ISTANBUL — Despite reports in Turkish media that made their way to Europe suggesting that new NATO Secretary General and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen would apologize for his freedom of speech stance during the 2006 controversy surrounding the publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, Rasmussen made no such apology in Istanbul Monday at a meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations.
During a panel discussion at Çırağan Palace in Istanbul, Rasmussen said that, "I would never myself depict any religious figure, including the Prophet Mohammed, in a way that could hurt other people’s feelings. I respect Islam as one of the world’s major religions," Turkey’s English daily newspaper, the Daily News & Economic Review, reported.
"My position is clear before, during and after the crisis. I condemn action that aims to demonize people on their religious or ethnic background," he said.
That said, Rasmussen also asserted that "all kinds of censorship are the enemy of dialogue and enhance prejudice. All kinds of prejudice have to confronted, not ignored. That is why freedom of expression is a precondition for open dialogue."
During the NATO summit in Strasbourg, France, Turkish President Abdullah Gul voiced his objections to Rasmussen’s candidacy because of the perceived insult to Muslims.
The details of their deal have not been publicized, but some unsourced media reports asserted that Rasmussen was planning on issuing a mea culpa when he appeared in this Muslim majority nation Monday. He did not.
Media reports have also speculated that Rasmussen had promised to shut down Kurdish ROJ TV, which broadcasts in Denmark, because of its alleged ties to the Kurdish terrorist group PKK. But at a press conference in Istanbul, Rasmussen merely said that he would commission a study to see if such ties exist and if so, then he would take action.