Nouakchott — A recent Mauritanian editorial criticising the West opened a new debate about tolerance and mutual respect of religion.
As a perceived increase in Islamophobia leads Muslims to defend their faith, often with violence, several African politicians and writers say that the East and West must do more to promote peaceful co-existence.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz opened the debate on October 6th, when he strongly condemned what he described as the growing anti-Islam sentiment in Europe.
In a speech to European and African leaders at the "5+5 Dialogue" summit in Malta, he called for greater respect for religions, warning of the perils of hatred directed against Muslims and insults against beliefs and sanctities.
The Mauritanian president's statements echoed debates on blogs and social networking websites. The discussions arose after the Maghreb was rocked by demonstrations over cartoons and films denigrating Islam.
Moulay Ould Bahida, a journalist for mauritanid.net, said: "I don't believe that the Mauritanian president's speech came out of nowhere. There are raging internal tensions, as well as external tensions, represented by physical and moral assaults on some Western interests."
The president "chose to work hard through this speech to absorb the Mauritanian people's internal anger, blaming Islamophobia for what has happened", he told Magharebia.
For his part, Mauritanian thinker Al Sayed Ould Abbah defended peaceful expression, noting that the Muslim demonstrators who protested a film that denigrated Islam were no different than the Christians who protested in the secular West against controversial movie "The Last Temptation of Christ".
"Freedom of expression is universally sanctified, is an unquestionable human right, and is the basis for intellectual and cultural freedom," agreed journalist Mohamed Ould Sid al-Moukhtar. But there must still be respect for others' beliefs and sanctities, he added.
"Religious and ideological particularity must be defended in a civilised and positive way rather than have the overall picture of beliefs distorted through acts of violence," Ould Sid al-Moukhtar said.
For Mauritanian writer and intellectual Mohamed Lamine Ould al-Ketab, "Western societies and Islamic nations have nothing to gain from conflict and disharmony with each other".
"Rather, their common interests lie in understanding, harmony, mutual respect, the intensification of economic, scientific and intellectual exchanges," he said.
Only by "building bridges", he said, can "Western and Islamic peoples communicate and get to know each other, and then benefit from each other in all fields".