- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

DAKAR, Senegal — International pressure on moderate Muslim leaders to take on a higher profile in condemning terrorism and violence committed in the name of Islam dominated a recent conference of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Muslim presidents, prime ministers and monarchs from at least 40 Muslim states attempted to address the issue, with 5,000 delegates, at last week’s summit of the OIC held in this West African capital.

Despite early resistance, primarily from Iran, the OIC approved its first new charter since 1971, which included an unprecedented mandate to address human rights issues, intervene on behalf of women’s rights and combat poverty and social injustice.

“To fly, you need two wings; we now have those wings,” said OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who was re-elected for a five-year term.

President Bush sent U.S. envoy Sada Cumber, a Pakistani-American businessman, to increase dialogue with the Muslim world.

Most Muslim leaders attending the event welcomed what they called a “new U.S. approach” to the Middle East and Islam in general.

The choice of Senegal to host the OIC summit was deliberate.

Africa’s block of 27 nations voiced determination to promote Islamic-Christian dialogue and stimulate development in the Muslim world.

“The Senegalese idea of tolerance must be the model for both Islam and the West,” said Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who took over as leader of the OIC for a three-year term.

The head of the African Union and former president of Mali, Alpha Oumar Konare, called for the emergence of a new and courageous Muslim political class.

“For many long years, we didn’t have the courage to tell the truth,” he said.

Western leaders believe that moderate African leaders such as Mr. Wade and Mr. Konare could play a pronounced role in uniting factions and improving the perception of Islam in the West.

The British ambassador to Senegal, Christopher Trott, made his way around the summit talking to Muslim leaders.

In an exclusive interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Ihsanoglu asked: “Who gave these people the authority to kill in the name of Islam? Who?”

Terrorists such as Osama bin Laden are not representative of the Muslim community, Mr. Ihsanoglu said. He urged the press “not to confuse the distinction between radical groups and the masses.”

The consequences of continuing to “hijack Islamic values,” he said, would lead to an escalation of hate crimes in both directions.

“Neither side should be held hostage to our radicals,” he said.

Many Muslim leaders said they were still smarting from cartoons of the prophet Muhammad published in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten in September 2005.

Mr. Ihsanoglu said the cartoons reflected “historic prejudices in the European subconscious.”

Mr. Wade, the Senegalese president, dismissed the cartoons “as the work of insignificant individuals who want to get famous overnight.”

“Islam,” he said, “is actually making undeniable progress in the West. New mosques are being erected all over Europe.”

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