As the OIC meets, for its fourth extraordinary summit in Makkah to discuss the challenges confronting the Ummah, its platter would certainly be full. The Islamic world has been in a state of turmoil since World War I: its affairs have gone into a nosedive after the 9/11 tragedy. Country after country has faced invasions and regime changes or attempts at regime change. Efforts to create a Middle East pliant to US-Israeli interests and reconfiguring Pakistan into a pliant entity to Indo-US nexus are on with full vigour.
Through their performance, the Western dominated international institutions have often radiated an anti-Islam bias. For example, the UN is very prompt to broker peace processes when the likely beneficiaries are non-Muslims; and lets the conflict ferment and compound when the beneficiaries could be the Muslim people or states. Likewise, the World Bank and IMF look towards an American wink before extending even meagre borrowings to developing Muslim countries; whereas these entities have been rather generous in allowing mega bailouts to save defaulting countries of the EU; all non-Muslim!
This perception of victimhood is well home to the younger generation of Muslims. This lot is certainly looking forward to see a more nationalist orientation of respective governments and view the leadership of the Muslim countries as irrelevant. The uprising beginning with Tunisia, culminating in revolutionary fervour in Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain have been the most vocal and visible manifestations of the impatience of the populace to no longer let the status quo carry on.
The unilateral misinterpretation of the UNSC Resolutions 1973 and 1979 to expand a limited mandate of setting up a no-fly zone over Libya into imposing of a full-fledged war has left the Muslim countries worried about future misuse of such mandates. The pendulum has now moved to the other extreme, where even constructive engagement of the UN in Syria is being blocked through the use of vetoes. The failure of Kofi Annan’s plan for Syria indicates an indifferent attitude of the UN towards hapless Syrians.
In the wake of 9/11, Islam has been demonised as a religion supportive of terror and interpreted as an existential challenge to the West and its values of democracy and human rights. History may take a long time to answer many of the queries related to the unfortunate happenings of 9/11, but the striking paradox that though all 19 hijackers were of Arab origin, yet Afghanistan was chosen for invasion, haunts the younger generation of Muslims the world over.
Likewise, the smokescreen of fabricated evidence of Iraqi WMDs in a run-up to its invasion, and creation of similar fears about chemical weapons’ stockpiles by Syria, augment suspicions about the implementation of an incremental strategy to keep as many Muslim countries on the boiling burners as possible. The American disregard of the UN stance on Iraqi invasion has thrown up a precedence of going by arrogance prompted unilateralism in statecraft, based on fabricated intelligence; and yet getting away with.
Similarly, selective application of human rights standards and urgencies also give an impression that even noble causes have become tools for furthering grand strategies and greater games. Moreover, in the name of war on terror, major Muslim countries have been exposed to economic sanctions and military aggression. There are blatant strategy related errors pointing towards the intent of sustaining some of the ongoing conflicts, rather than resolving them; to justify the long-term military presence for ulterior strategic motives.
Since its balkanisation after the two world wars, the Middle East has remained a flashpoint of unrest and strife. Israel continues its occupation of Palestinian and other Arab lands, with impunity. Its repressive policies in the West Bank and brutal blockade of Gaza have pushed the local population into a long nightmare of terror and misery.
During these difficult times, the OIC has failed to take charge of the crises. This organisation, mandated to “safeguard the dignity, independence and national rights of all Muslim peoples”, is generally neither seen, nor heard. It has let pass one catastrophe after the other; emerging weaker after each fiasco. Its Middle Eastern subset the Arab League has been abdicating its responsibility during recent happenings in the Middle East and had rather hastily passed on the buck to the UN.
Attempts at revitalising the OIC have peeked off rather quickly; and the entity returned to its business as usual mode. Mr Mahatir Mohammad, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, while hosting the 10th OIC Summit in Kuala Lumpur in 2003 made a frank analysis of the prevailing situation, and gave a wake-up call for restructuring and reforming the OIC to make it relevant. A commission of eminent persons was set up to examine the causes of its listlessness. It made very pertinent, practical and concrete suggestions to revitalise the OIC. A special summit held in Makkah, in December 2005, approved the recommendations and agreed on “a 10-year strategy plan for the Islamic renaissance and pursue policies to face the formidable challenges on all fronts.” Ten billion dollars were allocated for the programme. Yet, the OIC has not improved even a bit.
This collective failure of the leadership of the Muslim world has certainly not been taken kindly by the Muslim youth. This frustration has caused desperation, violent rage and extremism, partially contributing towards the emergence of the Al-Qaeda like phenomena.
Problems facing the Ummah are complex and varied, warranting a combined effort of all Muslim countries to join hands in finding a solution, through a process of broad-based consultation, negotiation and dialogue. The summit is expected to deliberate upon the threats of fragmentation and sedition being faced by the Muslim world and come up with a strategy for damage reduction.
Undoubtedly, this extraordinary summit is being convened under extraordinary circumstances. The credit goes to the government of Saudi Arabia for taking this initiative. Now, all eyes are set on its outcome. Hopefully, meaningful steps would be taken to enhance the OIC’s capacity in the context of crisis management and conflict resolution. We hope that the summit would go beyond patchy fire-fighting, and stand up to the occasion. We wish that the outcome to reflect the hopes and aspirations of the Ummah, especially the younger generation.
n The writer is a retired air commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org