Muslim conference decries Western ‘Islamophobia’

BAKU — A conference of Muslim countries in Azerbaijan this week has decried growing Islamophobia in the West in the wake of a furore sparked by the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in several European newspapers.

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) blamed anti-Muslim sentiment on “the rising dominance of the extremist right wing in Europe” in a report obtained by AFP and addressed to Muslim diplomats.

The document, which conference delegates are expected to approve as a resolution ahead of the close of the three-day meeting on Wednesday, described Islamophobia as “spreading” through Western media.

“This phenomenon has been spreading in the impactful areas of information, education and art, which are fertile grounds for the dissemination of the open hostility to Islam and the entrenchment of hatred against it,” it said.

The OIC chief described a “pathological fear” of Islam caused by “cases of total ignorance of Islam and its teachings” in Western public opinion stemming from rivalries between Christians and Muslims that have existed since the Crusades.

In order to counter Islamophobia, Ihsanoglu called on OIC members to support Islamic non-governmental groups in Europe and strengthen ties with international bodies such as the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

He urged Muslim countries to enact a “new media strategy” to highlight the “true image of Islam” and said pro-Islamic television programs should target a Western audience.

Ihsanoglu also blamed Western media as a “major factor in the formation of collective misperceptions about Islam and Muslims in Europe.”

Dialogue with political parties, civil society groups and policy makers should be directed at influencing the school curriculum in Europe, which has a “distorted image of Islam” that is “passed on from generation to generation,” he continued.

At the Gulustan conference centre, a bunker-shaped structure on the shores of the Caspian Sea, references to “Islamophobia” were frequent in speeches made by delegates from across the Muslim world.

“In some countries, the media have made attempts to compare Islam with terror. We cannot accept that. We can’t equate Islam with terror,” Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said in remarks to the assembled officials at the start of the conference on Monday.

Several OIC members called for an agreed definition of the word “terrorist,” saying that little distinction was being made between “freedom fighters” and “terrorists” by Western governments since the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

“Terrorism, which we condemn, should not be equated with the rights for people to self-determination, which is recognized” by international law, a Lebanese delegate said on Monday.

APF, 20 June 2006