Last month, President Obama announced the appointment of Rashad Hussain as ambassador to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. By video, Obama told attendees at something called the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, that Hussain was not just “an accomplished lawyer and trusted member of my White House staff,” but also a “hafiz” — a Muslim who has memorized the entire Koran.
That reminded me: George Shultz, when he served as secretary of state under President Reagan, would routinely bring new ambassadors into his office where he kept a large globe. “Show me the country you’ll be representing,” he would say. Most of the time, the diplomat would give the globe a spin, abruptly halting its motion to indicate Botswana, Bhutan, Brunei, or whatever country he’d be calling home for the next few years. Shultz would shake his head. “No,” he would say. “You’ll be representing the United States of America. Never forget that.”
The controversy over the appointment of Hussain, 31, has centered on comments he made regarding the trial of Sami al-Arian, a University of South Florida professor: He called it a “politically motivated persecution.” Al-Arian had been accused of aiding the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. He eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
Hussain has told reporters that he condemns terrorism “unequivocally in all its forms.” He said that he has written a great deal about terrorism and that that he’d gladly put those writings up against “one sentence from 2004 that I believe was taken out of context.”
So let’s put that controversy aside and consider what deserves at least equal scrutiny: the Organization of the Islamic Conference itself. The OIC is the most powerful global entity that most Americans have never heard of. It claims a “membership of 57 states spread over four continents,” making it the largest intergovernmental organization after the U.N. — where, in recent years, it has arguably become the most powerful player. Among the questions we should be asking: Does it make sense for the U.S. to have an ambassador to the OIC — or any coalition of governments based on religious solidarity? If it does, what message should that envoy convey?
A glance at the OIC’s website is revealing. In recent days, it has included a communiqué protesting Switzerland’s ban on minarets, another on what it calls “Israeli Aggressions,” a condemnation of the “reprint of the controversial drawing of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) by Swedish artist Lars Vilks . . . as reaction to an alleged plot to murder the cartoonist,” and quite a bit on “Islamophobia.”
There is not much on terrorism aside from a statement by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the OIC’s current secretary general, instructing that it “would be an unfortunate error in judgment in believing that Islam is linked to terror; that it is intolerant of other religious beliefs, that its values and practices are not democratic; that it favors oppression of freedom of expression and undermining human rights.”
It is perhaps relevant to note that the OIC has its headquarters in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia — a nation that grants few rights to women and no rights to non-Muslims, and egregiously discriminates against its Shi’a Muslim minority.
Ihsanoglu does not grapple with such facts. Rather, he asserts: “Islamophobia is a manifestation of racial discrimination.” Islam is a race?
He also has written a letter to President Obama in which he asserts that the OIC has been “in the forefront of the Muslim battle against terrorism.” He doesn’t back that up with any examples. Instead, he talks about what he sees as the “root causes of terrorism,” including “deprivation, poverty, despair and, most importantly, political injustice.”
One must wonder: What are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya, and other OIC members doing to eliminate these ills in Muslim-majority countries, let alone in such places as Africa? And exactly how would people in the West go about convincing those practicing or contemplating terrorism that we are doing our best to correct what they consider to be “political injustice”? And if one perceives “political injustice” in, say, Pakistan’s treatment of Christians or Iran’s oppression of the Baha’i, would that justify terrorism against the citizens of those countries?
The truth, of course, is that by linking terrorism to aspects of the human condition that have persisted for millennia and are unlikely to disappear anytime soon, the OIC secretary general is not battling terrorism — he is justifying it.
Another blatant example of doublethink can be found in the OIC’s 1990 “Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam,” which states: “Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Sharia.” Several Muslim majority nations are under Sharia, or Islamic law. Not one protects free speech — least of all for those who speak critically of Islam, the Koran, Mohammed, or the rulers of those Sharia nations.
“It’s clear that we’re not going to agree on every single issue,” Hussain has said. “Our job will be to try to maximize our areas of agreement and work through our areas of disagreement and come to the best policy.”
One might argue that Hussain’s job requires more. One might argue that he should be making a forceful case for such democratic values as freedom and human rights — including for women and non-Muslims. It would be encouraging to see him stand up to an organization clearly committed to increasing Muslim power and spreading Muslim rule at the expense of America and the West.
That Hussain has memorized the Koran is impressive. It remains to be seen whether he is equally familiar with the U.S. Constitution and is up to the task of defending the still-revolutionary ideas expressed in America’s foundational documents. As George Shultz might say: He’ll be representing the United States of America. He should never forget that.
– Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and Islamism.