On December 22, the 57-member Islamic bloc, Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), expressed its concern about the recent developments affecting the largest minority groups in India owing to the recent amended Citizenship Law, the government’s bid to roll out a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the November 9 Supreme Court verdict on the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. The OIC urged India to uphold obligations under the international law for non-discrimination against minorities.
The OIC’s outburst against India spells a fresh chill with the Islamic bloc amid a thawing of ties on March 1, 2019.
On March 1, the late Sushma Swaraj became the first Indian external affairs minister to address the inaugural plenary of the annual meeting of the OIC’s foreign ministers in Dubai following an invite from the United Arab Nations, the host nation. A miffed Pakistan boycotted the 46th ministerial meeting, resenting India’s presence as it had “no legal or moral grounds” to participate in the event.
The OIC has been selective in taking up the Islamic cause as overriding commercial concerns often trump religious affinity. Here’s why.
Calling Out OIC’s Hypocrisy
Founded in 1969, the OIC has 57 members, including Palestine, and is often dubbed as the collective voice of the Muslim world and the second largest inter-governmental organisation after the United Nations that is spread over four continents.
'Of late, the OIC has pulled in different directions to suit individual member nation’s geostrategic and commercial interests.
For instance, in 2019, OIC members such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh, maintained radio silence over China’s repression of minority Uighurs in the far-western Xinjiang region.
The OIC statement on the Uighurs’ plight was an echo of its 2015 communiqué, in which the member group of Muslim nations said it was “concerned” about whether they would be able to celebrate Ramadan. But their concern didn’t go beyond lip service, largely because Beijing managed to win over these Islamic countries with the lure of Chinese investments.
Saudi Arabia, the seat of the OIC as the Islamic bloc is headquartered in the Red Sea port city Jeddah, prostrated before Chinese President Xi Jinping -- seen as the chief architect of the minority Uighur’s brutal repression - in February ahead of signing a raft of major commercial contracts.
The recession-stricken Egypt, which is keen on Chinese funds for its infrastructure revamp, allowed Chinese police to come and interrogate Uighur exiles on its soil in 2017.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, too, has jettisoned the Uighur cause and refrained from signing the 22 states’ letter condemning the Chinese repression in Xinjiang. Why did Erdogan do a U-turn? Well, Erdogan desperately need to court
China as an economic ally amid Ankara’s desperate bid to counter the West’s diplomatic pressure on Turkey’s aggression against Syria.
OIC members have often suffered from selective amnesia since August 2017, when over 7,30,000 Rohingya refugees started fleeing the Buddhist-majority Myanmar due to a brutal military crackdown in western Rakhine state.
The OIC member states have done precious little to further the Rohingya cause. Though The Gambia, an OIC member, moved the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the case is still hanging fire.
Similarly, the Muslim world has largely ignored the war and hostilities in Yemen since the Saudi-led invasion in 2015 and the Syrian civil war that broke out about a decade ago.
Who can forget the image of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian refugee, whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach, face down in the waves as the toddler sought to find a safe passage to Europe after the rich Arab states turned their backs on hapless Syrian refugees.
Or, consider these staggering figures: Over 100,000 people - mostly civilians - have been killed in the Yemen conflict that the United Nations (UN) maintains as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Around 18 million Yemenis are said to be living in hunger, and at least 12 million children are sucked into the war between Houthi rebels and Saudi-led forces.
Or rewind to 2017 when the Islamic Caliphate-crazed ISIS rounded up scores of Yazidi women and girls in northern Iraq as slaves amid a deafening silence from the OIC member states.
And, contemporary Islamic history is replete with violent references of sectarian strife in a throwback to the bloody medieval era.
Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, known as the ‘Butcher of Baghdad’, and his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, who went by his nom-de-plume "Chemical Ali" wrote the death warrant for over 5,000 ethnic minority Kurds (the exact figure is still unknown 30 years on), mostly women and children.
The Kurds were killed in a deadly chemical gas attack in the northern Iraqi town of Halabja, near the Iranian border, on March 16, 1988.
Hussein, born a Sunni, who wore his secular and socialist credentials with aplomb, treated the Shias brutally.
Similarly, neighbouring Pakistan is no country for minorities. The Hindus and the Christians – two religious groups who were never enthused about the 1947 partition and comprise less than 4 per cent of Pakistan’s population – are the most vulnerable because of sporadic attacks on their places of worship, rape and forced conversion.
But if the Hindus and the Christians are living in fear and present danger, minority Muslims in Shia-majority Pakistan are worse off amid the changing power dynamics in the theocratic state.
The Shias, who joined the Sunnis in supporting Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s decision in 1974 to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslims, are now a victim of the sectarian strife perpetrated by Sunni militia groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and Jundallah, an Al-Qaeda & ISIS affiliate, respectively.
Minority rights are also glossed over other parts of South Asia such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where the Buddhist majority, Sinhalese, have been repressing ethnic Tamils of all religious faith.
The Hindus, who account for around 10 per cent of Muslim-majority Bangladesh’s population, have been alleging persecution due to lack of equal rights and adequate representation in Parliament.
Bangladesh National Hindu Mahajote, an alliance of 24 Hindu organisations in Bangladesh, has been vying for Prime Minister Hasina Wajed’s attention amid the rise of Jamaat-e-Islami and other Islamic extremist groups, who have claimed responsibility for the murder of bloggers such as Dr Avijit Roy, Niloy Chakroborty and Ananta Bijoy Das in 2015.
Fear is the key for minorities in Muslim majority nations in South Asia and Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia, where the Wahabi brand of Islam seeks to violently exterminate any alternative religious thought or discourse.
Perhaps the OIC needs to do some soul-searching and fact-check its dismal minority rights record before giving sermon to India, which is committed to uphold its secular credentials as enshrined in the Constitution.
OIC, the pot, is grossly mistaken to construe India a black kettle.