Denunciation of terrorism highlights Islamic meeting Iran's call for unity is rebuffed by those who advocate peace

December 10, 1997|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's leaders called on their brethren at an international conference here yesterday to unite under the banner of Islam, but got back a message that terrorism is giving Islam a bad name.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan was among the first to raise the sensitive issue at the gathering of the 55-member Organization of Islamic Conference.

"They are sullying the image of a religion whose very name signifies peace and whose Almighty is compassionate and merciful," he said in a speech on the opening of the three-day summit.

"Tolerance and justice are values we must constantly strive for."

Annan was not alone in his concern about Muslim militants and the ramifications for Islam.

The secretary-general of the Arab League, Esmat Abdel-Meguid of Egypt; Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia; and the prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohammed, also raised the subject of terrorism.

Iran is often denounced in the West as a supporter and exporter of Islamic fundamentalist militancy.

Prince Abdullah, whose country is a key ally of the United States, said Muslim terrorists "have nothing in common with Islam and its spirit of justice and tolerance.

"The Muslim world is still suffering from a state of fragmentation and disruption and is going through the worst as a result of extensive militancy which has shed innocent Muslim blood in the name of Islam," said the prince, the highest-ranking Saudi to visit Iran since 1979, when the United States-supported Shah was driven out by Islamic revolutionaries.

Saudi Arabia has seen the handiwork of Muslim extremists.

The June 1996 bombing of a U.S. military housing complex near Dhahran allegedly was carried out by Iranian-backed terrorists; 19 Americans died.

This is the first time Iran has been the host of an Islamic summit, providing the country with a unique opportunity to showcase its strength in the region and influence world opinion in its favor.

In recent interviews, Iran's deputy foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zaif, has said that one of Iran's hopes for the summit is precisely that Tehran will have the chance to correct the false charge that it exports terrorism.

Arab League Secretary Abdel-Meguid accused some Western countries of labeling all Muslims as terrorists. He looked to the conference "to confront this phenomenon of terrorism that is endangering many of our Arab and Islamic countries."

The West, led by the United States, is responsible for sullying Iran's reputation, charged Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In his speech to the leaders of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims, Khamenei accused America and Israel of spearheading a campaign of lies.

"For 18 years now, the political designers of arrogance are breathing their poisonous breath to make our neighbors in the Persian Gulf fearful of Islamic Iran, which holds the banner of unity and brotherhood," said Khamenei, named to Iran's highest position by the founder of the Islamic republic, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Khamenei discussed the mass murders of innocent people in the conflict between Islamic fundamentalists and the government of Algeria. But he refused to attribute the grisly and deadly cycle of violence to Islamic militants.

"In Algeria, the most gruesome crimes are perpetrated by covert hands to accuse the Islamists and to defile Islam," he said.

While Khamenei used his speech to attack Iran's enemies and urge Muslims to fight a common enemy, President Mohammad Khatami focused his remarks on the importance of building a civil society in Iran.

Khatami, a moderate cleric elected in May by 20 million Iranians, noted the "preponderance of Western culture in civilization" today.

But he stressed the importance of understanding this culture. And he went a step further:

"Sophisticated understanding of the cultural and moral dimensions of other societies and nations entails establishment of dialogue with them," said Khatami, a reformer among the conservative clergy who rule Iran.

"Citizens of the Islamic civil society enjoy the right to determine their own destiny, supervise the governance and hold the government accountable," Khatami said.

"The government in such a society is the servant of the people and not their master, and in any eventuality, is accountable to the people whom God has entitled to determine their own destiny."

Khatami joined Khamenei in supporting the Palestinians against Israel, an issue on the top of the conference agenda.

The issue brought out the sort of bitter rhetoric that tends be heaped on Israel, criticizing "the Zionist regime" for its "racist, aggressive and violent nature."

The conference has joined Iran with former enemies and old allies.

The summit also drew all of the United States' allies in the region -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait. Those same nations refused to attend a U.S.-sponsored economic summit in Doha last month in protest over the stalled Middle East peace process.

Pub Date: 12/10/97

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