Foreign ministers from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) recently held a meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan, where they declared, “Islamophobia is the world’s gravest terrorist threat.” The term connotes an irrational fear or prejudice toward Muslims and the Islamic religion.
While a legitimate concern for many Muslims, Islamophobia pales in comparison to the long-standing problems within OIC member countries. Thirty-eight years after the organization’s founding, a large number of Muslims suffer still from oppression, poverty, illiteracy, genocide, and locally bred terrorism. The principals most responsible for perpetuating these conditions are an assortment of authoritarian rulers and Islamic extremists.
The OIC is currently comprised of 56 nations plus the Palestinian Authority. One of its main missions is to “ensure the progress and well-being” of the world’s estimated 1.4 billion Muslims (about 85 percent Sunni and 15 percent Shiite) mostly residing in Middle Eastern, North African, Central Asian, and Southeast Asian countries.
Freedom House, a nonprofit group dedicated to monitoring global freedom and cofounded by Eleanor Roosevelt, reports that only five of 57 OIC members (Benin, Indonesia, Mali, Senegal, and Suriname) provide their citizens the full panoply of political rights and civil liberties to qualify as truly free countries. And only four members provide the necessary legal environment, political influences, and economic conditions to guarantee that news provided by national media outlets has been fully accessed, objectively reported, and accurately disseminated.
OIC residents lag far behind much of the world in terms of sustainable income, despite enormous wealth in several countries like Bahrain, Brunei, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The per capita gross domestic product for residents of OIC countries is $4,100, compared to $11,600 for residents of non-Muslim countries. In nations like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen, most residents live on $2 a day or less.
About 35 percent of the OIC’s residents, age 15 and above, cannot read or write. Conversely, the illiteracy rate for similarly-aged residents of non-Muslim countries is only 13 percent. In two of the group’s largest countries, Bangladesh and Pakistan, more than half of the combined population is illiterate. And one-third of men and half of all women in the 21 Arab states and Palestine are illiterate as well.
Genocide has been raging in Sudan’s Darfur region for several years, with 200,000 killed and 2.5 million displaced. Other OIC nations will not intervene. Its leaders seem to prefer honoring a provision in the organization’s charter requiring each member to “not interfere in the internal affairs of member states” above protecting innocent life.
Two-thirds of the world’s 42 foreign terrorist organizations, according to the U.S. State Department, have gestated and operate from areas governed by OIC members. While the primary aim of most of them is to destroy Israel and greatly diminish U.S. regional and global influence, the vast majority of their victims have been innocent Muslims. Radical Islamists use a dangerous mix of politics and religion to target for recruitment the abused, misinformed, impoverished, under-educated, and others to become participants in various jihad movements.
Islamic terrorists affiliated with the likes of al Qaeda (Sunni) and Hezbollah (Shiite) disguise themselves as civilians, hide in civilian populations, use civilians as shields, indiscriminately slaughter civilians, and torture and kill captives. Their actions clearly violate the laws and customs of war specified in Geneva conventions and soil the Islamic religion. If left unchecked, these non-state actors threaten the very foundation of the nation-state system. Respectable Muslims are appalled at their conduct. The OIC shouldn’t brand non-Muslims as Islamophobes for simply expressing their outrage and concern at, and for taking reasonable action against, this barbarity. Its specious claim of a worldwide Islamophobic scare is only an attempt to mask its greater failing to help its Muslim citizens.
After 38 years of failure, it’s doubtful that the current OIC majority will deliver all Muslims a better future as stated in its charter. Authoritarian rulers are unwilling to loosen their grip on power. Radical Islamic extremists, whose activists and sympathizers represent up to 20 percent of the Muslim population by some accounts, offer a trip back to the seventhth century under sharia law as a cure to current maladies — which law, among other things, treats women unequally and represents a major human-rights violation.
Freedom-seeking Muslims must take control of their governments and ensure much-needed changes to political, economic, and educational institutions occur. And if they do, free countries should be willing to help. When freedom flourishes, war abates and people prosper.
Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation, is showing the way forward. This former Dutch colony recently transformed into a true democracy. Hopefully, others will soon follow. Such a development can’t come soon enough for most residents of OIC countries.
– Fred Gedrich is a foreign policy and national security analyst. He formerly served in the U.S. Departments of State and Defense and has traveled extensively throughout the Muslim World.