US, Muslim governments address religious tolerance

By BRADLEY KLAPPER | December 12, 2011 | 12:40 PM EST

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. is reaching out to Muslim countries angry about Western characterizations of Islam by bringing together representatives from more than two dozen governments this week to address religious intolerance.

To critics, the three-day conference in Washington smacks of appeasement toward hardline Islamist governments. But U.S. officials say they're simply promoting education and understanding, while rejecting any demands for restrictions on free speech.

The dialogue comes after years of complaints from Muslim governments about perceived offenses against their faith. As examples they cite European cartoons of the prophet Muhammad and a Florida church group's burning of the Quran.

But their efforts to protect religious beliefs from mockery have been rejected by the U.S. and Western countries. Such restrictions would be incompatible with free speech laws in many countries.