Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, Turkish academic and Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – the only intergovernmental body of the Muslim world – presented on Monday afternoon at the World leaders Forum on “The Islamic World in the New Century.” Ishanoglu was elected to reform the OIC, and he has helped expand the OIC’s prior focus on Islamic solidarity to involve intercultural dialogue and human rights concerns.
He was introduced by Dean Peter Awn, who emphasized Ihsanoglu’s work has “create[d] greater awareness about Islamic culture across the world” through his promotion of art, science, and intercultural relations.
Ihsanoglu began his address with a background of the OIC, which he believes will help the Muslim world actualize its aspiration “to regain its long lost status” and to “be a part of mainstream global community.”
“The OIC will stand in the eyes of many as a symbol of unity, of ummah, for the worldwide community of Muslims,” stated Ihsanoglu grandly. The member nations of the OIC, many of which are non-industrial, depend on the OIC for both political support and economic development.
Ihsanoglu went on to place the OIC in the context of the chaos in the Islamic world over a denigrating, “nasty, obnoxious” video of Prophet Muhammad. He stated that the OIC “condemns” the actions of those “misguided peoples” who burned the U.S. flags outside the U.S. embassy in Tunisia and killed Americans.
Dismissing the actions of both those who made the video and those who overreacted to it, he moved on to broadly address the state of the Arab world today. Until now, the Arab world was not “politically conscious,” claimed Ihsanoglu. It has only recently been going through an “awakening” period, which had already begun in Central and Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War. This awakening, however, brings with it a range of issues.
“We have to look carefully to the position of Islam in the new polity,” Ihsanoglu cautioned. “Consensus is far from being reached and controversy still persists as a frame of reference. The future depends on where and how each country draws a line between religion and politics.”
The role of faith “is the pressing issue of our time.” Muslim countries must define the relationship between the religious and the political into one of “mutual respect.”
The future lies in “two vital principles,” which he delineated as good governance and the allowance of political freedoms ingrained in established rules of human rights. This, warned Ihsanoglu, “is no easy undertaking,” especially in a world with such a diverse scale of polities and ideological landscapes. Some Muslim regimes have the “strictest possible” interpretation of Islam, while others deny its role, and others seek a middle way.
He continued to display his measured optimism towards the Muslim world in his discussion of the Arab Spring, which he refused to see as a “spring.” Instead, he perceived it as “an autumn: the fall of despots.”
“The road to democracy is not paved with roses,” he sternly reminded the audience.
Ihsanoglu’s proposed solution, beyond the establishment of democratic practices, is the OIC. The OIC must continue to be the catalytic agent which addresses the challenges of the Muslim world, through “moderation and modernization.”