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OIC mulls legal steps against insults

March 16, 2008

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DAKAR, March 15: The Muslim world has created a plan to defend its religion from political cartoonists and bigots.

Concerned about what they saw as a rise in the defamation of Islam, leaders of the world’s Muslim nations meeting at a summit in Senegal considered formulating legal measures against those who insulted their religion or its sacred symbols. It was a key issue during the two-day summit that ended on Friday.

The plan represents an attempt to demand redress from nations like Denmark, which allowed the publication of blasphemous images, an incident that infuriated the Muslim world. However, the type of legal action it could take is not fully spelled out.

“I don’t think freedom of expression should mean freedom from blasphemy,” said Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade, the chairman of the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference, on Friday. “There can be no freedom without limits.”

At the summit, delegates were given a voluminous report recording anti-Islamic speech and action around the world. It cites the publication of the Danish cartoons, as well as the op-ed articles of a Somali-born Muslim woman who said women do not have rights under Islam.

The report concludes that Islam is under attack and that a defence must be mounted.

To protect the faith, Muslim nations have already created an ‘observatory’ that meets regularly to monitor “Islamophobia”. It examines lectures and workshops taking place around the world and prints a monthly record of offensive content.

The report presented on Friday urges the creation of a “legal instrument” to crack down on defamation of Islam, but it is unclear what kind of legal action could be taken. Some delegates point to laws in Europe criminalising the denial of the Holocaust and other anti-Semitic rhetoric. They also point to articles within various UN charters that condemn discrimination based on religion and argue that these should be made stronger.

Hemayet Uddin, the lead author of the report and the director-general of the OIC culture and social affairs committee, said some form of legal action is needed because “this Islamophobia that we see in the world has gone far beyond a phobia. It is now at the level of hatred, of xenophobia and we need to act.”

The delegates, he said, were unanimous in the need for this. A new charter drafted by the OIC commits the Muslim body “to protect and defend the true image of Islam” and “to combat the defamation of Islam.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan in its capacity as the current chair of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers managed the year-long exercise of drafting the OIC’s new charter, according to a press release of its foreign office.

According to the revised charter, the membership of the OIC will be granted, henceforth, only to Muslim majority countries.—Agencies