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Ambassador Agshin Mehdiyev’s Remarks at the 53rd Annual Convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), “Turning Points: Navigating Challenges, Seizing Opportunities”, 2-5 September 2016, Rosemont IL - 2016-09-02

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen

 

At the outset, allow me to deliver to you all warm regards and greetings of His Excellency Iyad Ameen Madani, Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. As-Salamu Alaykum!

 

On his behalf, as well as on behalf of myself, I wish to congratulate the leaders and volunteers of the Islamic Society of North America for organizing its 53rd Annual Convention.

 

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When I was invited to attend this convention, I was told that I would be asked to give brief remarks about my experience as an American Muslim. To be frank, I have no experience as an American Muslim as I am not one.

 

However, as an Azerbaijani diplomat, I have lived in the United States throughout a significant portion of my professional career. First, as my country’s permanent representative to the United Nations from 2006 to 2014 and now as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Permanent Observer to the UN.

 

Throughout all those years, I have had ample opportunity to observe the American Muslim community. I have witnessed how it has consistently thrived. In fact, as the theme of this convention denotes, the American Muslim community has navigated numerous challenges, and for the most of the time, seized opportunities that those challenges presented.

 

Whenever it was faced with a challenge, be it countering Islamophobia or combating discrimination and xenophobia, the America Muslim community has acted constructively, and further engaged with the rest of the American society.

 

It used those challenges as an opportunity to remind not only to the rest of the American society, but also to themselves and their younger generations as well, that Muslims have always been, are, and will remain, part and parcel of the American society.

 

In that sense, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), like many other Muslim American civic organizations, deserves special thanks for its ceaseless efforts to bolster that spirit in every Muslim American to become productive, and contribute to the well-being of his or her society.

 

In addition to that, Muslim Americans have been increasingly involved in interfaith activities and cooperating with their fellow Americans of different faiths. What most beautiful about this engagement is that they are not intimidated from each other because of their faith differences. On the contrary, they are using this diversity to address their common challenges.

 

In this connection, I would like to commend the Islamic Society of North America for its leading role in the Shoulder-to-Shoulder Campaign, along with 27 other national faith-based, interfaith and religious organizations. This campaign is a good example of what unity in diversity can accomplish in order to uphold freedoms and universally accepted values.

 

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For our part, as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, we have always tried to do our best to help Muslim communities, living in the non-OIC Member States, further integrate into their societies.

 

As a cross-regional organization, representing the collective voice of the Muslim world, the OIC has been at the forefront of international efforts to fight Islamophobia, as well as to counter discrimination and stigmatization on the basis of religion or belief.

 

Thanks to the strong and continuing partnership between the OIC and the United States, one of the most significant milestones in this regard has been the adoption by the international community of the OIC-sponsored Human Rights Council resolution 16/18, titled “Combating religious intolerance and negative stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination, and incitement to violence, and violence against individuals based on religion or belief”.

 

The resolution provides a universally accepted criteria and guidance for the States to deal with the issue of blasphemy, hate speech, negative stereotyping, stigmatization and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.

 

At the same time, it signifies the very evolution of the international community’s efforts, in the spirit of reconciliation and compromise, first from fighting defamation of Islam to combating defamation of religions, and later to what it is today; namely, protecting any individual against religious intolerance, discrimination, stereotyping and violence based on religion or belief.

 

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the United States have together spearheaded the efforts not only to achieve such a universal consensus, but also to promote the global implementation of that resolution. In July 2012, along with the other partners, the OIC, the US, and the EU launched the so-called Istanbul Process towards encouraging the global implementation of this new consensus resolution by more and more countries. 

 

While reaching a consensus on how to address religious intolerance was a huge challenge, the implementation of it is even a bigger challenge. Therefore, we are relying on our partnership with civil society organizations such as the ISNA and others, that are active at the grassroots level.

 

I wish to conclude my remarks by underlining that there remains a lot to be done altogether. The disturbing rise of radicalism and violent extremism across the world makes it ever-more imperative for all of us to cooperate.

 

The United Nations Global Counter Terrorism Strategy, the US-led Global Counter Terrorism Forum, which many of the OIC Member States are part of, and the UN Secretary General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism are only some examples of that spirit of cooperation at the international platform.

It goes without saying that, in these efforts to counter and prevent violent extremism, the civil society organizations are our formidable partners. The Conventions such as this one provides perfect opportunity to create awareness among Muslim Americans and brainstorm on how to further deepen partnership and deliver concrete results.

 

Thank you.

 

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