The Organization of the Islamic Conference, the international organization of Muslim nations-states, has long been regarded as a bit of a joke in Muslim affairs...
The Organization of the Islamic Conference, the international organization of Muslim nations-states, has long been regarded as a bit of a joke in Muslim affairs, despite proudly proclaiming itself to be the world’s second largest international organization after the UN. Consisting as it does of the leaders of Muslim countries, most of them beholden to the West to greater or lesser degrees, it has long been utterly unable to take any firm position, and certainly no positive action, on any key issue concerning the Ummah. From Bosnia to Kosova to Palestine to Kashmir, its record is one of few or no meaningful words, and absolutely no action.
Following the OIC’s summit meeting in Istanbul from June 14-16, there are signs that that may be about to change. There have long been calls for changes to the organization’s institutions and structure, and the elections of Ekmaledin Ihsanoglu as the OIC’s new chairman, in place of Abdelwahed Belkeziz from Morocco, has been hailed as a major step forward. Ihsanoglu was elected in an open vote, beating candidates from Malaysia and Bangladesh to the post. In the past, the position has always been filled by ‘consensus’among the member states, which has usually meant a carve-up between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the organization’s two dominant members. The elections of Ihsanoglu, seen as a reformer who will modernizae the organization’s administration, is thus regarded as a major advance.
However, there is a much more meaningful significance to Ihsanoglu’s election: it may mean a significant change in the organization’s approach and work, particularly in terms of promoting a particular apolitical and west-friendly understanding of Islam. When he arrived in Turkey a couple of weeks after the OIC summit, to attend the NATO summit, also in Istanbul, US president George W. Bush praised Turkey as a model for an Islamic democracy, making no reference of course to its suppression of all meaningful Islamic political activities and its persecution of Muslims who choose to wear either hijab or beards. In this, Bush was echoing the position given to Turkey by the western orientalists and policy intellectuals charged with promoting a form of Islam that would be willing to accept Western hegemony (see book review-May 2004: Outlining proposals for how the US can distort Islam for its own interests).
At a time when the West is pushing both for democratic reforms in the Middle East, and for the promotion of a West-friendly Islam, the appointment of an academic who is both Turkish and an expert in Islamic history, art and culture – precisely the aspects of Islam that the West does not mind –it may well prove that the member-states of the OIC are positioning the organization to play a more significant (and damaging) role in Muslim affairs in the future.