NCC Calls for 'Dialogue of Civilizations' over Cartoon Controversy

The National Council of Churches USA is praising the restraint of some Islamic groups over the Muhammad cartoon controversy while calling for a ‘‘dialogue of civilizations.’’

The National Council of Churches USA is praising the restraint of some Islamic groups over the Muhammad cartoon controversy while calling for a ‘‘dialogue of civilizations.’’

The NCC on Monday said it stood in solidarity with North American Islamic organizations that “exercised disciplined restraint and advocated diplomacy and education” in response to the caricatures of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

“Many have called this controversy a foreshadowing of a ‘clash of civilizations,’” stated the ecumenical body representing 45 million Christians in 100,000 congregations in the United States. The NCC, however, “calls instead for a ‘dialogue of civilizations,’” identifying itself as “a community that attempts to live out our deeply held values of justice and peace among all peoples.”

Since 12 caricatures depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad were republished in European media and elsewhere in recent weeks in the name of press freedom Muslims across much of the world have demonstrated against drawings of Islam’s most revered figure, clashing with police in some cities despite calls for peace.

Muslims consider any depiction of Allah and their prophets to be blasphemy.

In addition to the NCC’s statement on Monday, the council’s associate general secretary, the Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, also called for a “dialogue of civilizations” involving religious, political, academic, media, and business leaders.

“[The dialogue would provide] a common table at which we can educated each other about those parts of our faith and life that are most holy and significant,” said Premawardhana. “It will also provide the opportunity for people of different faiths to come together on values that unite us.”

The associate general secretary also said the NCC “strongly affirmed” freedom of the press but was “deeply disturbed by the inability of the press to understand and respect the sensitivities of religious people.”

"In the context of a widespread and growing Islamophobia in both Europe and the United States," Premawardhana said, "the offense is not only an affront to deeply held religious convictions, but an irresponsible case of cultural stereotyping."

Premawardhana also supported the right of Muslims to protest but "strenuously condemned" the violence that has accompanied protests over the cartoons.

“While we strongly affirm the right of Muslim people to protest, we strenuously condemn the violence that has often accompanied such demonstrations, particularly on Danish embassies and are grieved by the lives that were lost in the violence. We are grateful that the large demonstration in London over the weekend was non-violent,” he said.

Premawardhana’s statements followed earlier calls by leaders of several American Islamic groups for Muslims in Europe and the Middle East to stop the violence "because the Prophet Muhammad would never have approved, and [they] are playing into the stereotype of Muslims as barbarians."

The leaders also expressed concerns at the Washington embassies of European nations, saying the governments should condemn the cartoons as hateful and bigoted, as reported by the New York Times.

The NCC, which is composed of 35 Orthodox, Protestant, Episcopalian, historic African American and peace church traditions, listed the following North American Islamic organizations as those which have “exercised disciplined restraint and advocated diplomacy and education:” Islamic Society of North America, Council for American Islamic Relations, Muslim Public Affairs Council, Islamic Circle of North America and the ASMA Society.