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15 Feb, 2009

Equating “war on terror” with “war on Islam” — Islamic world told to start countering smear campaign

Originally Published: 15 Feb 2009

Information ministers from the Islamic countries have agreed on a multi-pronged programme to counter what their senior diplomats and official communiqués have referred to as the “hostile”, “ferocious” and “hate-mongering” media campaign against Islam.

Although diplomatic niceties prevent the statements, communiqués and resolutions issued after the Islamic Information Ministers meeting in Rabat, Morocco, last month from equating “war on terror” with “war on Islam”, they make unequivocally clear references to “media campaigns that seek to undermine Islamic sanctities, spread hatred and prejudice against Muslims, and associate Islam….with violence and terrorism.”

The ministers have also sent a strong message to the legions of Muslim businessmen, academics, diplomats and scholars worldwide to muster the courage to counter Islamophobia with the same vehemence, determination and strategic thinking that Jews use to counter attempts to smear them or question the Holocaust.

Thailand has observer status in the 57-member, Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).

The information ministers stressed that “that information and communication technology is becoming one of the most prominent expressions of global competition, and one of the most influential tools to shape national and international public opinion.”

According a summary report of the proceedings, the OIC Secretary-General Prof Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu of Turkey “indicated that the ferocious campaign against Islam has now taken a dangerous turn, particularly with respect to Islamophobia which, he said, has now become a form of racism.”

“This leads to exacerbated conflicts among peoples and societies and has adverse effects on Muslim communities in Western countries. Prof Ihsanoglu further stressed the important role of the media in exposing fallacies about Islam and Muslims.”

He went on to say that “it was also necessary to shed light on and draw media attention to the denigration campaigns targeting Prophet Mohammed, the recurrent media coverage distorting the image of Islam and Muslims and the growing hate-mongering campaigns against Islam and Muslims.”

He “urged Member States’ media institutions to appreciate fully the crucial juncture the Islamic world is currently going through in order to rise to challenges, to act on the basis of an information strategy based on training qualified human resources that master the skills and competences required, and to seek to revamp their information organs in order to keep pace with the age of globalization and meet its technological and digital requirements.”

The ministers also approved plans to upgrade of the information tools of the OIC, by restructuring the International Islamic News Agency (IINA) and the Islamic Broadcasting Union (IBU) and make them “useful and effective”.

The Director General of the IINA, Mr. Erdom Kok, made a presentation on the comprehensive study conducted to form the basis of the restructuring, which was funded by the Islamic Development Bank. The proposed budget of the IINA for 2009 has been approved at US$ 3,750,000.

In turn, the IBU’s budget has been retained at US$ 1.02 million, unchanged over 2007 and 2008.

One of the resolutions also said the ministers “feel the growing risks posed by the hostile campaigns against Islam and Muslims in some international media, which aim to distort the reality of our religion.”

The resolution stressed the role played by the Islamic media in “firmly and efficiently confronting the media campaigns that seek to undermine Islamic sanctities, spread hatred and prejudice against Muslims, associate Islam, the religion of peace and mercy, with violence and terrorism, a phenomenon that we utterly reject and vehemently denounce.”

At the same time, they called for “efforts to restore the image of Islam in foreign media outlets, display its lofty values, its rich cultural heritage and ancestral civilization, and highlight its contribution in the long course of human history and its creative achievements.”

The resolution stressed the need to “avoid the traps of theories trying to lure the Islamic world into the logic of clashes of civilisations and of cultures, besides the dangers of narrow confessional categorization.”

A sub-committee has been set up comprised of representatives of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Malaysia, Senegal, Syria and Morocco to develop a comprehensive action plan “utilising the services of a team of specialized experts.”

This plan will strive “to address the outside world in the language it understands and using the methods matching its logic and mindset.”

The ministers also “stressed the importance” of raising money for “projects relating to interaction with the external media, including the possibility of establishing a fund with the voluntary contribution of Member States, institutions and individuals.” However, the ministers did not actually enact anything concrete in that direction.

Having appointed what they referred to as “young and competent officers at the OIC Information Department”, the ministers called “for support for this Department with the financial means and technical equipment such as to enable it to perform its duties.”

Islamic countries are also being urged to become members of the Digital Solidarity Fund, an attempt bridge the digital divide within and amongst the Islamic countries.

With the OIC celebrating the 40th anniversary of its founding this year, the Islamic world has been asked to use the date of commemoration, 25 September 2009, in an appropriate and positive way.

Member States have been asked to celebrate 25 September as “Islamic Solidarity Day” by allocating appropriate space in their print and audiovisual media, as well as by organizing media programmes and forums and information over the last week of September.

The OIC General Secretariat has been tasked with preparing an integrated programme, including the preparation flyers, publications, books, documentary films. Member States and the OIC institutions have been asked to provide the OIC General Secretariat’s Information Department with copies of any print or audiovisual archive materials they might have on the organization or its events.”

Like with everything else related to Islamic decisions, one now waits to see whether any of these resolutions and decisions will graduate from theoretical talk to practical action.

The OIC is not known as “Oh I See” for nothing.