U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed with a major global Islamic organization on Friday to pursue new ways of resolving debates over religion without resorting to legal steps against defamation. Clinton met Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the head of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), in Istanbul to help set up new international mechanisms both protect free speech and combat religious discrimination around the world.
“Together we have begun to overcome the false divide that pits religious sensitivities against freedom of religion. We are pursuing a new approach based on concrete steps to fight intolerance wherever it occurs,” Clinton said.
Under heavy U.S. pressure, the OIC agreed in March to set aside its 12-year campaign to have religions protected from defamation, a step which allowed the U.N. Human Rights Council to approve a broader plan on religious tolerance. Western countries and their Latin American allies, strong opponents of the defamation concept, joined Muslim and African states in backing without vote the new approach that switches focus from protecting beliefs to protecting believers.
Ihsanoglu underscored that the OIC’s aim was not to limit free expression, but to combat religious intolerance which he said was spreading dangerously around the world. “Our cause, which stems from our general concern, should not be interpreted as calls for restriction of freedom,” he said. “We believe that mutual understanding, tolerance, respect and empathy should also be accompanying components when we advocate supremacy of freedom of expression.”