The Organization of the Islamic Conference: Taking Stock
By Mohammad A. Auwal
The foreign ministers of 56 countries comprising the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) are meeting in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, from June 28 to July 2. According to a recent statement from the organization, the ministers will discuss issues meant to reinforce cohesion and cooperation among member states. This being the case, it is time to take stock: What has the OIC accomplished over the past 30 years? What has it done for the people of the Muslim world? How can it deliver on its promises in the near future?
The OIC was established on September 25, 1969 in Rabat, Morocco at the first meeting of the heads of state/government of the Muslim world. The following year, the foreign ministers of OIC member countries met in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and institutionalized the new body by establishing its Secretariat with headquarters in Jeddah.
Pledging to promote solidarity amongst Muslims, the OIC has since met with both success and failure. Commendable initiatives taken by the Conference include the International Islamic News Agency, the Islamic Development Bank, the Islamic Solidarity Fund and the World Center for Islamic Education. However the full promise of the benefits of such initiatives is yet to be realized, and in many ways the OIC continues to work as a conference and not as a body capable of optimal execution of its plans. And it is this issue of effectiveness that will pose the greatest challenge for the OIC in the coming century.
If criticisms can be leveled against the OIC, they center on the current status of its initiatives as being "paper tigers." The International Islamic News Agency, for example, has yet to see the light of the day even as Muslim communities worldwide continue to depend on the Western media, which generously stereotype Islam and Muslims. Additionally, the existence of the Islamic Development Bank has yet to be fully felt in the Muslim countries and communities that direly need development financing. As a result, many Muslim countries continue their dependence on Western aid agencies and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which often leads to the perpetuation of economic exploitation and cultural corruption that are often concomitants of Western foreign aid.
The other daunting challenge facing the OIC is the issue of unity. While a sense of solidarity can be created via the establishment of various institutions, true unity requires more than activity; it requires a change of mindset.
The hooks for such unity already exist as the OIC ideally crosses cultural, ethnic and national divides. But barriers to unity are still very real as competition amongst nations continues to overshadow the best interests of Muslims as a whole. To rectify this, the OIC might take notice of the rapid progress towards regional unification that has been so prevalent in the late 20th century. There is no reason that the OIC cannot help to establish alliances and cooperative organizations just as functional -- if not more -- as the European Union or ASEAN.
The lesson is very old. Most children are taught at the elementary school level that strength lies in unity. And without cooperation on issues of economy, human rights, self-defense and political determination, isolated Muslims nations will continue to be putty in the hands of the more organized and influential world powers.
Indeed the OIC has much to tackle in the next millenium.
Mohammad A. Auwal is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Los Angeles and is a regular columnist for iviews.com