has said the deplorable terrorist act in the underground rail system on March 29 in Moscow did great harm to the interests of Muslims in the Caucasus and did nothing to benefit Muslims living in the Russian Federation, who account for 10 percent of the population.
Speaking to a group of reporters in Ankara on Friday, İhsanoğlu said the world's second-largest intergovernmental body after the UN strongly condemned the attack, which claimed 38 lives and injured scores, and emphasized its will to contribute to the eradication of terror. The OIC earlier issued a statement to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev conveying the secretary-general's sincere condolences to the families of the victims, the government and the people of Russia and prayed for the quick recovery of the injured.
He reiterated the OIC's principle on terrorism no matter where it comes from and stressed that "religion cannot be a pretext for violence."
He welcomed the resolution adopted by Serbia's parliament on Wednesday, which apologized for the 1995 killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. "I understand offering an apology was not easy for Serbia," he said of the resolution, which was adopted after a debate that took nearly 13 hours. The resolution expressed sympathy to victims and apologized for failing to do enough to prevent the massacre but stopped short of calling the killings "genocide." Bosnian Serb forces led by Gen. Ratko Mladic killed about 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys after taking over the eastern enclave that was put under UN protection. The massacre is Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.
İhsanoğlu announced that Serbia would very much like to win observer status in the OIC in a major drive to improve its relations with Muslim countries. He said the status would be reviewed after the Council of Foreign Ministers, the OIC's executive body, adopts new rules concerning observer status in compliance with the new charter in a forthcoming meeting in May. Recalling that Yugoslavia had enjoyed good relations with the OIC in the past as a non-aligned country during the Cold War era, İhsanoğlu said the organization would carefully review each application. Montenegro and South Africa have also been seeking membership in the OIC.
The secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, condemned the terrorist attack in Moscow on March 29.
Acknowledging that there are differences of opinion within the 57-member organization, especially on the Palestine issue, İhsanoğlu nevertheless noted that the organization has achieved major accomplishments in the past. "During the Lebanon war in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah, when the Arab League failed to adopt a common position, the OIC held a summit in Kuala Lumpur that spurred the United Nations Security Council to convene an urgent meeting. The cease-fire resolution was adopted at that meeting," İhsanoğlu explained, adding that a similar thing had happened during the Gaza onslaught in December 2008-January 2009.
During the Israeli offensive in Gaza, the OIC called an urgent meeting of foreign ministers on Jan. 3 during which the secretary-general suggested asking the Human Rights Council of the UN to convene and consider the possibility of sending a fact-finding mission to Gaza.
The OIC was instrumental in getting the resolution through which established a fact-finding mission headed by South African Judge Richard Goldstone. Thanks to the intense lobbying of the OIC in Geneva, the Goldstone report has been approved by the Human Rights Council.
Nuclear-free Middle East
Touching on the sensitive issue of nuclear arms in the Middle East, İhsanoğlu said he favors a nuclear-arms-free region as has become the case in Central Asia since the breakup of the Soviet Union. "Kazakhstan willingly denounced nuclear arms situated in the country, and Central Asia became a nuclear-arms-free region. "We could do the same in the Middle East," he said, pointing to Israel, which is known to have nuclear arms in its arsenal.
"With regard to Iran, I think there are multiple standards at play and that it is not helping to diffuse the tension," he said, stressing everybody has a right to pursue developing peaceful nuclear energy. "If you want to exercise this right, you should not be prevented from doing so," he added. İhsanoğlu emphasized that international norms for nuclear energy should be transparent and that states must abide by the rules of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as well as protocols adopted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
İhsanoğlu also criticized using embargos as a tool to put pressure on Iran. "We have tried embargos in the past in countries like North Korea and Iraq. They all failed in bringing about the desired result. On the contrary, embargos galvanized the people into delivering strong support to their governments. What is more, the embargo regimes punished the people, not the governments," he explained.
Islamophobia gains momentum in Europe
Warning that Islamophobia is spreading in Europe, the secretary-general lamented the lack of high-level concern over the issue among European Union member states. "We noticed that the trend against Muslims in Europe gained momentum after the minaret ban in Switzerland," he said, adding that the move should have sent shockwaves across Europe. "With the Swiss referendum, Islamophobia has become institutionalized, sanctioned by the constitution," he warned, drawing an analogy to anti-Semitic movements of the 1930s.
The OIC lobbies European governments as well as international bodies such as the UN to adopt anti-defamation resolutions against Islam. "The US is more receptive to our concerns, unlike the Europeans, who insist defamation rules violate freedom of expression and freedom of the press. İhsanoğlu insists the OIC is not against these freedoms, saying his aim is to invite everybody to respect Islam. "Insulting other people's religions goes against the principles of the Geneva Convention on Human Rights," he added.
The OIC would like to reach a common position with Europe on resolving the issue of "demonizing" Islam, he said. After the Swiss vote to ban minarets, there have been calls for a similar ban in Germany, with the accompanying rise of Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who has denounced the Quran. "All this should be very troubling news for everybody," he underlined.