The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), an influential bloc of 57 Muslim countries, has officially inaugurated a Permanent Observer Mission to the European Union (EU).
The primary objective of the OIC, headquartered in Saudi Arabia and funded by Islamic countries around the world, has long been to pressure Europe and the United States into passing laws that would ban "negative stereotyping of Islam."
The establishment of a permanent OIC presence in Brussels implies that the group intends to redouble its lobbying efforts aimed at outlawing all forms of "Islamophobia" [a term invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1990s] within the 27-member EU, where restrictions on free speech regarding Islam-related issues are already commonplace (see here, here, here and here).
OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu opened the mission to the EU during a formal inauguration ceremony in Brussels on June 25; it was attended by diplomats, EU officials and dignitaries from Europe and across the Muslim world.
In his inaugural speech, Ihsanoglu declared, "There is a growing and developing interest at the highest level in the EU to cooperate with the OIC… I think our relations with the European Union on the different agenda items that we share will benefit all of us. There is a need for cooperation between the Muslim world and Europe, and the OIC, as a collective voice of the Muslim world which stands for modernization and moderation, will be the proper institution to deal with the EU."
Ihsanoglu -- who recently said in an interview with Al Jazeera Television that his number one job is to combat the religious persecution of Muslims in the West -- added, "We need to seriously fight against Islamophobia to further strengthen ties between the Islamic world and Europe and to eradicate the unnecessary sensitivities."
Since the late 1990s, the OIC has been promoting the so-called Istanbul Process, an aggressive effort by Muslim countries to make it an international crime to criticize Islam. The explicit aim of the Istanbul Process is to enshrine in international law a global ban on all critical scrutiny of Islam and Islamic Sharia law.
In recent years, the OIC has been engaged in a determined diplomatic offensive to persuade Western democracies to implement United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) Resolution 16/18, which calls on all countries to combat "intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of … religion and belief." (Analysis of the OIC's war on free speech can be found here and here.)
Resolution 16/18, which was adopted at HRC headquarters in Geneva in March 2011 (with the support of the Obama Administration) -- together with the OIC-sponsored Resolution 66/167, which was quietly approved by the 193-member UN General Assembly on December 19, 2011 -- is widely viewed as marking a significant step forward in OIC efforts to advance the international legal concept of defaming Islam.
The OIC scored a diplomatic coup when the Obama Administration agreed to host a three-day Istanbul Process conference in Washington, DC on December 12-14, 2011. By doing so, the United States gave the OIC the political legitimacy was seeking to globalize its initiative to ban criticism of Islam.
Refusing to be outdone by the Americans, the EU subsequently hosted an Istanbul Process conference at Wilton Park in London on December 3-5, 2012. The aim of the event was "to arrive at a common understanding of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 on combating religious intolerance and the difference in emphasis with regard freedom of expression."
According to Ihsanoglu, the EU's offer to host the meeting, which gathered legal experts, NGOs, government representatives, academics, legislators and educators as well as OIC representatives, represented a "qualitative shift in action against the phenomenon of Islamophobia."
The OIC has been especially annoyed over its inability to silence a growing number of democratically elected politicians in Europe who have voiced concerns over the refusal of Muslim immigrants to integrate into their host countries and the consequent establishment of parallel Islamic societies in many parts of Europe.
According to Ihsanoglu, "The phenomenon of Islamophobia is found in the West in general, but is growing in European countries in particular and in a manner different than that in the US, which had contributed to drafting Resolution 16/18. The new European position represents the beginning of the shift from their previous reserve over the years over the attempts by the OIC to counter 'defamation of religions' in the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations."
Nevertheless, the OIC has been unable to garner sufficient support for an all-encompassing global blasphemy law within the framework of the UN, and Ihsanoglu announced in October 2012 that the OIC would change its strategy by appealing to individual nation-states to enact hate-speech laws concerning Islam.
The OIC has also stepped up efforts to criminalize the criticism of Islam on the basis of Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a multilateral treaty that forms part of the International Bill of Human Rights.
According to the OIC, Article 20 of ICCPR states that denigration of symbols or persons sacred to any religion is a criminal offense, and Ihsanoglu says the only problem is its lack of enforcement by signatory states.
On January 7-8, 2013, the OIC held a meeting of international legal and human rights experts in Istanbul with the stated aim of examining the legal options for "banning religious intolerance against Muslims."
