Established in 1969 and boasting 57 states, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has emerged as a key supporter of the Palestinian’s quest for membership in the UN. Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Turkish academic who has headed the OIC since 2005, spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Nikola Krastev in New York.
RFE/RL: You are known as a vocal proponent of Palestinian independence. The UN Security Council is scheduled to discuss the issue on September 26. What is your feeling about the outcome?
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu: I want to tell you what I would like to see, rather than what I am expecting to see, because indications of what we are going to see are not really what we would like to see.
What I would like to see — and I think not only members of OIC but a big majority of the world opinion wants to see — is that Palestinians get their rights, which they [have sought for] than 60 years or six decades. To have their own state recognized with its own legal borders according to legal decisions of the UN Security Council, Oslo references, Madrid references, and many, many others, the road map — all these documents which were signed by relevant parties and mandatory resolutions made by the Security Council and UN in different times. What I wish to see is that these people who have been denied the right to establish their state get their state.
RFE/RL: But you are aware that the realities are different?
Ihsanoglu: Establishment of Palestinian statehood is not against the interest of anybody and, in particular, not against the interest of Israel. Because establishing a state of Palestine will help everybody. I tell you: Establishing the state of Palestine means you have a state with full authority and sovereignty of its lands and it will have a rule of law. It will be a democratic country and in there you will have no place for radical movements, or radical movements will be marginalized.
Meanwhile, you will have no military actions against any neighbor. The state itself will take care of that. And it will be conducive to peace.
But when you don’t have a state, as is the case today, you can’t govern a nation which is made of different factions. When you have a state, you can govern them. I think this helps Israel and helps the United States, and it is not against the interests of anybody.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu: “Islamaphobia is growing in a way that reminds many… of the anti-Semitism in the 1930s.”
RFE/RL: You’ve met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. What can you say about the state of Muslims in Russia?
I’ve been a frequent visitor to Russia in different capacities. I’ve been there many times since 1979. The societies were unrooted from their culture. I remember in ’79, people would not dare to talk anywhere. They would not dare to go to mosques. When you go to mosque, you see only people above 70 years old. Now when you go, you find all young people. I went there the last time [in 2010], I was the only old man. When I went 40 years ago, I was the only young man.
And I can witness, particularly after the perestroika, glasnost, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, of the communist regime — Muslims like other groups started to gain their cultural rights, religious rights. And now I have longstanding relation with one of the autonomous republics, Tatarstan. I can tell you, in the last 20 years, [Tatarstan] has developed into a very modern, prosperous, modernized country, society, and gained its Tatar and its Muslim identity. And its relations with the Muslim world through OIC and directly — they are improving very well. And I can say that recently I developed the same [kind of relations] with Bashkortostan, Bashkiria, and it is also developing very well.
RFE/RL: Islamophobia is becoming a growing concern for a number of governments and is a major topic at the UN as well. You have written a lot on the subject. What is the current state of this phenomenon?
Ihsanoglu: Islamophobia is growing in a way that reminds many, including [former U.S.] President [Bill] Clinton, of the anti-Semitism in the 1930s. Just take the last event of the Norwegian young man who killed his own countrypeople — more than 70 people he killed. Why did he kill them? When you read his manifesto, his charter — he’s a fanatic. He’s doing this fanaticism in the name of Christianity. He’s doing this fanaticism in the name of being European, being Norwegian. I don’t think in Christianity there’s any value that tells you to go and kill people. I don’t think in European values there’s anything that compels you to kill others.
So this is how values are misused and distorted. And when you look in real terms why he killed these people — he killed Norwegians, he didn’t kill Muslims. He could have killed Muslims, but he killed Norwegians. The justification of that, he said: ‘You guys, of this Labor Party, you are tolerant to the immigrants. I’ll kill you.’ That was the justification. So this is [only] the tip of the iceberg.
RFE/RL: During its meeting on September 21, the OIC Contact Group on Bosnia and Herzegovina expressed deep concern over “inadequate implementation of the key elements of the Dayton Peace Agreement.” What does this mean?
Ihsanoglu: Dayton has created so many authorities, has divided the authorities, and it made Bosnia-Herzegovina difficult to run. And Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot stand as a nation, as a country, unless Dayton is amended. I think it was forced on the Bosnians because of the war, but now it needs, after so many years, to be reconsidered.
It’s not a holy text; it’s not dogma. It was in a way to stop war, to establish peace, but now it has proved that it is unworkable.