By Abdullahil Ahsan
– The writer is professor of comparative civilization at the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Istanbul Sehir University. He has written extensively on the relationship between Islamic and Western civilizations.
Almost half a century ago last week, to be precise, on Sept. 25, 1969, the heads of state of 24 independent and sovereign Muslim-majority nation states met in Rabat, Morocco and laid down the foundation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) with the objective of becoming “the collective voice of the Muslim world”. Muslim leaders were galvanized into action by a Zionist militant, an Australian by the name of Dennis Michael Rohan, who attempted to set fire to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Strong evidences suggest that Rohan had the blessings of the Israeli occupation forces, which had seized the area three years earlier. Once the fire was brought under control, it was found out that the 900-year-old wood and ivory pulpit gifted by Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi was destroyed. Muslims all over the world became furious and began street demonstrations. The OIC came into existence in response to their demands. Since then the OIC has grown. Not only does it currently have 57 member countries, it also has numerous affiliated, specialized and subsidiary institutions and organs to support its mission and vision.
But how much has the OIC achieved during its almost half-a-century-long life? Let us examine this question briefly.
Since the institution was founded in response to an Israeli aggressive act, naturally one would like to primarily find the institution’s success in connection with the role of Israel in the region. In this context, one should note that the first Zionist Congress held in 1897 had decided to establish the state of Israel and within half a century the state was founded. Recently, following President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, an enthusiastic and conceited Netanyahu declared to his American audience, “Remember when people talked about Israel’s isolation? Pretty soon, the countries that don’t have relations with us, they’re going to be isolated.” Netanyahu was referring to the stance of a significant number of countries, which included most Arab and Muslim nations, which were absolutely opposed to the founding of the state of Israel in Palestine. Why were those countries opposed to Israel? Because most Israelis are not from the region; they came to Palestine mostly from European countries for various reasons and those who came earlier were busy making space for the newcomers by attacking Palestinian villages and forcing the local population out, thereby creating a huge refugee crisis.
When the OIC was established, it declared in its Charter that it would “co-ordinate efforts to safeguard the Holy Places [in Jerusalem] and support the struggle of the people of Palestine and to help them regain their rights and liberate their land (Article II A-5).” Why did the people of Palestine need support from other countries to liberate their land? This is because Israel had not only forcibly expelled Palestinians from their ancestral lands, it also made space for itself in international politics. It received UN membership in its third attempt, by promising that the displaced Palestinians would be allowed to return to their original homeland and Jerusalem would enjoy a special status under UN supervision. None of these happened. The newly established OIC undertook the responsibility to assist Palestinians in their quest for a life of dignity.
With almost half a century gone since its foundation, shouldn’t one ask how much of the OIC’s commitment to Palestinians has been actually materialized? Hasn’t the condition of Palestinians worsened since the creation of the state of Israel? Isn’t the condition of Palestinians continuously deteriorating? Gaza has become an open-air prison, Palestinian houses are demolished almost daily in the rest of the occupied territories, and the original population has been legally declared second-class citizens in their homeland. The people of Gaza are trying to keep up their struggle for survival by demonstrating every Friday on their border with Israel. What these Palestinians want is for the world to pay attention to their plight. But every Friday Israel kills them. What are the OIC members doing? At best, they convey the news reports on how many Palestinians were killed on any given Friday. In reality many OIC member countries are joining hands with Israel in creating dissent and discord within Muslim societies. Egypt, a significant OIC member, for example, has helped Israel in the imposition of the infamous blockade on Gaza, which has turned this Palestinian coastal town into an open-air prison.
However, it must be noted that that this was not the case during the early years of the OIC. In 1975, OIC member countries succeeded in having the UN General Assembly adopt a resolution declaring Israel’s founding ideology — Zionism — a form of racism. Israel was isolated because of its discriminatory policies toward the original population of the land that it had occupied. It was not that the 72 countries which voted in favor of the resolution hated Israel; it was to counsel Israel that it had to behave in a civilized manner and treat Palestinians as decent human beings like themselves. But Israel has hardly learned any lesson: it rather put into practice an aggressive tactic to reverse the UN resolution. Within years, it induced Egypt, which was followed by a number of others.
In his latest speech at the UN, a proud Netanyahu declared, referring to Israel’s cooperation with the Trump administration, that “it brought Israel and many Arab states closer together than ever before in an intimacy and friendship that I have not seen in my lifetime and would have been unimaginable a few years ago.”
Is this Israeli “progress” not coming at the expense of deprived and ill-fated Palestinians? Doesn’t the humanity at large and particularly Muslims in other parts of the world have a responsibility toward the Palestinians? Isn’t it really high time that the OIC reassessed its role and reaffirmed its commitment to its own Charter?
At the moment the OIC needs to at least recognize the contributions of member states that have demonstrated their national commitment to the OIC’s Charter. In recent years Turkey has displayed this obligation in the strongest manner: wherever there is a crisis in the Muslim world, Turkey has come forward and called for discussions, sometimes at the Summit level. But the country that hosts the OIC General Secretariat sent a minor official to the last Summit conference. Therefore, as of the current point arrived at, relocating the General Secretariat to a country that shows a strong commitment to the OIC’s founding principles and mission may even be considered. In the event such an option can be really taken into consideration, Turkey, Malaysia, or Pakistan, for example, where newly formed democratically elected governments have reaffirmed their commitment to the OIC’s mission and vision, can be suitable.
By renewing its commitment to its mission and vision, the OIC will be able to generate hope among younger generations, and by doing so, it will be able to contain the rise of extremism in the Muslim world.
* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.