The UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations called for mutual respect of all religions and beliefs Wednesday and for fostering a culture of fraternity and peace. 

In a statement, Miguel Angel Moratinos said he is following with deep concern the growing tensions and instances of intolerance triggered by French weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo’s publication of satirical caricatures depicting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

“The inflammatory caricatures have also provoked acts of violence against innocent civilians, who were attacked for their sheer religion, belief or ethnicity,” Moratinos noted.

He underlined that insulting religions and sacred religious symbols provokes hatred and violent extremism, leading to the polarization and fragmentation of society.

Freedom of expression should be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions, he said.

“Acts of violence cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group.”

Earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron described Islam as “a religion in crisis” and announced plans for tougher laws to tackle “Islamist separatism” in France.

Tensions further escalated after the beheading of a middle school teacher, Samuel Paty, on Oct. 16 on the outskirts of Paris after he showed blasphemous cartoons of Prophet Muhammad during one of his classes on freedom of expression. His attacker, Abdullakh Anzorov, an 18-year-old man of Chechen origin, was later gunned down by police.

Macron paid tribute to Paty, and insulting cartoons by Charlie Hebdo were also projected on buildings in a few cities.

The French president defended the caricatures, saying France would “not give up our cartoons,” causing outrage across the Muslim world.

Besides condemnations from a number of countries including Turkey, Iran and Pakistan, there have been calls to boycott French products, protests and attacks on French websites.

*Writing by Seda Sevencan

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