Saturday December 20, 2008
Don't link Islam to terror, Islamic chief urges
By Robert Evans
GENEVA (Reuters) - The world's top diplomat for Islam called on
Friday for an end to what he termed efforts to equate the religion
with terrorism and said the 'demonisation' of Muslims around the
world must be fought.
Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Secretary-General
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu of Turkey attends the closing session of the two-
day OIC summit in Dakar, March 14, 2008, file photo. (REUTERS/Finbarr
But speaking soon after the U.N. General Assembly passed an Islamic-
sponsored resolution condemning "defamation of religion" for the
fourth year in a row, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said his group was
committed to respecting freedom of expression.
There was a "rising tide of incitement to religious hatred and
discrimination and intolerance targeting Muslims", he told a meeting
called by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) at the
United Nations in Geneva. The 57-nation OIC, based in Saudi Arabia,
represents 1.5 billion Muslims.
"Attempts to equate Islam with terrorism should be stopped.
Stereotyping and demonisation of Muslims should be combated," said
Ihsanoglu, a Turkish history professor who became OIC Secretary-
General in 2005.
In a statement on Ihsanoglu's remarks, Geneva spokesman for the
International Humanist and Ethical Union Roy Brown argued that Islam
was often linked to terror because perpetrators of many terrorist
acts identify themselves as Muslims.
Critics of the OIC -- including countries who voted against
the "defamation" motion at U.N. headquarters in New York on Thursday -
- say many Islamic states use defamation or "blasphemy" laws against
minorities and free-thinkers.
Referring to the U.N. vote, in which for the first time since the OIC
introduced a "defamation" motion in 2005 more countries voted against
or abstained than voted for, Ihsanoglu said the motives of the
Islamic grouping were misunderstood.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
The aim of the OIC, he declared, "is not to protect religion against
critics based on objective and rational interrogation". The body, he
added, "is firmly committed to respect for freedom of expression,
which is a fundamental human right."
In a statement issued earlier this week, watchdogs on freedom of
expression for the U.N.'s Human Rights Council and for key regional
inter-state organisations in Africa, Europe and Latin America called
for an end to "defamation" resolutions.
The four, three of them prominent developing country human rights
lawyers, said that where "blasphemy" laws existed they had often been
used "to prevent legitimate criticism of powerful religious leaders
and to suppress the views of minorities, dissenting believers and non-
In an echo of their comments, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights
Navi Pillay told Friday's meeting that when criticism of religion
became incitement to hatred "urgent but proportionate" action should
But, she added, "speech critical of religions does not necessarily
constitute such incitement" and that it should always be
assessed "stressing the importance of protecting the rights of both
religious minorities and non-believers alike."