A demand for ‘respect’

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The secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) recently delivered a little-reported speech at the United States Institute of Peace. In it he demanded that the United States give the Muslim world “respect.” But precisely what does he mean by that?

The OIC comprises 57 states with Muslim majorities, and is expected to expand to 60 states. It is the second-largest nongovernmental organization, surpassed only by the United Nations. It is without exception the most powerful Muslim organization in the world, often voting as a bloc on international issues.

In his claim to power, Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Insanoglu enjoys expansive authority to speak on behalf of the OIC, conferred to him by the OIC charter. He boasts of speaking as the voice of the Muslim world, representing 1.5 billion Muslims. “We have an edge on all Islamic movements, and enjoy respect from all of them” he noted.

Indeed, according to Mr. Insanoglu, the push for Shariah (Islamic) courts was a movement nobody paid much attention to originally. It was he who brought those pushing for this change into the fold, and now they are making great strides. Proud to credit himself with this accomplishment, Mr. Insanoglu boasted that Sheikh Sharif, the former head of the Shariah courts movement, is now president of Somalia and is supported by both the OIC and the United States.

In a mild-mannered voice, Mr. Insanoglu observed that we are moving toward a global world order. He believes a shift in power is inevitable within 10 years.

He asserted that the “root causes” of the conflict between the United States and the Muslim world are threefold. First, the Muslim world is disenchanted with America because of its support for Israel and because of Israel’s “apartheid” policies and the resulting “indignities” Palestinians must endure. Second, when the United States withdrew from Afghanistan after the Soviet Union left, Muslims felt abandoned. Third, Muslims opposed the war in Iraq, and are angry because of subsequent Iraqi deaths and the abuse of Abu Ghraib prisoners.

Clearly laying out the “preconditions” for good U.S.-Muslim relations, Mr. Insanoglu demanded that these three “problems” be addressed “properly.” Additionally, America must stop “infringing on the activities of the Muslim world” and change its mindset to stop perceiving Islam negatively. After all, the OIC can be a threat to the United States or a conciliatory force. The choice is in America’s hands.

Mr. Insanoglu insisted that America and the OIC have more “mutual interests” than not. To demonstrate this point, he noted OIC’s collaboration with the United States to combat malaria in Africa, and its interest in alleviating poverty and homelessness in indigenous lands.

Mr. Insanoglu is optimistic about improving OIC-U.S. relations. It was step in the right direction when President Bush proclaimed his respect for the Muslim faith and apologized for any bias against Muslims. It further helped that he appointed an envoy to the Muslim world. After all, the OIC welcomes any envoy - so long as he is Muslim - and has the ear of the president.

Now that President Obama sits in office, the OIC is especially hopeful. “The Cairo speech was historical, and addressed the Muslim world for the first time in a positive way.” Mr. Insanoglu applauded Mr. Obama’s good intentions. He hopes the intentions transform into policies, which will then lead to programs, making “the president’s and the Muslim world’s dream a reality.” He looks forward to a new partnership with America and believes Mr. Obama’s Cairo speech echoed the same sentiment.

A specific dream that Mr. Insanoglu says he shares with the president is that of a nuclear-free world. He emphasized that there should be “only one yardstick” in coping with problem countries that refuse to rid themselves of nuclear weapons.

Israel should not be allowed to have nuclear weapons, while other countries are requested to forgo theirs. If Iran has nuclear weapons, it should be honest about it.

But, Mr. Insanoglu was quick to add that “we shouldn’t repeat the same type of mistake that we made with Iraq,” when reports of weapons of mass destruction turned out to be erroneous. We must act slowly and cautiously with regard to Iran. In fact, the head of Iran’s nuclear program is “a very intelligent, decent guy.” Mr. Insanoglu knows this because the program head was formerly the secretary’s assistant general of science and technology at the OIC for four years.

During the question-and-answer period, Mr. Insanoglu was challenged regarding the OIC’s track record and positions on human rights and free speech. He argued that the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights, which restricted human rights to conform with Shariah law (in effect negating these rights), was “a long time ago.” He suggested the audience review the OIC’s new charter and its 10-year plan.

I did just that. Though the language has changed, the goals are similar. The OIC’s documents indicate that it seeks increased power, Islamist supremacy, the denigration of Israel, restrictions on free speech, and the whitewashing of any connection of Islam to terrorism. The “joint efforts” are to boost the Muslim world only. There is no hint that the OIC intends to treat Christians and Jews who are persecuted by Muslims, as sudden equals.

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