22 September 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY HEAD OF ORGANIZATION OF ISLAMIC CONFERENCE


The food security crisis and Islamophobia were the two hot-button items on the agenda of the annual meetings of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), under way on the sidelines of the General Assembly session, the organization’s Secretary-General, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, said this morning at a Headquarters press conference.


He said that reports on how to handle the food crisis and how to deal with the misperception of Islam would be before the organization at its annual coordination meeting on Friday, 26 September.  An OIC committee meeting on Palestine was scheduled for Wednesday, 24 September, along with meetings of contact groups on Iraq, Sierra Leone, Jammu and Kashmir, as well as on Somalia. 


Cooperation between the United Nations and the OIC had been growing stronger every year, he noted, adding that the OIC had undergone a major transformation over the past three years.  A new charter had been approved in March, which reflected the more modernized Muslim world, with an emphasis on human rights and freedoms, improving women’s status and education, and developing the science and technology sectors.  The OIC was also becoming proactive in regional mediation efforts.  Socioeconomic development was important, as was the transformation of Muslim societies; those were invited to become more moderate and modern.  Additionally, new channels of communication were being built at the political level to reinforce relationships with key non-OIC countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and France.  Humanitarian aid activities had been increased through institutional cooperation and philanthropic activities.


Nevertheless, he said, the General Assembly would call on States in a resolution to legislate against the publication of blasphemous caricatures and to declare such activities as crimes.  The tensions between the Muslim world and the West had come to the fore with cartoons published in Denmark.  From there, the situation had snowballed.  A three-part statement issued in 2006 by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the European Union and the OIChad called for common restraint -- respect for religions and a prohibition of related violence.


Stressing that freedom carried with it responsibilities, he said that the Muslim view was that everyone was free to believe, but those of other faiths must not insult the beliefs of 1.5 billion people.  Muslims accepted Christianity and Judaism, among other religions.  All over the world, in Istanbul, Damascus and Jerusalem, synagogues, mosques and churches stood side by side.


On terrorism, he said the OIC had repeatedly made its very strong position very clear:  it condemned terrorism and was determined to combat that scourge by all means, including by ensuring that the perpetrators of such crimes were brought to justice.  It particularly condemned the unjustifiable use of suicide attacks as barbarous and indiscriminate.  Terrorism succeeded at nothing.  There was no justification for it from Islam, a religion of peace and tolerance.  The true teaching of Islam sanctified human life, and taught tolerance and compassion.


He said that all authorities in Islam had reiterated that Islam had nothing to do with suicide bombings, either on the basis of religion or jurisprudence.  Even so, terrorist activity was on the rise because the problem was not being successfully addressed.  Security measures and military actions would not stop terrorism, which required an understanding of its wider scope.  The questions must be asked why a young man or woman would commit suicide, what objective was more valuable than life itself, and what the psychological, political and social reasons were for such actions. 


Islam was used as the justification because the underlying reasons were not accepted, he asserted.  The psychological factors that drove young people to such extremes, including injustice in their societies or their relationship with the world at large, should be considered.  Constrained social mobility and opportunity were other factors.  Indeed, terrorism would increase until those questions were asked, answered and addressed.


To a question about the food security crisis, he noted that the OIC had won a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) award last year for promoting South-South cooperation.  A wide range of cooperation programmes were being implemented, including by cooperative projects between the Islamic Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank.  The agro and textile industries were the main focuses for development projects, he added. 


He said that the organization had been very active in the Somalia peace process and had managed to get hold-out parties there to “sit at the table”.  Recent discussions with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had indicated that the OIC could be very helpful to the United Nations in Somalia, particularly in establishing a peacekeeping force to replace the Ethiopian troops.


On the question of the Sudan and Darfur, he said that the OIC supported reconciliation between the Sudan and Chad and was involved in confidence-building activities there.  A peace agreement had been signed to put 1,000 soldiers at the border on either side.  During Friday’s coordination meeting, countries would be asked to help financially and with equipment for monitoring.


In the Sudan, the International Criminal Court should strive towards a balance between the notion of justice and security without sacrificing one for the other.  The OIC had been seized of the matter since 4 August and had called upon the Sudanese Government to recommit to the peace process in Darfur.  The international community had been called upon to put pressure on the two factions that had not signed the Abuja agreement to do so. 


In Darfur, he said, progress should proceed on the political, humanitarian and regional reconstruction fronts.  The OIC was ready to dispatch a high-level fact-finding mission to engage all actors in dialogue and to develop a targeted assistance mechanism.  It would also assist in humanitarian relief.  Saudi Arabia would host a 2009 pledging conference for Darfur’s reconstruction.


Asked to confirm that the OIC would like the Security Council to suspend the International Criminal Court indictment against Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir, he said it was important to be prudent in the situation before going forward.  Negotiation must be given more of a chance.  The Sudanese Government must be given the opportunity to take more actions in the right direction before the international community headed down a regrettable or irreversible path. 


On the Palestinian issue, he said the OIC had been active since December 2006 in bridging the gap between Hamas and the intifada, addressing the issue of factionalism so that the will of the Palestinian people was achieved through legal processes.  The Annapolis process must be restarted, regardless of the disappointment stemming from the unfulfilled promise of United States President George W. Bush to bring about peace through a two-State solution by year’s end.


Asked why the peace process in the Middle East had not succeeded so far, he said the process needed a commitment, particularly by the United States, to see the process through.  The Arab initiative was based on a lasting solution, a peaceful solution and full recognition of Israel.  But negotiations in the peace process reached a certain point and then the term ended of one of the three leaders involved, that of the United States, Israel or the Palestinian people.  That tripartite process must be seen through to completion, and the current United States Administration must ensure that its successor continued the process.


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For information media • not an official record