The chief of the world’s largest Muslim body has said the Norway massacre and blast that left at least 76 dead and dozens injured is only “the tip of the iceberg,” warning that the incident is the latest product of rampantly rising extremist political movement sweeping across Europe.
|OIC secretary-general |
Prof. Dr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu
He arrived at Utøya Island posing as a police officer, then opened fire on scores of unsuspecting youth, executing them one after another as they tried to flee into the water. Sixty-eight people died, many of them teenagers.
İhsanoğlu said that before the incident on July 22 the Western world always either had a difficult time understanding or did not want to understand the phenomenon of growing Islamophobia. Giving credit to the organization he leads, İhsanoğlu said he has been very aware of this issue since he assumed his position in 2005. He said a series of major events revealing anti-Islamic sentiments afoot in Europe began with the infamous cartoon crisis.
A Danish daily published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2006 that led to a crisis between European nations and the Muslim world. Muslims across the world staged protests, sometimes violently attacking the embassies of Western countries, which defended the cartoonist’s freedom of speech.
İhsanoğlu said a great deal of what he had to deal with at the outset of his job as a secretary-general was related to this “insulting” issue. He said many senior European officials accused Muslims of trying to restrict freedom of speech, alleging that the outrage among Muslims was a result of their “extreme sensitivity” and that it is acceptable to draw cartoons of anyone.
He said his organization was unable to persuade Europeans that it is animosity against Islam which is on rise, despite repeated calls. But he said by time this issue began to be debated, similar incidents had begun slowly increasing, and the OIC introduced this matter at the United Nations General Assembly and its human rights agency. He said they OIC was also successful in pushing for UN endorsement of several decisions related to defamation of religion. He said these resolutions, adopted at the United Nations Human Rights Council in March of this year, were in support of OIC’s viewpoints.
İhsanoğlu added that these decisions were challenged by European nations, who argued that they are one-sided and restrict freedom of speech. He said the language of the statements was then changed to avoid bias, by specifying “religions and faiths” rather than “religion or faith.”
European countries have been under fire for overlooking right-wing terrorism threats, while devoting much of their resources to Islamist threats, despite a sharp decline in the number of such attacks. In the wake of Norway’s terrorist attack, the European police agency Europol established a task force of more than 50 experts to help investigate non-Islamist terrorist threats in Scandinavian countries. Europe has seen an overall increase in xenophobia, boosting the ranks of ultranationalists and fueling their activity.
In contrast, Europol’s 2011 terrorism watch report, released in April of this year, stated that Islamist terrorists carried out only three attacks on EU territory in 2010, while separatist groups, on the other hand, were responsible for 160 attacks and left-wing and anarchist groups were responsible for 45 attacks.
İhsanoğlu said the Norway massacre is very thought-provoking, when we consider that Breivik had no tolerance for Muslims or for those who are tolerant of Muslims.
Recalling a July 15 conference on the topic of interfaith dialogue in İstanbul with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, İhsanoğlu said that that meeting also stressed the importance of the UN Human Rights Council’s decision. The conference called on nations to reconcile freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
“The participants ... reaffirm their commitment to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression by urging states to take effective measures, as set forth in Resolution 16/18, consistent with their obligations under international human rights law, to address and combat intolerance, discrimination, and violence based on religion or belief,” read the final declaration produced in the conference, in which Clinton, İhsanoğlu, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, together with foreign ministers and officials from 19 countries, the Office of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Arab League and the African Union participated.
Clinton and İhsanoğlu, who represents 57 Muslim nations in international forums, announced plans for future talks on how to reconcile freedom of speech with tolerance. İhsanoğlu urged in a speech given at the meeting that steps be taken to end double standards and racial or religious profiling. Such acts, he said, must not be condoned by states and should be addressed through structured and sustained engagement.
Among these “positive developments,” İhsanoğlu also identified some negative developments such as the release of the documentary “Fitna,” which he said was not consistent with reality and presents a distorted image of Islam’s history.
Recalling the Pope’s “insulting speech” to Islam in 2006, the ban on minarets in Switzerland last year and the drawing of Nazi swastikas on grave stones in Muslim cemeteries in a number of countries, İhsanoğlu said these incidents have become a domestic political agenda item in these countries. According to the OIC chief, right-wing groups are targeting Islam in political campaigns, adding that in order to avoid losing votes to parties on the extreme right, even centrist parties in Europe are being forced to endorse more anti-Islamic discourse in their campaigns.
The secretary-general said that to overcome this trend, the OIC and the Muslim world must closely cooperate with the Western nations. He said “as we see a rampant rise in the extreme right in Europe, it shows us that the Norway incident is not an exception.” It is more tragic, he said, to see such a mass killer emerging from a peace-loving society like Norway’s.
He said he welcomed Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon’s visit to a mosque, calling on both Europeans and Muslims not to fall prey to radicals on either side.
İhsanoğlu also lauded the activities of the Gülen movement, whose activists, inspired by esteemed Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen established interfaith dialogue centers all across the world to promote tolerance and understanding. He said the number of such activities on the ground must be increased.
Published on Today's Zaman, 29 July 2011, Friday