Delivering the opening remarks, Ihsanoglu said: "This meeting of ours in Istanbul is a crucial milestone of a multifaceted, multisided, diplomatic and legal process against Islamophobia, and on the campaign initiated against Islam and its prophet."
Ihsanoglu added: "Since the first day I assumed office, we have been able to see the adoption of resolutions defending Islam and condemning the attacks against Islam at the United Nations General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva."
In a clear sign that the OIC has no intention of abandoning UN Resolution 16/18, Ihsanoglu said, "The issue to be discussed today by the wise men is how '16/18' will be implemented. We will discuss the sanctions from the view of international law... what would happen when arrogant cartoons get drawn or a movie gets shot."
On January 22, 2013, Ihsanoglu told British government officials attending a "High Level Meeting on Intolerance" in London that Islamophobia is an issue of "utmost contemporary significance" and a matter of "vital concern." He encouraged the EU to brainstorm on building common ground on combating "intolerance and discrimination against Muslims."
Thus by establishing a permanent OIC presence in Brussels, Ihsanoglu appears to be laying the diplomatic groundwork to persuade non-elected bureaucrats at EU headquarters to enact pan-European hate speech legislation that would limit by fiat what 500 million European citizens -- including democratically elected politicians -- can and cannot say about Islam.
Speaking to Turkish media outlets on June 24 ahead of the opening ceremony in Brussels, Ihsanoglu warned the EU against allowing any speech that could be deemed hostile to Islam.
For example, Ihsanoglu urged the EU to ban the use of the term "Islamic terrorist" and replace it with the word "jihadist" instead. According to Ihsanoglu, "jihad does not necessarily mean killing the other" and he blamed Westerners for distorting the concept of jihad to mean "holy war." He said that Muslim scholars have repeatedly affirmed that the word jihad, which is mentioned in the Koran, simply means the "struggle" to do good and to remove injustice, oppression and evil from society.
Meanwhile, the OIC has been organizing "anti-Islamophobia symposia" across Europe. Entitled "Smearing Islam and Muslims in the Media," the first-of-its-kind event was held in Brussels on February 15-16, 2012, and was "aimed at establishing information mechanisms to face up to the slanderous campaigns against Islam in the media."
Another OIC organ called the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (IESCO) organized a seminar in Brussels on "how to deal with stereotypical images of Islam in European television programs."
The seminar was designed to help European journalists "identify characteristics of stereotypes about Islam in European television programs, highlight the dangers of defamation of religions, and clarify the distinction between freedom of expression and the right to cultural difference, the commitment to the Islamic cultural identity and the struggle against racism and hatred."
According to Ihsanoglu, "The suggestion that Islam is the problem as it is claimed in the hateful discourse of Islamophobia is to negate Islam's sublime values of peace, compassion, and tolerance, and all the noble virtues that Islam has stood for throughout fourteen centuries of tolerant, brilliant and radiant civilization."
In her latest book, entitled "Europe, Globalization, and the Coming of the Universal Caliphate," Islam scholar Bat Ye'or provides and in-depth examination of the EU's opaque relationship with the OIC, which she describes as a "would-be universal caliphate" that exercises significant power through the EU, the UN and other international organizations.
Ye'or describes an OIC strategy manual, "Strategy of Islamic Cultural Action in the West," in which the OIC asserts that "Muslim immigrant communities in Europe are part of the Islamic nation" and recommends "a series of steps to prevent the integration and assimilation of Muslims into European culture."
According to Ye'or, "The caliphate is alive and growing within Europe…It has advanced through the denial of dangers and the obfuscating of history. It has moved forward on gilded carpets in the corridors of dialogue, the network of the Alliances and partnerships, in the corruption of its leaders, intellectuals and NGOs, particularly at the United Nations."
During the 12th Islamic Summit held in Cairo on February 6-7, 2013, OIC members unanimously elected Iyad bin Amin Madani to the post of OIC Secretary General. Madani's term will begin in January 2014 when Ihsanoglu's term expires.
This will be the first time that the OIC -- which describes itself as the "only and sole official representative of the Muslim world... the real spokesman of the Muslim world" -- will be headed by a Saudi, and observers believe that under Madani the OIC will become even more extreme.
Meanwhile, Ihsanoglu continues to admonish the EU that "Islam should be welcomed as a family member in Europe, not as a guest." He said the "exclusion of Islam means ignoring the influential role of Islamic civilization in the evolution of the Western civilization."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.