Founded in 1969, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is an amalgam of fifty-seven Islamic countries that seeks to represent the “collective voice of the Muslim world” and “safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world.” Despite its ambitious purpose, however, the OIC has done very little to further its founding principles, raising many serious questions about its standing and value in the world.
Since the OIC’s establishment, the Muslim world has been gripped by endless violence. From Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Iraq to Palestine, Syria, and Yemen, Muslim nations have been torn apart by violence and conflict, while the OIC has stood idly by, as a passive spectator. On top of this inaction, there are indications Saudi Arabia, where the OIC is headquartered, has exerted pressure on the organization to suit its own political interests. In March 2015, for example, then-Secretary General of the OIC, Iyad Ameen Madani, vociferously supported the start of Saudi Arabia’s disastrous military campaign in Yemen. More recently, in June 2017, the OIC condemned Qatar for “supporting terrorism,” without any mention of the blockade against Qatar, led by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.
Although the OIC was established in part to “galvanize the Ummah (Muslim Community) into a unified body,” it has done the opposite by favoring some countries over others. The OIC has also failed to deliver on its numerous promises to achieve peace in Palestine, establish food security, support science and technology, defend human rights, and promote women’s empowerment. In effect, for much of its existence, the OIC has occupied a strictly ceremonial role, achieving no practical results.
Palestine and Conflict Resolution in the Muslim World
The issue of Palestine is considered to be a “priority” for the OIC. Indeed, the organization was founded in response to an arson attack on the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on September 25, 1969. As the OIC’s former Secretary General, Ikmeleddin Ihsanoglu, explicitly stated, the organization “was primarily formed to defend Palestine and Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Yet, the OIC has hardly done anything to ameliorate the suffering of Palestinians, other than provide lip service to their cause.
Even though Israel continues to aggressively institute demographic changes in and around occupied East Jerusalem, often by evicting and bulldozing the homes of thousands of native Palestinian residents, the OIC has done virtually nothing to either help end this practice, or provide restitution for victims. As Israel continues to announce settlement expansion plans in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, the OIC has only expressed disapproval. And while the organization has repeatedly adopted resolutions calling for a boycott to pressure Israel into acting in accordance with international law, its member states have often defaulted on these agreements, and some even remain close allies of Israel.
The OIC’s lackluster performance on the Palestinian question has been repeated in the context of other conflicts, including in Kashmir, Syria, Libya, and even Myanmar. It seems, then, that the OIC has resigned itself to expressing empty rhetoric and making meaningless resolutions while Muslims around the world continue to be butchered, ethnically cleansed, and displaced.
Science and Technology
Beyond its political failures, the OIC has also failed to make any substantial contributions in the fields of science and technology. In January 1981, the OIC established a permanent standing committee for Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) with the aim of sharing and improving scientific and technological advancements among its member states. Thirty-seven years down the line, however, the OIC’s scientific record is almost completely nonexistent. None of the fifty-seven countries that constitute the OIC have been able to establish a world-class university, let alone any advanced scientific institutes.
Scientists and researchers arguably form the backbone of any nation’s development. It is their contributions that lead to inventions, discoveries, and great innovations across a range of subjects. The United States, for example, has benefitted immensely from scientific achievements in the country. In an effort to achieve global prominence, China has also radically invested in scientific and technological research. No similar policies have been implemented by the OIC or its member states. Indeed, these countries seem completely indifferent to the pressing need for the kind of scientific and technological advancements the organization purports to care about and support.
To put things in perspective, all OIC member states combined produce a total of 500 PhDs annually, while the United States alone produces more than 50,000 PhDs every year. This problem is compounded by the fact that general literacy rates among OIC member states are disappointingly low. According to a December 2016 Pew report, Muslims around the globe have a meagre five and a half years of schooling on average. Strikingly, 36% of Muslims have no formal schooling (compared to just 1% of Jews), and only 8% of Muslims go on to receive a higher education (compared to 61% of Jews). Such dismal figures are a telling example of how little the OIC has achieved and how much more it needs to do before it realizes the dream of achieving anything substantial in the field of science and technology.
In 2003, Pakistan tried to draft a proposal to establish a multi-billion-dollar fund for improving and sharing scientific technology among OIC member states, but the Gulf Cooperation Council snubbed the effort, which never saw the light of the day. The OIC has generally been so languid on the issue of science and technology it took an astonishing thirty-six years to organize the first summit on the topic, which was held in September 2017 in Kazakhstan.
When it comes to human rights, Article 1 of the OIC charter urges member states to promote “democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms,” while Article 15 promises an “Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission” (IPHRC) to uphold and defend human rights in OIC countries. According to a recent report by Amnesty International, however, between 2015 and 2016, five of the ten countries with the worst human rights records were OIC member states. In the absence of strong institutions upholding human rights, many OIC countries have used abhorrent measures against their own populations.
From arbitrary detention to capital punishment, there are widespread and unaddressed human rights problems in many OIC states. Religious minorities and women, for example, face appalling levels of discrimination. Domestic violence against women is rife; according to a United Nations report, nearly 5,000 women are killed every year as a result of intimate violence; many of these women live in OIC member states. Weak or nonexistent domestic violence laws provide insufficient protection for victims. Laws that allow blood money to be paid to the family of a murder victim are common in OIC countries. These laws are commonly used in cases of so-called honor killings, allowing men to escape punishment for violence committed against women, including members of their own families.
Rehabilitating the OIC
Among the OIC’s most recent and notable acts was the December 2017 move, led by member states Turkey and Yemen, to draft a UN resolution rejecting Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Although the draft was supported by a vast majority of UN member states on December 22, 2017, it was little more than a symbolic gesture.
Beyond such empty actions, the OIC unfortunately consistently fails to achieve any concrete results. It is no surprise, then, that many Muslims around the world have serious concerns about the OIC’s irrelevance. If the OIC is to rescue its reputation, it cannot simply convene meetings to draft humdrum resolutions that do not benefit the Muslim world in any serious way. Rather, the organization must begin to support more concrete measures that positively change the lives of Muslims, whether in Palestine or elsewhere. Only then can the OIC vindicate itself as a major global player and genuine representative of the global Muslim community.