Saturday, 4 April 2009

The Fogh settles

After the big powers backed him a few weeks ago, the NATO summit in Strasbourg has confirmed Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the alliance's next Secretary General. The appointment had seemed in doubt until the summit itself, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan angry over Mr Rasmussen's role in the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy in 2005 - which even gave their Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi an excuse to delay the start of the 60th anniversary gathering in an apparent attempt to rescue the situation from his mobile phone.

Whether through Mr Berlusconi's antics or calmer council, Turkey has dropped its concerns and Mr Rasmussen is in. This is to welcomed, and not just because he should make a decent civilian leader of the transatlantic military machine. Mr Erdogan's concession follows a vote in the tarnished United Nations Human Rights Council on March 26th pushing for laws against the 'defamation of religion', backed by many Islamic governments seeking to redefine 'human rights' as defending faiths from criticism rather than individuals from persecution.

For the foremost alliance of the democratic world to have come to prolonged discord over an issue of freedom of expression would have been worrying at any time, but at this particular juncture would have sent a very concerning encouraging signal to those governments who use the law to crush the freedom of others in the name of defending a faith. Mr Erdogan - as the midly Islamist Prime Minister of a strategically vital and populous Muslim-majority state which has traditionally been governed by a secular elite - must always chart a careful course when the river of religion runs into the lake of foreign relations. He has chosen to keep the good-ship Turkey pointed in the same direction as the rest of the NATO fleet, and should be praised for doing so.

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