OIC summit to debate 'Islamophobia' in West

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DUBAI: Islamic leaders will debate Islamophobia when they meet in Senegal this week amid Muslim anger over a cartoon of the Prophet Mohamed in Denmark and a Dutch film perceived as anti-Islamic.

The 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) will discuss the first report of a monitoring committee on Islamophobia at the conference, OIC general secretary Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu told AFP.

“We have to resolve the issue of Islamophobia through a committed political dialogue and a historical reconciliation between Islam and the West, he said.

OIC heads of state will open the two-day summit of the pan-Islamic body in Dakar on Thursday.

The gathering has been overshadowed by events in northern Europe which have triggered Muslim outrage.

In Denmark, newspapers last month reprinted a caricature featuring the head of Islam’s prophet with a turban designed to look like a bomb with a lit fuse, following an alleged plot to kill the cartoonist, whose work originally sparked violent protests across the Muslim world in early 2006.

The Netherlands has meanwhile raised the terrorism alert level amid an international uproar over the planned release of a short film by Dutch far-right MP Geert Wilders which he says describes the Quran, the Muslim holy book, as “fascist.

The Dutch government has unsuccessfully tried to convince Wilders not to air the movie.

Ihsanoglu said the reprinting of the cartoon and the production of the documentary were “specifically designed to insult the most sacred symbols of Islam.

OIC leaders “will be expected to take appropriate decisions against such acts of Islamophobia which violate “international legal instruments that prohibit insult and offence of religious beliefs of others and cannot be condoned under the [banner] of freedom of expression, he said.

“There is an urgent necessity for the international community to either strengthen the existing international legal instruments or enact new ones that would include preventive measures against insulting or offending religious values and sentiments.

Prominent Saudi Muslim religious scholar Sheikh Salman Al-Odah said the reprinting of the cartoon was a “provocation to 1.3 billion Muslims and freedom of expression should not be used to harm others.

The West enjoys a large measure of freedom of expression that does not exist in the Islamic world. But it s not only a question of free expression. A play on the Sikhs was stopped in Britain in order to preserve social peace, and there are historians who have gone on trial for questioning the scale of the Holocaust, Odah told AFP.

A play seen by Sikhs as negatively portraying their faith was called off in Britain in late 2004 following violent protests among the community.

Odah, who is secretary general of an organization of Islamic scholars and activists set up two years ago to defend Prophet Mohamed, said that acts offensive to Muslims are the work of racists who can be isolated if adequate efforts are made to explain the substance of Islam to the Western world.

He said his organization would meet in Kuwait after two months and try to enlist entrepreneurs to fund concrete projects to convey the true message of Islam.

But the attitude of Western governments concerned also has an impact on Muslim reactions, Odah said.

While the Danish government is perceived as an accomplice in the offence, the Dutch government is trying to prevent [the broadcast of Wilders film] to the extent that its authority permits, and this might tone down the Muslim reaction, he said.

Ihsanoglu and Odah concurred that any retaliatory violence was unacceptable.

As regards the so-called plot to kill the Danish cartoonist … there will be no hesitation on the part of the OIC general secretariat, when [the suspects ] crime is established by the proper Danish judicial authorities, to condemn in the strongest terms the sinful and deplorable act of these individuals, Ihsanoglu said.

Odah said that while it remained to be seen if the alleged murder plot was credible, we reject any attack against the cartoonist … Such a way of thinking does no good to the Prophet. -AFP

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