek Orthodox Bishop Elias Audi and heads of other sects.Speaking to reporters following the summit, Qabbani said he proposed to Rai that foreign ambassadors in Lebanon be invited to Bkirki to receive the upcoming recommendations of the expert committee and in order to solicit their support for the proposals at the U.N.

At the opening of the summit, Rai echoed earlier calls on the U.N. to issue a resolution that bans insulting religions. “‘Innocence of Muslims’ is offensive to Christians as well as to every religion. A resolution must be adopted at the international level to prevent the insult to religions,” Rai said.

The prelate also warned against economic collapse in Lebanon. “Tampering with the situation is no longer acceptable because if the economy collapses then everything will collapse; and we won’t know what will be left of Lebanon if the economy deteriorates [further],” Rai told reporters before the closed-door meeting.

Participants in the summit tackled other social issues, including a recent rise in thefts and kidnappings that they said is a reflection of the country’s dire economic conditions.

“Attendees discussed the economic crisis and its social repercussions which are worsening each day, particularly in terms of rising public debt and unemployment ... and the increase in the number of the deprived and the recourse of some of them to extremism, along with the emergence of the phenomenon of thefts and kidnappings,” said the statement.

The religious leaders praised the efforts of the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces in combating crime, while calling on them to strictly implement laws and regulations.

Attendees demanded that the government follow a socio-economic policy that adopts a fairer tax system, provides better social services, moves forward development, provides more job opportunities for new graduates, encourages investment in productive projects and boosts Lebanese exports.

The group urged politicians to work to reduce political and security tension in a bid to achieve stability, which they said is essential for economic development.

Attendees commended President Michel Sleiman’s wisdom and his initiative to convene National Dialogue, urging all Dialogue participants jointly confront challenges and to refrain from exchanging accusations.

The heads of sects expressed their satisfaction with Pope Benedict XVI’s visit and expressed support for the Apostolic Exhortation for the Middle East, which he signed during his visit.

“Particularly [the Exhortation’s] affirming of ... the depth of historical relations between Muslims and Christians in the Middle East and that Lebanon is an example of these proper relations and Christian-Islamic cooperation.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 25, 2012, on page 1.

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