New York, USA - As anti-American protests continue in Islamic nations against a U.S.-made film that mocks the Muslim prophet, the leader of the world's largest Islamic organization met with United Nations leaders this week to condemn violence over the film and call for a ban on insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
"Freedom of speech is one thing, but usage of your freedom should not be to offend others or advocate hate speech or provoke people to violence," Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said an interview with The Huffington Post.
"The right of demonstration should not be used to kill people or to put fire to buildings or to offend others by burning flags," said Ihsanoglu, who is from Turkey. "So we should not abuse the freedom of demonstration and we should not abuse the freedom of others."
In a separate interview, the Associated Press reported that Ihsanoglu called for a ban on insults against the Islamic prophet. "If the Western world fails to understand the sensitivity of the Muslim world, then we are in trouble," he told the AP. He said provocative insults are "a threat to international peace and security and the sanctity of life."
The OIC, which is a non-voting observer to the U.N., is the second largest intergovernmental organization after the U.N. and counts among its members 57 Islamic states, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran. Based in Saudi Arabia, it has lobbied the U.N. for years to support an international anti-blasphemy law, though it's unclear how one would be enforced.
The diplomat and former professor said the film that has been the target of demonstrations in over a dozen Islamic countries, including one on Sunday that drew at least 5,000 protesters in Pakistan, was among the top concerns of his organization as he met with leaders including U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner.
The low-quality film, distributed mainly via the Internet and Middle Eastern media, is titled "Innocence of Muslims" and portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a madman, a womanizer and a pedophile. Protests against it have resulted in dozens of deaths since Sept. 11, the same day that U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi in what is suspected to have been a terrorist attack.
On Friday, police arrested Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the California man who authorities believe made the film, in connection with probation violations and because authorities deemed him a flight risk.
"My position is condemning this film and those who produced it and strongly condemning the killing of the ambassador and diplomats because nothing justifies that," said Ihsanoglu.
But the secretary general stopped short of calling for an end to anti-American protests.
Calling the uproar an "issue that needs to be understood," Ihsanoglu said, "a film or caricatures denigrating the prophet are unacceptable by the masses because they revere him. They want him to be revered by others or at least not insulted by others ... We have to respect that."
"We Muslims, we never insult Christians, Jesus Christ, Moses ... nobody in our countries produces films mocking Jesus or Moses," he said.
Ihsanoglu wouldn't directly address ongoing high-profile controversies over the persecution of Christians and religious minorities in Pakistan or Iran, or the backlash to anti-Semitic remarks by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but he said he personally believes in religious freedom.
"I shun Christianophobia and anti-Semitism just as I shun Islamophobia," he said. "We have to respect the other believers. We have to respect the freedom of faith if they believe in this religion or that religion or even if they don't believe in any religion."
Ihsanoglu said he believes the best path toward achieving peaceful relations between religious groups has two steps. First, he encouraged the media to showcase "voices of moderation" with "the small marginal group (of extremists) not overestimated." And, he said, "we have to teach our kids, and generations to come, that we are all part of the same family, the same human race."