Recep Tayyip


Prime Minister of Turkey

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 28 June 2006

Mr Erdoğan said that he was pleased that those topics he dealt with in the framework of the Alliance of Civilisations were also discussed by the Council of Europe. An action plan had been submitted to the United Nations and concrete steps, on such topics as education and the integration of immigrants, could be expected. The Council of Europe was also taking practical measures which would reinforce the work of the Alliance of Civilisations.

An important phrase was “unity in diversity”, or perhaps “plurality within unity”. Multiculturalism was important for maintaining peace within Europe and in the wider world, and there was a need to take steps to reinforce it. Muslim populations had been increasing in Europe. In several large European cities, such as London, Paris and Rotterdam, the Muslim population was between 10% and 25% of the total population. The problem of immigration was not a problem of Islam; there was a need to be more tolerant generally. Countries needed to integrate new communities and not respond with hatred or fear, nor seek to isolate or assimilate such people, but instead to communicate and engage with new communities to develop shared understandings for mutual benefit. This was the key challenge, and would require efforts on behalf of both the host country and the immigrant communities. It was also necessary to teach the young about tolerance as a virtue. The Alliance of Civilisations could help to achieve this goal, and to create a peaceful world for future generations.

Historically, Turkey was very diverse, with a rich socio-cultural mix. Turkey was ready to co-operate with the European institutions including the Council of Europe, of which the Parliamentary Assembly was the pillar. The Assembly had a responsibility in that it was pursuing a freer, richer world. This could only be based on fundamental rights. He valued the work of the Council of Europe and appreciated the opportunity to speak today. He thanked Mrs Hurskainen for the report and looked forward to the debate. He would not give his detailed views at this stage but would express them later. However, he agreed with some, but not all, of the report.

Freedom of expression lay at the core of modern life and was the foundation of democracy. Freedom of expression applied not only to opinions not shared by all, but also to those opinions that shock and disturb. A commitment to freedom of expression was essential, but there had to be some exceptions; some limits. The recent cartoon crisis, and the international reaction to it, was a prime example of that. Freedom of speech and respect for minority communities were not mutually exclusive and could co-exist in full harmony, but action guided by the law and common sense would make the world a more peaceful place.

The cartoon crisis had done more than draw attention to the lack of respect for other cultures and minority communities. It had highlighted the increasing polarisation of the international community along cultural lines and showed a fault line emerging between the western world and the Islamic world. Extremism was emerging in both communities. Extremism could only cause us all harm, so it was essential to find the middle ground. Terrorism perpetrated in the name of religion and Islamophobia were both extremist tendencies that could lead the world into crisis. In observing and reacting to these movements, we should remain calm and rational.

He said that every society had “sacred” values, whether religious, cultural or traditional, and nobody had the right to assault those values. Never in history had there been unlimited freedom. The violation of the freedoms of others would lead to conflict, and indirectly to terrorism. This would endanger global peace. We were entering a dark alley with no end, so it was therefore imperative that we mobilised our hopes, not our fears.

To avoid this clash of civilisations, we should make respect for the differences between people the starting point. It was imperative to respect each other when exercising freedom of expression. It was necessary to disregard some of the values of the past and start afresh in protecting the freedom of others. It was vital that we did not evoke the syndrome of fear or hatred of the “other” – those who are not like us. Perhaps also freedom of expression was not the same as a freedom to insult. Part of the new challenge was that in an interconnected digital world, geography was no barrier to the interaction of peoples, cultures and faiths.

It was important to embrace past achievements, but we now faced new challenges. Countries needed to unite around a common definition of democracy. Free societies must be culturally pluralist, and democracy should be seen as an alliance of freedoms, but we were at a crossroads, faced with the danger of a clash of freedoms. The origins of this clash come from within free societies. It was essential to develop a culture of freedom that did not lead to violence.

Anti-Semitism had long been accepted as a crime against humanity. Islamaphobia should be seen in exactly the same way, as a crime against humanity. The historical evolution of societies was different. Some societies had developed a strong emphasis on the liberation of the individual, whereas others had taken different paths, but no society should impose its own values on others. There was no hierarchy of civilisations. All cultures had interacted and influenced each other in the course of their development, but no one culture was superior to others. The differences should be seen as richness.

