The OIC is celebrating its 40th anniversary Interview with His Excellency Mr. Babacar Ba, Ambassador of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to the United Nations
OIC, Organisation of the Islamic Conference, Babacar Ba, Islamophobia, Islam, United Nations,
Mr Ba is a career diplomat from Senegal who was asked to take charge of the OIC’s affairs in Geneva.
Q: The OIC is currently celebrating its fortieth anniversary. When did it all start and could you please tell us a little about your organization?
The OIC was set up in 1969. It was a reaction to the events that had happened earlier. There had been an attack against the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which is considered the third holiest site in Islam.
The Muslims around the world were all deeply shocked and humiliated by this horrible attack. During a meeting in Rabat, Morocco, King Hassan II and King Faycal of Saudi Arabia, initiated the setting up of a Muslim organization whose main objective was protecting the holy sites of Islam. The Palestinian issue was also certainly a matter of concern because it is in Palestine that you find the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Therefore, this question has been an important issue for the organization.
Q: Today, there is a lot of talk about Islamophobia.
Unfortunately, yes. It is a growing phenomenon. What is Islamophobia? It consists of actions and attitudes –– either in writing or declarations –– aimed at creating hatred and fear of the Muslim population, especially in the Western world. It is a growing phenomenon and has created a kind of rejection of the Muslim population. Unfortunately, it is growing and it threatens the coexistence of the different communities.
What is even more worrying is the fact that Islamaphobia is being used by politicians in their political programmes from the extreme right to promote the idea that Muslims are a threat to Europe.
Q: Well, are you?
Of course not! On the contrary, Islam is a religion promoting peace, respect and love towards others, and does not approve of confrontation or hatred in any way.
However, there is some extremist using religion as a political weapon, and this is something we should oppose everywhere. Extremism can be found everywhere, among Christians, Muslims or other religious or political movements. Every form of extremism should be contested.
The Member States of OIC are countering it, but in order to succeed we need to work together. However, one should not stigmatize the Muslims –– that is something very dangerous, and nothing good can come of it because we are condemned to live together.
Q: It is interesting that you mention this because my next question was just to ask you about inter-religious dialogue.
Inter-religious dialogue is very important. Before I go any further, I would like to say that we are heavily involved in the UN supported programme “Alliance of Civilizations”.
Inter-religious dialogue is something important for OIC and, on the initiative of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, there was a meeting in Madrid recently and another one in New York. A dialogue has been set in motion and is supported by the Member States of the OIC.
We believe that religious leaders play a major role. First of all, they should clarify the basic principles of the religion, which say that we should respect one another and live together in harmony. However, there exist some interpretations of different religions that aim at creating tensions. Therefore, inter-religious dialogue is something important, permitting the Christians, Muslims and Jews to live together in peace and harmony.
Q: What are the main objectives of your organization here in Geneva?
Geneva is the world capital on human rights issues. Thus, the main issue is to contribute to the promotion and preservation of human rights around the world. We work in close collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
We are currently working on setting up an independent body within the headquarters of OIC in Jeddah to promote human rights issues in Muslim countries. We are doing this with the assistance from the Office of the Human Rights Commission.
We also contribute to co-ordinate the efforts made by the Ambassadors of Member States of the OIC so as to speak with one voice on certain important questions in the Human Rights Council.
THE OIC GROUP have contributed positively to the setting up of the Human Rights Council and to its functioning –– either the rules, the regulations or the functioning –– and we assist certain of our Member States with advice on human rights issues.
So this is an overview of what we do: co-ordination, capacity-building and reinforcement of national institutions on human rights issues.
Another issue is humanitarian assistance. We are also setting up a department dealing with humanitarian issues as, until the present time, we did not have one dealing with these matters. In this field, we collaborate closely with the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in order to mobilize the Member States of the OIC, either individually or through the organization as a whole.
We are also working to combat poverty. We have put in place a special fund for a huge programme consisting of several elements to deal with these issues in Muslim countries. This is being financed by the Islamic Development Bank.
OIC has also been heavily involved in the eradication of poliomyelitis and has continued its efforts in this sense.
We are also heavily involved in advocacy programmes. Let me give you an example of what we have done. In Nigeria, for a long time, people did not want to participate in vaccination programmes, so OIC mobilized the Nigerian religious leaders so as to draw attention to the benefits of vaccinating children.
We work in close collaboration with the Roll Back Malaria Partnership at the World Health Organization (WHO) to fight malaria. We are financing some programmes in this field with WHO.
We also have a fund for economic development. In fact, it’s Islamic Development that is the financing agency for the organization, and the aim is to finance economic development in our Member States, at the same time as encouraging economic relations between the Islamic countries and the Western world.
Q: Who are the ones benefiting from the financial assistance?
In general, it is the governments of the Member States that are benefitting from the programmes. However, this does not exclude non-governmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs have a special solidarity fund set up by the Islamic Bank for civil society and NGOs. There is a two-sided approach.
Q: How do you explain that we do not know a lot about your organization?
It’s true that OIC has been lacking visibility. Earlier, we did not have an open approach towards the media. Since the election of Secretary-General Ekmeleddin ?hsano?lu from Turkey, there has been a change of approach to make the work of the organization better known among the general public.
It is also true that we did not have a lot of branches. The office in Geneva is covering the whole of Europe. Now, with the documentation and the magazine published by the OIC we are more known. It’s true that in Geneva we were quite well-known, because we are very active in the fields of human rights, refugees, health, migration, intellectuals, etc. All the international organizations based here in Geneva work in close collaboration with OIC. We have, for instance, agreements with OIM, HCR, WHO, WIPO and OCHA. We are becoming more and more visible in the field.
It is important to meet the media, especially in overcoming Islamophobia. The OIC is the only organization consisting of high-level segment –– Heads of State and Ministers –– enabling direct contact with Western leaders and thus enabling them to agree on programmes and collaboration between the Muslims on one side and Western societies on the other. If there is no dialogue it’s quite serious. For instance, in the case of the Danish caricatures [of Mohammed], we met with the European Union (EU) leaders and intervened in our own Member States appealing for calm so as not to respond to the provocation. It is important to have a dialogue between the Western and the Muslim worlds.
Q: Why is your organization named the Organization of the Islamic Conference?
When it was set up there were a lot of discussions about the name of the organization. Some wanted it to be called the Organization of Muslim States, others wanted it to be called the Organisation for Islamic States, but neither name was satisfactory to all. Some countries have 30% of Muslims, others more, some less, so they are not really Islamic countries. In fact, each country has a different constitution, so they do not all belong to the Islamic religion to the same degree. We had to find something else. Therefore, they called it the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an inter-governmental organization. Each year there is a meeting for all the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Member States of the OIC. It is the most important and biggest organization after the United Nations and the organization of French-speaking countries. We have Member States from Asia, Africa, Middle East, America, all dealing with the same questions as the United Nations. That is the reason why we have close collaboration with the UN. Every two years there is an evaluation of our collaboration.
We have a mission accredited to the United Nations in New York, as well as here in Geneva. I, for instance, am accredited in Geneva and also in Vienna. We will also open an office in Brussels in order to reinforce our collaboration with the EU. The agreement is about to be finalized with the Belgian government. It is important to reinforce collaboration between the West and the Muslim world in order to combat extremism and denial, and leave room for dialogue among civilizations. We should not leave a space for the extremists.
Q: Finally, Mr Ambassador, what is your background?
I’m a career diplomat. I graduated from the Ecole Nationale d’Administration et de Diplomacie de Senegal. I was in charge of the Africa-Asia Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And Director of the cabinet of the Foreign Minister Before that I had been posted in Gambia, before then I was posted in Addis Ababa (1994-2000) as deputy permanent representative to OAU,ECA, and Ethiopia covering about 10 other countries in East and Southern Africa, and then I became the head of the European Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When the OIC was looking for somebody to be in charge of their mission here in Geneva, the President of Senegal asked me to take up this function. In short, I am a career diplomat belonging to the Senegalese diplomatic corps.
Finally note that I am married with 4 children.