New Name, Same Old Focus for Islamic Bloc

By Patrick Goodenough | June 30, 2011 | 4:36 AM EDT

OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, left, and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev display a flag showing the new logo of the renamed Organization of Islamic Cooperation. (Photo: OIC)

(CNSNews.com) – The bloc of mostly Muslim-majority states has a new name and logo but, despite the momentous upheavals across the Arab world, “Palestine” and religious “defamation” continue to top its agenda.

Meeting in Kazakhstan this week, foreign ministers of the 42 year-old Organization of the Islamic Conference endorsed a decision to change its name to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Also being dropped is the OIC logo featuring a red crescent and the words “Allahu Akhbar” (Allah is greater) in Arabic. In its place is a green crescent, a globe, and a representation of the Ka’aba – the cube-shaped structure in Mecca which Islam says was built by Abraham and Muslims revere as their religion’s most sacred site.

The OIC called the move “a drastic positive change in the performance of the organization to uplift its effectiveness as an international system dealing with political, economic, cultural and social development issues.”

The summit host, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, described the OIC as “the U.N. of the Islamic world.”

Despite the rebranding, however, OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu’s speech to the gathering made it clear that the key focus remains unchanged for an organization established in 1969 with “liberating” Jerusalem as its primary goal.

Leading the list of situations around the Islamic world addressed in the speech was the Palestinian issue. Ihsanoglu condemned Israeli policies and appealed for all countries to support an initiative at the U.N. in September to secure recognition of a Palestinian state “on the borders of 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

The OIC head had more to say on the Palestinian question than he did on any other country situation – the civil wars in Libya and Yemen, political turmoil in Syria and Bahrain, the imminent division of Sudan, the conflict in Afghanistan, or calls for reform from Morocco to Jordan. Iran received not a single mention.

Also receiving much attention at the meeting in Astana was the issue that has dominated OIC activism at the U.N. in recent years – “Islamophobia” and the associated campaign to outlaw religious “defamation.”

Ihsanoglu in his speech reaffirmed that it was “a matter of extreme priority for the OIC.”

“Islamophobia represents a contemporary manifestation of racism and the phenomenon must be addressed in that context,” he added, alluding to the OIC’s drive to amend an existing, binding anti-racism treaty, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, so that it also covers religion.

Should the campaign succeed, the amended convention would place legal restrictions on “matters regarded by followers of any religion or belief as sacred.”

The OIC's new logo features a green crescent, a globe, and a representation of the Ka’aba – the cube-shaped structure in Mecca which Muslims revere as Islam’s most sacred site. (Image: OIC)

Critics say this would silence legitimate criticism of Islamic teachings and authorities, further endanger non-Muslim minorities, and amount to enforcing blasphemy laws similar to those in place in OIC member state like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

During the meeting in Kazakhstan, an OIC body called the “Islamophobia Observatory” released its fourth annual report, stating that the 12-month period ending in April had seen an increase in the frequency and intensity of “Islamophobic events, acts and utterances.”

It cited in particular the burning of a Qur’an at the small Florida church headed by Terry Jones, Rep. Peter King’s congressional hearings on Islamic radicalism, and what it called the role of the Tea Party movement in “fanning Islamophobia.”

The report also highlighted some “positive” developments, including the British government’s decision to bar Jones from visiting the U.K.; the fining of an Austrian woman for public comments critical of Islam; a decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to reject a trademark application by the group Stop Islamization of America; and a resolution passed by the Los Angeles City Council last December supporting “any legislation that would oppose Islamophobia and random acts of violence against Muslims.”

Consensus resolution hailed

Also noted in the Islamophobia Observatory’s report was the OIC’s success in getting the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) to pass a resolution last March, by consensus, on “combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization” based on religion.

The resolution was approved by consensus because the OIC agreed to some language changes. These included, for the first time in a decade, dropping the controversial “defamation” term that had seen the annual U.N. resolution steadily lose support in recent years, as the divisive issue pitted the OIC and its allies against mostly Western democracies.

The report said the consensus resolution marked “a major step forward in dealing with Islamophobia and the whole package of interrelated issues.” The important thing was to see whether the OIC’s vital concerns were addressed and monitored by the HRC –  “regardless of the title or content of one or the other resolution.”

OIC members have stressed that the consensus resolution passed in March does not mean the “religious defamation” is dead, that the “defamation” texts passed at the U.N. in earlier years remain valid.

Still, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described its passage as a “landmark achievement” and Obama administration officials have cited it, together with other recent actions at the HRC, to support the argument that its decision to join the council was correct.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow