By Mehmet Kalyoncu, Today’s Zaman, Dec 28, 2011
At the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), ever since Professor Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu became secretary-general of the organization in 2005, engaging with the relevant US authorities and gaining publicity within American public opinion have continued to be priorities.
After all, the OIC and the United States should be and are natural allies in dealing with a wide range of issues, which include countering inter-ethnic and intra-religious violence in both Iraq and Afghanistan as elsewhere, combating racial and religious discrimination, promoting moderation and modernization, improving mother-child health in OIC member states, encouraging the participation of women in politics, improving human rights conditions and female equality, as well as many other existing and emerging issues. The US has a vested interest in each and every single one of these areas, and the OIC is the legitimate, credible and able political body to partner with as it too shares the same interests.
Therefore, in addition to closely working with the two US presidential envoys to it, the OIC has sought the ways and means to engage with the US Senate and House, think tanks, civil society organizations and the media to introduce what it stands for and, more importantly, to understand how it can be of further help. It is unfortunate though that not many, if any, Americans are really aware of what the OIC stands for.
Ironically though, in recent months, the OIC’s publicity has skyrocketed in the US, inside the Beltway at least, thanks to xenophobic and Islamophobic pundits, as well as extreme right blogs such as PipeLineNews, Family Security Matters and the like. Their continuous defamation of the OIC has intensified recently with the US State Department’s decision to invite the OIC to take part in an expert-level meeting to discuss practical steps for the implementation of United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution 16/18, which was formulated on the basis of the eight points provided by the OIC secretary-general during one of his speeches in Geneva to promote a culture of tolerance and mutual understanding. The resolution, titled, “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief,” was adopted by consensus at the UNHRC in March 2011 with the participation of the United States, European Union and OIC member states as well as states from the other regional formations. The United Nations General Assembly also this week adopted by consensus of 193 nations a similar resolution derived from Res. 16/18 with the same title. The resolution simply means that the states should take the necessary precautions -- consistent with their obligations under international human rights law -- so that Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, agnostics and individuals subscribing to any thought, belief and non-belief system are not exposed to violence and/or discrimination due to their religion or belief.
‘A form of holy war’
Oddly enough, however, Pamela Geller wrote, “the Islamized State Department will be meeting with the Islamic supremacist Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to discuss strategies and develop action plans in which to impose the restriction of free speech … under the Sharia here in America.” In the same piece, she compared the US engagement with the OIC to discuss religious tolerance to having Himmler (military commander and leading member of the Nazi Party) meet with Jews to condemn Jew-hatred. Similarly, Clare Lopez of the so-called Clarion Fund speculated that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was due to host OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu in Washington to “discuss how the United States can implement the OIC agenda to criminalize criticism of Islam.” Another example of this kind is Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, who criticized the Obama administration for facilitating the efforts of the Muslim-American organizations to “penetrate and influence the government of the United States.” Gaffney thinks that these organizations are pursuing a “civilization jihad,” which is allegedly a “stealthy form of holy war, designed to eliminate and destroy Western civilization from within.” He too speculated that the expert-level meeting hosted by the State Department to discuss religious tolerance was a part of such a stealthy form of holy war, a civilization jihad.
The two-day Istanbul Process conference hosted by the US State Department Dec. 12-14, 2011, was in fact a dramatic step forward in implementation of the consensual decision of the US, EU, OIC member states and other signatories of the resolution toward protecting individuals or communities of the individuals subscribing to any religion or belief, against discrimination and violence. Discrimination and violence against individuals who “express” their opinion is included. The critiques argue that the US should not engage with the OIC, many members of which have blasphemy laws or restrict freedom of expression in one way or another. Actually, that is the very reason why the US should engage with the OIC. A prominent human rights advocacy organization, Human Rights First (HRF), has welcomed the UN General Assembly resolution and the US State Department meeting. Joëlle Fiss of the HRF noted that the resolution encourages open debate, human rights education and interfaith and intercultural initiatives. She also argued that the Istanbul Process conference was important to demonstrate that “states have tools at their disposal to combat violence, discrimination and hatred without restricting free speech.”
The two-day conference was a follow-up to a high-level meeting, co-chaired by OIC Secretary-General İhsanoğlu and US Secretary of State Clinton in İstanbul on July 15 this year. Also participating in that high-level meeting was the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton as well as foreign ministers and high-level representatives from some 19 countries, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the African Union, the Arab League and the Vatican. In a statement issued after the meeting, they jointly “called upon all relevant stakeholders throughout the world to take seriously the call for action set forth in Resolution 16/18, which contributes to strengthening the foundations of tolerance and respect for religious diversity as well as enhancing the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world.” Again at this meeting, the participants committed to “go beyond mere rhetoric and to reaffirm their commitment to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression by urging States to take effective measures, as set forth in Resolution 16/18, consistent with their obligations under international human rights law, to address and combat intolerance, discrimination and violence based on religion or belief.”
So, does any of these look like a “stealthy form of holy war” or a “civilization jihad” waged to destroy the Western civilization? If it does, what doesn’t? One would expect that in the United States the criticism within extreme right, xenophobic and Islamophobic circles targeting the OIC would be rather more sophisticated and intellectually challenging, if not constructive. However, it fails to be anything more than mere fearmongering and speculating on the basis of false information. As a matter of fact, with its new Charter revised in 2008, the OIC clearly stresses its commitment to the universally accepted principles of the UN Charter, and consequently affirms its priorities as the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, good governance, transparency and accountability and the rule of law. More importantly, it consistently works toward realizing these priorities in its member states. In the end, the only good thing about the fierce defamation campaign waged against the OIC in the United States is its perpetrators’ success in raising the OIC’s visibility within American public opinion. Concomitantly, the only thing left to the OIC is to continue its constructive engagement with the relevant US authorities, think tanks, media, civil society organizations and other interested partners, while at the same time trying to correct the false information spread out about it.