The call by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Saud for an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Extraordinary Summit for August 14 and 15 in Makkah plays on religious sentiments, for if the call came at the beginning of Ramazan, the summit itself is meant to make sure that the heads of the Islamic countries will spend Lailatul Qadr in Makkah. However, the combination of the holiest night and the holiest place cannot disguise the fact that the OIC is being trotted out to dampen down the feelings of the Muslims, and help reconcile them to a world in which the Muslims are divided into over 50 nation-states, and are not united under a single Caliph.
This is shown most clearly by the two issues on which the Muslims of the world are most exercised, and why the Muslim governments must take some action. Both issues involve the slaughter of Muslims on a large-scale, and that too by their own states – in one case by the state’s apparatus itself, and in the other with complicity if not actual participation, though that too has been reported.
In Syria, 17,000 people have been killed; so as to preserve the Baathist regime which is now Alawi. About the same number of Rohingyas have been killed in Myanmar. While the alternative to the killing in Syria is the fall of the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, the Rohingyas pose no threat, certainly not to the Myanmarese regime. The Rohingyas are no separatists, though they inhabit the Arakan that borders Bangladesh, which is also being opened up for oil exploration.
The OIC has faced numerous calls for intervention, but ever since it was founded in 1969, it seems to have served two functions. First, it has allowed the governments attending it to claim that they are doing something about the problem. Indeed, it was founded in 1969 over Al-Quds, when it began as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. That was the strongest indication that the Muslims, though divided into many states, felt that, in the words of the Hadith, they were ‘one Ummah, with one land and one war’.
The governments did not feel this way, because they were nation states, mostly ex-colonies that had come into existence as the result of colonies winning their freedom. A number of these colonies were actually of Arab countries, which had been part of the Ottoman Caliphate, and indeed of the preceding Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates. One such country, incidentally, was Syria. When the Ottoman Caliphate was defeated during World War I, the Arab lands obtained independence, and entered a world of nation-states, the new mantra that was pushed by the Entente Powers.
However, it seems that there was enough residual feeling of unity among the people that it got the governments of the Muslim world to found the OIC over the Palestinian issue. Back in 1969, not so many Muslim countries had recognised Israel; another issue involving Syria, for Palestine had been part of it under the Ottomans. That was an Arab issue, but was joined by a host of Ajami issues in the decades after the 1980s.
There was the Afghan issue, which embarrassed those OIC members that had adopted a leaning towards Soviet socialism, and then the Kashmir issue that roused many pro-Indian members. However, the 1980s also saw the Iran-Iraq war, which got embroiled with Arab-Ajami rhetoric after the OIC did not intervene in this first-ever conflict between two members, mainly because its Arab members did not want to get involved against a fellow Arab country.
The OIC was presented as a kind of substitute for the Caliphate, which was the embodiment of the one-Ummah concept, though it was generally dismissed as impractical. However, the OIC was left to deal with the bogey that was raised by President George W. Bush, who accused the militants of wanting to form a caliphate from North Africa to Indonesia. Such a caliphate would suffer from the defect of having only one Head of State, as opposed to over 50 at present, and only one Army Chief for the Myanmarese government to confront, and instead of the Bangladeshi border guards now so easily brushed aside, Myanmar would have to face the border guards of one of the most powerful states in the world.
The Muslim world’s governments have followed the state models they inherited from European colonialism, and so they have also been careful to avoid any joint military action. Therefore, the current Summit is likely to see the OIC pass resolutions, and maybe set up a contact group, presuming it does take notice of the Rohingya problem.
However, apart from the Ajami Rohingyas, there are the Arab Syrians to consider.
While the Rohingyas are being slaughtered by the country’s Buddhist majority, the Syrian Sunni majority is being slaughtered by an Alawi-led Baathist regime. In the Rohingya issue, no OIC member is involved, unless Bangladesh is blamed by some Myanmarese for accepting back its citizens. However, in Syria, not only is an OIC member supposed to be killing its own citizens, but three other OIC members, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, are supposed to be bankrolling Bashar Al-Assad’s opponents.
Be that as it may, the Arab Spring has thrown into sharp relief one of the problems the OIC faces today. Its regimes are not democracies. Whereas the Arab core has pumped oil that has made the USA interested enough in the region to prop up Israel, quite apart from domestic political compulsions, the OIC has served not just as a kind of copy of the UN, complete with an Isesco to mimic Unesco, but also as a means whereby America could control the Islamic world, rendered intractable not just by its crystallised ideology but the memory of a political unity the USA still fears.
Not being democracies also means that, unlike Nato, the OIC cannot be as clear an ally of the USA as it would like. This is, perhaps, why the USA has felt free to pepper three OIC members – Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen – with drone attacks. It is a safe bet that these three will not raise the issue at Makkah. This means that the OIC has not found it possible to respond to the war on terror, because it does not want the definition of terrorism extended to the Palestinian struggle.
In one way, because it backs the Palestinian and Kashmiri liberation struggles, the OIC is the last world body which backs freedom struggles. Interestingly, though it has not been involved in the previous travails of the Rohingyas of Myanmar, it has negotiated with neighbouring Thailand about the Pattani Muslims.
One of the things the Pakistani delegation will find itself having to explain is the restoration of the supply line to Nato over its territory, and its forbearance over the drone attacks. The OIC Summit is not aimed at bringing to an end the suffering of either the Rohingyas or the Syrians, but merely to placate the uncomprehending anger of the Muslim peoples all over the world at the spectacle. It should be noted that the OIC has been out of the UN manoeuvrings between the USA and the Russia over Syria. Syria is more important to the USA than Myanmar because of the Israeli interest. The OIC is one place where the Pakistani delegation must tread carefully in its attempt to guard the national interest, and to see that that interest does not conflict with that of the Ummah.
M A Niazi is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of TheNation.
This article was originally published here