Leading Islamic spokesmen urged action to counter what they said this week is a widespread impression, fed by foreign news coverage, that Muslims are culturally backward, ignorant fanatics.
But concern over anti-Muslim sentiment was barely noted in a communique at the end of a two-day meeting of information ministers from 43 Islamic nations. Their conference was aimed at improving the exchange of news among themselves and breaking down barriers to the non-Islamic world.
The document did not detail information-related topics of the meeting, but endorsed known Muslim views on such issues as Palestinian self-determination, Lebanon, Afghanistan, South African apartheid and an Iran-Iraq peace accord.
Its strongest language was a thinly veiled attack on Iran for activities detrimental to Islam’s image, including riots during the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca last year in which more than 400 people died.
Without mentioning Iran by name, the communique said the conference “expressed its opposition to extremism and violence which have projected Islam as though it were a religion of bloodshed, war, dissension and violation of mosques and other peaceful places of worship.”
Only Iran and the Maldives were absent among the 45 members of the Islamic Conference Organization. Marxist Afghanistan was expelled years ago.
Iran’s purported role as a fomenter of international discord and terrorism was an underlying conference theme, but was overshadowed on Wednesday by the criticism of Western news coverage of Muslim affairs.
Abdelhadi Boutaleb, director general of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said the world’s estimated 800 million Muslims must be educated against outside influences including “foreign media” characterizations of “backwardness, ignorance and fanaticism as the main features of our peoples.”
Sharifuddin Pir Zadeh, the Pakistani secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Conference, told a closed session that reports from Western news agencies “ignore or deliberately distort” Islamic issues.
Some Saudi newspapers echoed the theme.
The Jiddah-based English-language Arab News urged the information ministers to act against an “ugly phenomenon” that it said was particularly virulent in Western Europe but also apparent in nationalist movements within the Communist Bloc and increasing even in the Third World.
“Outside the Islamic world, anti-Islamic prejudice is most definitely on the increase. Much of it is pure religious bigotry, but there is a marked streak of racism involved in it as well,” the newspaper said.
It said any effort to correct this would be wasted if it is “nothing more than a machine pushing Islamic information back into the Islamic world.
“We cannot allow ourselves to rely on the insensitive and uncomprehending international news agencies . . . when Islam is involved,” it said.