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Cablegate: Going On the Offensive Against Islamophobia

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RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHIT #1051/01 3451434
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 111434Z DEC 07
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7742
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNISL/ISLAMIC COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHDA/AMCONSUL ADANA PRIORITY 2328
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 001051

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV AORC TU
SUBJECT: GOING ON THE OFFENSIVE AGAINST ISLAMOPHOBIA

ISTANBUL 00001051 001.2 OF 002


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED, PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY

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Summary
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1. (SBU) The International Conference on Islamophobia accused
"the West" of an irrational fear of Islam. Most speakers
provided anecdotal evidence of hostile actions towards
Muslims, including Turkey,s ban against headscarves in
public institutions. A small minority of speakers raised the
need to address Western concerns regarding the Islamic world.
Conference participants proposed going on the offensive to
directly counter anti-Islamic acts as well as lawsuits
against "perpetrators of Islamophobia," and social and
economic exclusion as a blueprint to combat Islamophobia.
The counterattack strategy espoused by conference organizers
and speakers clearly resonated with the audience and has a
good chance of directing attention away from needed social
and political reforms in the Islamic world.

--------------------
"Islamophobia is Embedded in the West"
--------------------

2. (U) Participants at the International Conference on
Islamophobia, held in Istanbul on December 8-9, painted a
picture of Western publics and governments engaging in a
deliberate, hostile campaign against Islam. The speakers,
who represented a wide cross-section of Islamic Scholars
throughout the world, were nearly unanimous in declaring that
Islamophobia is deeply rooted in the West and used numerous
examples of Western intolerance and discrimination -- ranging
from the Crusades to the Danish Cartoon controversy -- to
highlight what they characterized as the West,s irrational
fear of Islam. Islamophobia was described as "more serious"
in the wake of the September 11th attacks and the War on
Terror. Many speakers accused U.S. and other Western leaders
of manipulating fear of Islam to justify wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan as well as domestic legislation that
discriminates against Muslims.

3. (U) In his keynote address, Secretary General of the
Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Professor Ekmeleddin
Ihsanoglu called Western supporters of the offensive Danish
cartoon "extremists of freedom expression," equating them
with al-Qaeda. Another keynote speaker, British author Karen
Armstrong, opined to great applause that the West is deeply
Islamophobic. She blamed the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.,
stating the attacks proved the West failed to learn the
lessons of the 20th century. Speakers throughout the
conference espoused this line of thought with little
opposition. Some speakers highlighted positive steps by the
West, but most focused on examples of inflammatory
anti-Muslim rhetoric or actions.

--------------------
"Headscarf ban as a form of Islamophobia"
--------------------

4. (U) Necati Ceylan President of the Turkish Foundation
for Volunteer Organizations (TGTV) (which helped organize the
controversial International Jerusalem Meeting) cited the ban
against wearing headscarves in Turkish state institutions as
form of Islamophobia. The media fosters "the fear of the
headscarf" and also is guilty of Islamophobia, according to
Ceylan. Fatma Benli, President of the Women,s Rights
Society Against Discrimination, called the headscarf ban a
human rights violation. Benli cited a recent poll that
showed 69 percent of Turkish women wear the headscarf as
evidence that the majority of Turkish women have their rights
infringed by the state. According to Benli, the bans came
into effect in the last decade only because headscarf wearing
women were becoming more visible in expensive shops or as
wives of politicians. Those who have an irrational fear of
Islam turned the headscarf into a political issue,
associating wearing the "turban" with a political act, Benli
argued.

--------------------
Limited Calls for Self Examination
--------------------

5. (U) Nearly all the speakers blamed Islamophobia entirely
on external causes, obviating the need for discussion of
internal reforms. A notable exception was Tariq Ramadan, a

ISTANBUL 00001051 002.2 OF 002


Swiss professor and theologian, who argued that the West has
legitimate questions regarding Islam. Ramadan argued
Islamic scholars should disavow Sudan,s recent arrest of a
kindergarten teacher arrested for naming a toy bear Mohammed.
Ramadan feared participants would leave the conference
feeling victimized, thus eliminating the need to have a
critical discussion within Islam. Although she dedicated most
of her remarks to the headscarf issue, Benli also criticized
restrictions on women in Muslim societies, drawing
spontaneous applause from many in the audience. Iqbal Unus,
Director of the Fairfax Institute, a division of the
International Institute of Islamic Thought, argued
Islamophobes were not necessarily anti-Islam; they simply had
limited knowledge of the religion drawn from sensationalist
media fed by acts from extremists elements within Islam.
Unus encouraged his audience to work against extremist
elements. These examples were in stark contrast to a two day
barrage that presented the Islamic world as a victim of a
ferocious attack by the West.

--------------------
A Blueprint to Counterattack
--------------------

6. (U) Several speakers were proponents of a comprehensive
legal counter-attack. Mojtaba Amiri Vahid, Iranian Deputy to
the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) mission to
UN-Geneva, was the principal architect of the plan. The
strategy: "indexing" (i.e. the cataloging of press and
politicians who promote Islamophobia for eventual financial
and societal expulsion), sponsorship of legally-binding
resolutions against religiously-motivated incitement, and
filing myriad OIC-funded lawsuits in respective "centers of
abuse." In the near-term, OIC lawyers and attorneys from the
Association of Muslim Lawyers would provide the legal work
gratis, and in the long-term joint OIC-NGO universities would
be established to "produce pupils who know the domestic
culture and who can argue in the language of the West."


7. (U) Differing slightly from Vahid, Deputy President of the
Egyptian Society of International Law Ali Elghatit focused on
the one hand on the need for new legislation, claiming that
traditional resolutions (e.g. The UN Convention on Human
Rights) were insufficient. Chairman of the Muslim Helfen
Institute Ahmed Von Denffer, on the other hand, suggested
working within the existing body of law; "there is no dearth
of international law, it is the subjective application that
is racist." Massoud Shadjareh, Chairman of the Islamic Human
Rights Commission (IHRC), claimed that the battle against
both process and substance should wait until a change in
perception occurs. "We need to portray ourselves as the Jews
have, as victims." Muslims are a religious minority, and
need to make common cause with all religious minorities.
Courts will then look upon Muslims as a protected class, he
argued.

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Comments
--------

8. (SBU) The concise blueprint to counter anti-Islamic
actions in the West espoused by conference organizers and
speakers clearly resonated with the audience and has a good
chance of directing attention away from needed social and
political reforms in the Islamic world. Increasing the
visibility of real or imagined anti-Muslim actions in the
West will stir up emotions on both sides and likely drive a
wedge between moderates seeking a real middle ground. If
the proponents of this "blueprint" are successful, academics
and educated Muslims might feel a lesser need to engage in
meaningful internal debate and will to tend to blame their
societal problems solely on external forces.
WIENER

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