Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, visited the EastWest Institute on Tuesday, September 22, for an off-the-record discussion on the OIC’s role in preventive diplomacy around the world.

Ihsanoglu discussed ways in which the OIC and the West can work together to resolve and prevent conflicts of common concern. Brewing conflicts in the Muslim world have a significant impact on the West. Western policies - both domestic and international - have an equally significant impact on the Muslim world. The secretary general discussed strategies that can help build trust, not only between the Muslim world and the West, but also between conflicting parties within the Muslim world. He also spoke about the roles governments, militaries, businesses and civil society can play in this process, as well as the role of international organizations such as the OIC, NATO and the U.N.

Among the topics of discussion:


Ihsanoglu emphasized the importance of the new OIC charter, adopted in April 2008, and the changing role it envisages for the organization.  The OIC has set out to address conflicts between the Muslim world and the West, and also conflicts within the Muslim world.

Ihsanoglu stressed the importance of resolving conflicts within the Muslim world as a means to bridge divides between the Muslim world and the West. Any conflict in the Muslim world will always have an impact on the West, and vice versa.

He pointed to recent OIC successes resolving sectarian conflicts in Iraq. The OIC intervened during severe tensions in 2006 to bring Shiite and Sunni Muslims back together around a common set of agreed principles. This common agreement between the two communities helped start a process of rapprochement between the two and helped reduce sectarian violence in Iraq.

“Some Muslim conflicts can be solved locally, rather than at the global level,” he said, stressing the importance of organic, on-the-ground solutions.

The OIC is now engaged in a similar process in Somalia, where rival factions of Muslims are engaged in a bloody struggle for power.

Turning to Afghanistan, Ihsanoglu urged the creation of a new plan based on socio-economic development and cultural and political reconciliation. The OIC can play a constructive role in promoting such a solution, he suggested, as it is trusted and knowledgeable of local customs.

Socio-economic development

Ihsanoglu briefed participants on recent meetings of the OIC, including a summit in Saudi Arabia that “addressed the challenges faced by the Muslim world in a new, objective way.”

He stressed moderation and modernism as fundamental preconditions for lasting peace in the Muslim world. “We have to modernize to defeat radicalism,” he said.
Ihsanoglu pointed to OIC efforts to cooperate with the U.K. and other western governments to promote socio-economic development, but stressed that different levels of development in most Muslim countries pose unique sets of challenges. “When industrial society completes its development, the challenges change,” he said. “Rural and nomadic societies cannot be expected to behave the same way as in New York or Stockholm. The hotbeds of conflict in the Muslim world will take many years to solve.”

The changing meaning of East and West

Ihsanoglu pointed out that the meaning of East and West has evolved over time, from Goethe’s conception of the East as a source of romance, to Samuel Huntington’s idea of a clash of civilizations. “Why are we always trying to speak about them as different from each other?” asked Ihsanoglu. “Can we not speak also of their affinity?”

Ihsanoglu urged a new approach to East-West relations based on their “affinity and proximity.”

The U.S. and the Obama Administration

Ihsanoglu described the transition of power to the Obama Administration as an important new phase for U.S. relations with the Muslim world. “In Obama, we have a new strategy, new language, good intentions,” he said. “The question now is how to transform good intentions into policies.”

“Our common goal should be making our small fragile planet a haven of peace and prosperity for all,” he said.