He and his Spanish colleague were co-chairing a group of 20 “wise men” who had prepared an action plan. At their last meeting, in Dakar in Senegal, they had developed a plan which contained practical proposals. One crucial element was a focus on the education system, because young minds have more potential to be freed from prejudices. This was particularly important in minority communities. They hoped that the action plan would be adopted next November at a meeting in Turkey.

The high level group had not ignored the political context feeding radicalism. The group was looking at issues in the Middle East and Iraq, and at economic differences across the globe. As yet, there were no concrete plans, but the group was concerned not just with the identification of problems. It intended to make moves towards establishing initiatives and taking positive steps. It was important to make common values visible to enable countries and peoples to exercise their rights. This would be the most important contribution that the group could make.

If the world was determined to create world peace, then the formation of a global alliance would be required, but if terrorism were to persist, then there would be a continuation of the clash of civilisations. The Alliance of Civilisations could be an important means of achieving the global co-operation required. He hoped that the Council of Europe would assist in this process and he thanked the Parliamentary Assembly for listening.


Thank you, Mr Erdoğan. As you are one of the originators and co-chairs of the Alliance of Civilisations, I thank you very much for your contribution to this debate. I now propose to give the floor to the leaders of the political groups, and I will then give you the opportunity to respond. We will then continue the debate. As I mentioned at the beginning, we will interrupt the debate shortly, at 11.15 a.m., to give you the opportunity to respond to the leaders of the political groups.

I call Mr Van den Brande, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr VAN DEN BRANDE (Belgium) (interpretation)

thanked the chairman, the rapporteur and the committee. He said the rapporteur had succeeded in dealing with difficult issues. He thanked Mr Erdoğan and said it was regrettable that the Prime Minister of Spain could not also attend the debate. He said it would have been preferable if both pillars of this initiative had been in attendance.

He said he was full of hope after listening to the Turkish Prime Minister and he expected the principles detailed by the Prime Minister to be upheld in Turkey. He said that Christian Democrats believed that the individual could be individual only within society: it was only by expressing themselves within society that the individual existed. Freedom of expression was not just a right, it was an existential right. It had taken four to five centuries for Europe to establish freedom of expression and people had lost their lives in the pursuit of this, so it was therefore necessary to defend this freedom today. There must be no compromise between freedom of expression and any other elements, and the question now was how freedom of expression could be reconciled with respect for religion. He said he could not accept the new trend for religions to belong to the private sphere, as if they had nothing to contribute to society.

(The speaker continued in English) I want to stress that it is not essentially a question of laws or court sentences, but it is a question of attitudes and respect for human dignity and tolerance. Given that the Prime Minister made a long speech, I will finish soon. However, I want to stress that respect leads to liberty and liberty leads to respect. So we are in favour of this report, although we have drafted amendments because we think we have to make rights and fundamental values compatible, and that can be done only with a change in attitude.


Thank you, Mr Van den Brande. I cannot give you or anyone else in the Chamber more time, because a guest speaker has the right to address us and the members of the Assembly each have four minutes. I now call Mrs Bargholtz, who will speak on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Mrs BARGHOLTZ (Sweden)

Thank you, Mr President. On behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, I want to thank the rapporteur for an important and well-written report. As she mentioned in her report, it was well timed. The socalled “Mohammed cartoons”, which were first presented in a Danish newspaper, have started a severe debate all over the world and led to demonstrations in some parts. I and the ALDE Group share the same viewpoint as the report: freedom of thought, conscience and religion, together with freedom of expression, constitute a necessary requirement for a democratic society. This freedom must, however, permit open debate on matters that relate to religion and beliefs. It must also allow respect for different religious beliefs, even if they are not shared by all of us. The right to religious beliefs is an important human right. “I may dislike what you say, but I am prepared to defend with my life your right to say it.” Voltaire is supposed to have expressed those words, and I think that they explain the true sense of freedom of expression.

The conflict regarding the Danish cartoons showed the problem very clearly. They were regarded as very humiliating by many Muslims not only because they were ugly, but because it is forbidden to reproduce a picture of the Prophet. I am quite unsympathetic to those who deliberately hurt and humiliate people’s religious beliefs, but I am also unsympathetic to religious people who hurt and humiliate other people by referring to the Bible or other religious documents. We have recently had a court case in Sweden to which much attention has been drawn. It concerned a priest who in a religious sermon said humiliating things about homosexuals, referring to the Bible. He was tried in court but acquitted by the Supreme Court. The court referred to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Mohammed cartoons were legally published in the media. Notwithstanding the fact that they were considered offensive, governments must not forbid the pictures. Freedom of expression must also include making fun of religion. That is not only a human right but a fundamental principle in society. If such a freedom is threatened, we must without reservation defend it, and that must be accepted by all governments.

