London conference dissects Islamophobia

Leading Islamic scholars, politicians, journalists, non-governmental organisations and diplomats from the Islamic world and Western countries are gathering in London, on Tuesday and Wednesday to look at ways to stem the growth of Islamophobia in Europe.

The international conference, ‘Challenging Sterotypes in Europe and the Islamic World: Working Together for Constructive Policies and Partnerships’ – believed to be the first such meeting on the issue – is being organised by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

The conference’s inaugural speech, due to be delivered by OIC secretary general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, was expected to focus on ways to repair the damage to Muslim-Western relations caused by the re-publication earlier this year of Danish-originated cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed by newspapers all over the world.

The images – considered blasphemous by Islamic teachings – outraged many Muslims and led to violent protests in which over 50 people died, as well as a boycott of Danish goods in many Middle Eastern countries.

Britain’s secretary of state for foreign and Commonweath affairs, Kim Howells, will give a keynote speech entitled “Relations between Islam and the West: Perceptions and Realities”.

Leading British sociologist, Christopher Allen, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE)’s Office for Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims in Europe representative Omur Orhun, will join a panel discussion analysing the roots of rising Islamophobia in Europe.

A second panel debate will look at what governments in Muslim countries can do to counter negative images of Islam in Europe.

On Wednesday, the conference will turn its attention to the legal frameworks for monitoring hate speech and discrimination against Muslims and other minorities. There will also be a session devoted to the media’s role in perpetuating misconceptions of Islam in Western countries and anti-Western feelings amongst Muslims.

Speakers and panel members will include leading Muslim philosopher Tariq Ramadan, grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Wadah Khanfar, managing director of Arabic satellite TV network al-Jazeera, as well as the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights for freedom of religion or belief, Pakistani lawyer, Asma Jahangir. She is partner and co-founder, with her sister Hina Jilani, of Pakistan’s first all-female law practice.

Alarab Online, 2 May 2006