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Malaysia Calls For Wider Islamic Cooperation
Seeks A Common Islamic Voice
Terror - Islam
Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Nov. 17 that the Organization of the Islamic Conference needs to undergo a paradigm shift to remain relevant. He said the OIC is currently "alienated" when it comes to international issues, even those in the Muslim world, according to the Malaysian news agency Bernama. The comments come amid a broader stirring within the OIC to find a common voice, particularly following the Sept. 11 attacks and U.S. bombing of Afghanistan.

Malaysia in particular has taken a lead in calling for more cooperation among Muslim nations, something that would give greater leverage to the entire Islamic world. Although cultural, geographical and religious differences will keep the OIC from ever becoming a truly unified bloc, Washington's anti-terror campaign and a shift in global perceptions may provide a common interest to help unify the organization.

Founded more than three decades ago, the OIC was envisioned as a forum to provide a common voice for Islamic nations and peoples around the world. Its charter calls for economic, social, cultural and scientific cooperation among members, the protection of Islamic holy places and the promotion of the rights of Palestinians. But in reality, the organization has done little to project a common political stance, thus rendering it largely ineffective in dealing with international issues.

The lack of coordination within the OIC was brought home to member-states following the Sept. 11 attacks. In seeking a global coalition against terrorism -- particularly Islamist terrorism -- Washington began intense negotiations with Islamic nations on an individual basis, exploiting each government's own particular interests and fears. The OIC, ostensibly the common voice of the Muslim world, was paid mere lip service.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad emphasized this point during a dinner with visiting Moroccan Prime Minister Abderrahmane El Youssoufi Nov. 13. Mahathir said the case of Afghanistan demonstrated the OIC's "failure to stand united and
speak with one voice," according to Bernama. Mahathir further cautioned, "Today it is Afghanistan, tomorrow it may be Iraq and after that it may be us."

Over the past year, Kuala Lumpur has urged greater integration among OIC nations. Malaysia's proposals include the formation of an Islamic currency, OIC representation in the World Trade Organization and the development of an international Islamic
banking network.

More recent recommendations have included an integrated media network to counter "insidious propaganda" about Muslims and promotion of intra-OIC tourism as a means to counter the negative post-Sept. 11 effects on the travel industry.

Malaysia is not alone is urging OIC members to rally together. Indonesian Muslim leaders have criticized the "fragmented stance" of OIC nations regarding Afghanistan, claiming this was undermining efforts to bring about a peaceful solution, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.

In Saudi Arabia a Nov. 17 editorial in the daily Arab News suggested that a Muslim peacekeeping force for Afghanistan would "show the Islamic world acting responsibly and dealing with an 'internal' problem, precisely what Europe so lamentably failed to do in the cases of Bosnia and Kosovo until the U.S. took the lead."

The head of Iran's Organization of Culture and Islamic Communication, Hojjatoleslam Mohammadi Araqi, also urged all Muslims to unite in dealing with issues in the Muslim world, according to the Tehran Times. Araqi particularly accused Western media of representing the terrorist attacks as "Islamic" and called it "black" propaganda against Muslims.

It is this external perception of Islam and the Muslim world, more than the urgings of Malaysia, Saudi Arabia or Iran, that is driving the consolidation of Muslim nations. Despite protestations to the contrary, there is a general perception among non-Muslim nations, however veiled or misguided, that all Muslims are the same.

This is exemplified in a recent change in U.S. visa procedures, which now include a 20-day delay on processing first-time applications for males from any Islamic nation, whether or not that country is suspected of harboring or aiding Islamic militants.

As much as Washington or other governments deny it, the global war on terrorism places all Muslim nations and citizens on the suspect list while other U.S.-labeled state sponsors of terrorism such as North Korea are passed by. To a large extent, such racial profiling on a global scale is a viable tactic in the battle against al Qaeda, which draws its membership based on a militant interpretation of Islam. However, it still rubs many Muslim nations and their governments the wrong way.

Given this shift in global perception and actions toward Islamic nations, the OIC may have found a common issue that could breathe life into the organization. Mahathir's recent warnings that the U.S. hit list may move away from traditional targets like fghanistan and Iraq and more toward moderate Muslim nations like Malaysia, or even Morocco, carries more weight in the post-Sept. 11 world.

The OIC continues to face the same longstanding challenges to unity that it always has: a broad geographic spread, diverse cultural norms and different ideologies and interpretations of Islam. Yet as the rest of the world appears to be overlooking
these differences and treating all Muslim nations and citizens as potential suspects, these dividing lines take on less significance.

As Washington's hunt for al Qaeda and international terrorists moves from Afghanistan to a more global set of targets, OIC members may well be more inclined to come together to present a more unified stance on Muslim and international issues. -

Source: Strategic Forecasting

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