Ladies and Gentlemen
It is great pleasure and honor to join you all, ISNA leaders and Muslim community leaders.
After the breakfast meeting, which I attended and addressed this morning, I had a chance to tour around and observe so many panels and activities taking place within the framework of this ISNA Convention.
It is quite encouraging and pleasing to see how dynamic and active the Muslim American community has become over years.
Particularly, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Muslims in general and Muslim Americans in particular had to come out of their comfort zones, proactively engage with other faith and non-faith communities.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your invaluable efforts in leading the outreach efforts in your respective communities.
As we talk about the leadership and outreach, I would like to also take this opportunity to underline the importance of two key concepts crucial to successful outreach, and illustrate them with our Organization’s leading role at the international fora to counter Islamophobia and incitement to hatred.
Well, my more than three decades of diplomatic career has time and again taught me that diplomacy can be summed up in two words: compromise and cooperation.
If there is a compromise, then there is a high chance of cooperation. If there is no compromise, then there is a high possibility of conflict.
If the parties are willing to relinquish their rigid position, sympathize with one another’s concerns, and meet in the middle, they can simply maximize their potential to cooperate and address their common issues.
But if they are uncompromising, and not willing to negotiate for a commonly acceptable agreement, then what to expect is continuous tension, confrontation and eventually conflict.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s approach to countering Islamophobia and increasingly negative attitude toward Muslims all around world has been based on compromise and cooperation.
I believe, it is very important that you as the Muslim community leaders are well-appraised about the background of the OIC’s work at the United Nations on this topic. Many of you may have already heard of the allegation that the OIC is advocating blasphemy laws and trying to ban free speech under the guise of countering Islamophobia.
The OIC has never advocated for blasphemy laws. Nor were the OIC-sponsored resolutions dealing with the freedom of expression an attempt to legislate a universal blasphemy law banning criticism of Islam. What the OIC has sought to do is actually quite different from the distorted story, repeatedly told by organized-Islamophobic groups.
In 1999, at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, member states of the OIC proposed a resolution entitled “Combating Defamation of Religions”. Originally, the rationale behind this resolution was to start a global dialogue on how to engage with the increasing trend of vilification of Islam and its adherents.
Later on, rightfully, the scope and content of this resolution was improved as to include provisions that would address the increasing harassments against Christians, Jews and other faith communities as well.
In essence, the “Combating Defamation of Religions” resolution deplored “the use of print, audio-visual and electronic media, including the Internet, and of any other means to incite acts of violence, xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination towards Islam or any religions”.
Moreover, the resolution urged all the UN member states “to provide, within their respective legal and constitutional systems, adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from the defamation of any religion”.
So, essentially, the resolution called for necessary arrangements, not against criticism of Islam or any other religion, but against the acts of hatred, discrimination, and violence that may result from defamations of religions and demonization of their adherents, which applied to Jews, Christians, Muslims and other faiths equally.
Nevertheless, over the years until 2010, the issue of “defamation” has become increasingly polarizing and divisive among the Member States, thereby depriving the resolution of a consensual adoption.
In order to address the differences over the resolution, the OIC proactively took initiative and proposed an eight-point clarification, at the 15th session of UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September 2010. Consequently, the OIC member states, US, EU member states and other partners worked out a new resolution.
What came out of that collective effort was a the HRC Resolution 16/18 “Combating religious intolerance and negative stereotypes, stigmatization, discrimination, and incitement to violence, and violence against individuals based on religion or belief”, which was adopted by consensus in 2011 both at the UN Human Rights Council and in the UN General Assembly.
Since March 2011, resolutions based on the 16/18 have been adopted by consensus every year by the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council. Many nations including the US authorities and civil society organization as well as respectable international human rights institutions, such as the Freedom House, embraced the new approach.
In July 2012, along with the other partners, the OIC, the US, and the EU launched the so-called Istanbul Process towards encouraging the implementation of this new consensus resolution by more and more countries.
The OIC-sponsored HRC Resolution 16/18 is not a universal blasphemy law that bans freedom of expression, but a resolution that provides 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.
So, I believe this is the spirit which we all must adopt and spread. As we, regardless of our faiths, nationalities, ethnicities and all other types of identities, are faced by common threats such as radicalization, xenophobia, violent extremism, we must be willing to compromise for the sake of cooperation. Doing so would help us seize the opportunities presented by those challenges.