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Peace And Understaning Required by All Peoples

Thursday 9 February, 2006
Press release

Peace And Understaning Required by All Peoples

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand welcomes the outcome of the meeting of media and religious leaders convened by Race Relations Commission Joris de Bres. In particular we welcome the apology by media for the offence caused, alongside the recognition by religious leaders of the rights and responsibilities of freedom of speech.

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, the Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development believes that the cartoons originally printed in Danish newspapers which have caused considerable offence to the Muslim community should not have been published in New Zealand.

Caritas Director Michael Smith said the agency is thankful we have freedom of speech and freedom of the press in this country, but such rights also carry responsibilities. Papers having the legal right to publish offensive material does not mean that it is always a responsible decision to do so.

“We accept that the media has a right, and even at times an obligation, to publish material that will upset some people,” said Mr Smith. “However, in this instance, we believe the pain and anguish that is caused to people of Muslim beliefs is not justified by the editorial context. What has been gained by publishing these cartoons New Zealand? Nothing positive for New Zealand as a whole, and certainly nothing positive for our relationship with Muslim New Zealanders.”

Mr Smith said, “It was important to consider and remember that in New Zealand, people of Islamic faith have been victims of violence, not perpetrators of it. Incidents such as the attack on Auckland mosques and hate mail in Wellington have increased the vulnerability of the Muslim community, which is very much a peaceful minority in New Zealand. We fear that local Muslim people will once again be victims in the crossfire.”

In response to the attacks on Muslim communities, as well as those on Jewish cemeteries and Asian students, Caritas joined the New Zealand Diversity Action Programme in 2005 and contributed resources and work on cultural diversity through Social Justice Week in the Catholic Church.

Religious leaders, both here and overseas, have often expressed their regret over the lack of communication and coordination within and between faiths. They have expressed their apprehension about the lack of sound understanding of religious teachings and poor knowledge of religions other than one’s own. The Catholic Church has made a commitment to greater inter faith dialogue.

“Through our justice and peace work both internationally and in New Zealand, Caritas works with Muslim and many other faith communities. It is clear to us that faith communities have an important part to play in building peace and understanding through dialogue,” said Mr Smith.

Caritas does not condone the violence that has followed the publication of the cartoons, but says that conflict is not unexpected when people are deeply hurt. “Offences against human dignity sometimes produce a result which is itself undignified. We call on the Muslim community to also express their concern and their hurt in words or other peaceful means rather through violent actions. But we ask the whole community in join us in being open and ready to hear what they have to say to us. Peace and understanding is required by all peoples”


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