In a free country, people must be able to write a speech within the framework of existing laws. Some demands have been made to limit freedom of expression on religious issues. Among others, the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has suggested that western countries should revise their legislation on offensive religious symbols. The exact limits of freedom of expression must, of course, be discussed among groups of different religious beliefs. Like many others, I am convinced of the importance and possibilities of respectful dialogue and constructive talks between all people. Spreading and strengthening freedom of expression among all must be the best and safest way to avoid conflict in the world.

Mr MARGELOV (Russian Federation)

I was born in a country where communism was the only religion. I spent my childhood, as fate would have it, in Islamic countries – in Tunisia and Morocco – during the Cold War. Today I live in a multinational country with a population which practises Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism. As Russia has a long history of the co-existence of diverse cultures, customs, religions and different ethnic groups, I cannot say that there is anything like a war of civilisations in my country, but there are signs of the global trend of interethnic and inter-religious conflicts.

Some experts rather optimistically predict the outbreak of a series of ethnic and religious wars, as others assert that such wars have broken out already. Either way, the advance-guard action is already under way and religious or ethnically inspired violence is escalating around the world. There are no operational maps for these battles; no clear dividing lines can be drawn in such stand-offs. Lines of mutual intolerance run along the streets and through the houses of our cities. They are cleaving regions, crossing continents and official state borders. They are appearing everywhere where people are divided into “us” and “them”, depending on which gods they pray to and in which language, on the colour of their skin and on the shape of their eyes.

The “friend or foe” division is highly sensitive, as we observed during the riots in French suburbs and the uproar about Danish cartoons, which provoked the indignation of the Islamic world. Discord is penetrating all religious communities and that of Islam is no exception. The attitude of Islamic fundamentalists towards “infidels” is simply more evident than the less noisy intolerance of far-right Christians towards “Christless” people. The bellicose image of Islam is due to the fact that many of the authors of terrorist attacks are of the Islamic faith.

Disturbingly, there are many cases of unacceptable wickedness among religious and ethnic extremists. Periodically, synagogues are set on fire in Europe. It is not that simple to build a mosque in some regions of Russia. The plight of the Christian population in Egypt leaves much to be desired. In European cities, one can see manifestations of neo-Nazis and anti-Semitism. In the streets, persons of colour are chased. More and more, the scuffles of youngsters mirror inter-ethnic clashes. Some politicians are overtly propagating inter-ethnic discord.

However, the religious and ethnically inspired divide in Europe is incompatible with the actual cultural nucleus. That includes an openness to various ideas, multiculturalism and tolerance towards diverse ways of life, customs and beliefs. However, that constitutes the “soft power” of Europe – the irresistible force of attraction that stimulates the interest in, and sympathy for, Europe among people from other continents. Here in the Parliamentary Assembly, representatives of different nations and persuasions work in concert and discuss things constructively. That proves that Edmund Burke was right in predicting the time when every European would feel at home in any part of Europe.

Members of parliament, competent and respected experts, representatives of non-governmental organisations and spiritual leaders of religious communities should be involved in a dialogue about different cultures and civilisations. Europe is ready for that.

Mr LUND (Denmark)

There cannot be a democratic society without the fundamental right to freedom of expression. No freedom of expression, no democracy. No freedom of thought, no democracy. The speech made by Mrs Bargholtz was very good and inspiring.

If you disagree with someone, you must engage in a democratic debate. You cannot prohibit points of view that you do not like. However, having the right to say something does not necessarily mean that you have to say it or should say it. For example, I have the right here today to insult everybody, but I shall not do so. Does that mean that I have limited freedom of expression? Of course it does not. I have my freedom, for example, to criticise the fact that Turkey has not recognised that the Turkish state committed genocide in Armenia in 1915, that Turkey has occupied the northern part of Cyprus and that Turkey has committed genocide against the Kurds. It is my right to criticise, and I will do so. The important thing is that freedom of expression is about having a dialogue with those who have other political points of view than mine.

