NATO chief courts Muslims on Ramadan iftar

August 30, 2009

ANKARA (IslamOnline) — Eyeing better ties with the Islamic world after the Prophet cartoon crisis, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen joined Turkish leaders at a Ramadan iftar on Thursday, August 27.

“Please see my presence here tonight as a clear manifestation of my respect for Islam as one of the world's great religions,” Rasmussen said at the iftar banquet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reported Agence France Presse (AFP).
The former Danish premier said fasting is a universal value that is not confined to Muslims only.
“Fasting is meant to teach patience, modesty, self-restraint and giving and reaching out to the less fortunate.
“These are all universal human values that go beyond cultures and religions.”
Rasmussen was named the new NATO chief earlier this year after Turkey, NATO's predominantly Muslim member, dropped objections to his nomination after intervention from U.S. President Barack Obama.
Ankara had long objected Rasmussen's nomination over his mishandling of the crisis of cartoons satirizing Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).
In 2005, Denmark's Jyllands-Posten daily printed cartoons satirizing the Prophet, sparking furor in the Muslim world.
Rasmussen refused to meet the ambassadors of several Muslim countries to discuss the crisis, defending the blasphemous drawings as freedom of expression.
Rasmussen also praised Turkey as a bridge between the Muslim world and the West.
“I'm confident that we will make real progress in building trust and cooperation between the Alliance and partners in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.”
Turkey, a predominantly-Muslim but a secular country which straddles Europe and Asia, applied for the European Union membership in 1959 and became an EU candidate in 1999.
But Ankara's half-century quest to join Europe's 27-country club has been dogged by problems since it was made an official candidate in October 2005.
France and Germany lead opposition to Turkey's EU membership.
If negotiations succeed, Turkey would be the first major Muslim country to join the European bloc.
Turkish minister for EU affairs Egemen Bagis has said that anti-Muslim prejudice and xenophobia in the West are behind the delay in Turkey's half-century quest to join the EU.
Erdogan, the Turkish premier, described Rasmussen’s Islam remarks as ‘helpful and encouraging’.
“(It) will be a meaningful message to the people of my country and the Muslim world,” he said.
But the Turkish premier angrily rejected the West's labeling of extremist violence as “Islamist terrorism”, urging more Western respect for Islam.
“Drawing on isolated incidents to portray a whole religion and all its followers as potential terrorists, trying to disseminate such perceptions and tolerating such attitudes is, to say the least, a crime against humanity.”
Photo: Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (C), his wife Emine Erdogan and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen attend a fast-breaking dinner of Ramadan in Ankara August 27, 2009. (Reuters/Umit Bektas) -