"The Danes showed a lack of tact, but that doesn't mean that we should curb freedom of the press." That was the judgment of Father Justo Lacunza Balda, the director of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, regarding the heated controversy over publication of newspaper cartoons that lampooned Islam.
Speaking to a Vatican Radio audience on February 3, Father Balda said that Danish editors should a "lack of wisdom" in publishing the cartoons, which have caused angry protests in the Muslim world. If the publications had been "just a bit prudent," he said, they would have realized that the caricatures would be deeply offensive to Islamic readers.
Saudi Arabian Prince Nayef Ben Abdel Aziz, his country's interior minister, had called upon the Vatican to condemn the cartoons for mocking the prophet Mohammed. To date, neither the Vatican press office nor the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue has offered any comment.
The views expressed on Vatican Radio by the director of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies contrasted with the opinions of Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, who had said that publication of the cartoons was a "scandal." While Father Balda said the cartoons were tasteless, he emphasized that "freedom of the press cannot be curbed" to appease Muslim sensibilities. He observed that Islamic leaders often have difficulty understanding the western dedication to freedom of expression.
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