The resolution must be seen in the light of the so called cartoon crisis. I am glad that my group has given me the opportunity to portray the decent face of Denmark. The widespread protests against Denmark are an unmistakable sign that the political course of Denmark and the West must fundamentally change. The protests must be seen in the context of the general political atmosphere as well as of western policy in the Muslim part of the world. The cartoons are but the last symbolic straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Over the years, xenophobic views have been given more and more space in public debate in Denmark as well as in many other European countries. Denmark, along with other European countries, has become known as a country that has very negative attitudes to immigrants and refugees. It is in that context that the publication by the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, of the 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed should be seen. The Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and the government should have disassociated themselves clearly from the expressed aim of the cartoons to insult Muslims, without disputing the unreserved freedom of expression of Jyllands-Posten. That could have averted the crisis, but it would not have changed the fundamental political problems that made such a crisis possible. Western conduct is therefore part of the background to the massive protests among Muslims.

We need to treat people from other parts of the world, with other political beliefs and with different religious beliefs, with respect and, to get that respect, dialogue, solidarity and other measures are also required. We are talking about a speedy end to the occupation of Iraq. New and efficient steps must be taken to secure the right of the Palestinian people to a state of their own. World trade must be changed so that the poorest countries, among them some Muslim countries, can improve their chances of securing independent economic development. Therefore, respect, dialogue and solidarity means action in many fields and it is a much broader issue than freedom of expression related to religious belief. Thank you.

Mr JURGENS (Netherlands)

I must declare an interest. Besides being a Social Democrat, I am a Roman Catholic and a constitutional lawyer.

The rapporteur grapples conscientiously with a central issue of constitutional law: which right prevails if, in a specific case, two human rights are in conflict? In this case, the two rights are freedom of expression and freedom of religion. There is no easy answer to that question. Freedom of religion does not create immunity to criticism of religious beliefs. Such claims should be decisively rejected.

As an example, we should be careful about creating legislation that makes blasphemy as such in any way illegal. If I say in public that an omnipotent God who allows the atrocities of the Holocaust to occur is a terrible God, I am not being blasphemous. I am formulating a critical religious question. Criticism is therefore good. I mean of course normal criticism. Statements that wilfully and unnecessarily insult or incite hatred against groups can already be subject to legal procedures in the courts. That is a good thing, but, and I speak as a Christian, there should be no special protection of religious beliefs over and above other deeply felt convictions such as philosophical humanism, the rational principles of the enlightenment or even democratic socialism.

Amendment No. 2 is not only wrong in its interpretation of the case law of the Court in Strasbourg but, again I speak as a Christian, it unacceptably puts one set of beliefs, the belief in God, above other convictions by saying that blasphemous publications do not enjoy the freedom of the press. Debate is democratic, not prohibition of a part of the debate.

The report is well balanced and asks for more analysis of that difficult question. I commend Mrs Hurskainen for that. Therefore, I deplore the fact that most of the long list of amendments tabled by my fellow Christians belonging to the Christian Democratic group will pull the report completely out of balance by stressing unnecessarily the obvious limits of freedom of expression. For that reason, my group urges the Assembly to reject those amendments.


Thank you, Mr Jurgens. I now ask Prime Minister Erdoğan whether he would like to make some comments.

Mr Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey (interpretation)

thanked the previous speakers for their contributions and said that they all agreed on the value of freedom of expression and the need to continue fighting for it, but the key question was whether freedom of expression should be unlimited. All societies had some limits to freedom of expression, for historical and cultural reasons. The central concept was respect. If respect and love for others were promoted, then we would enhance rights.

On freedom of religion and belief, this was essential, but it was important to distinguish between criticism and insult. Mr Lund had suggested that we needed the right to insult, and referred to the Armenian genocide. Was that based on fact? It was necessary to distinguish between the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic. The Turkish position was that such matters should be left to historians and to academic analysis. Politicians could then benefit from this.

Concerning the crisis in Denmark, Turkey had reacted differently to every other country. Without Turkey’s approach, the situation could have been worse. On the question of whether a God would allow the Holocaust, Muslims believed that their God would not allow it. Muslims loved all the created because of the creator.


Prime Minister, I thank you for your direct and open response, and I thank the speakers on behalf of the groups for their contributions. Your responses showed that this is a forum for open discussion and dialogue. No questions were avoided, and I sincerely hope that we can continue in a constructive spirit to find a common approach to our future, based on our common values. Thank you very much.