At Islamic Mini-Summit, Leaders Slam US and Security Council, Silent on Uighurs

By Patrick Goodenough | December 20, 2019 | 4:32am EST
Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iran's Hassan Rouhani and Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad at the summit on Thursday. (Photo: Presidency of Turkey)
Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iran's Hassan Rouhani and Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad at the summit on Thursday. (Photo: Presidency of Turkey)

( – The U.N. Security Council, dominated by five permanent members, is “way past its expiration date,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday, noting that the council does not represent 1.7 billion Muslims.

“The world is greater than five,” he said, in reference to the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

Meanwhile Erdogan’s Iranian counterpart, President Hassan Rouhani, lashed out at U.S. sanctions, and said the Islamic world needs to be “designing measures to save it from the domination of U.S. dollar and the American financial regime.”

“The interconnectedness of international economic, commercial and financial systems with the American economic regime and dollarization of national and global economies have provided the U.S. with the possibility of advancing its hegemony under the threat of sanctions and economic terrorism and impose its illegitimate demands on the other nations,” he declared.

The two leaders were speaking at a summit in Kuala Lumpur, also attended by Qatar’s emir Tamim Bin Hamad. Hosted by Malaysia’s 94-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the gathering was intended to address a situation of “crisis” in the Islamic world.

Mahathir, an acerbic critic of Israel and the West, invited all 57 members of the bloc of Muslim-majority nations, the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation, but only 20 countries sent delegates, with only Turkey, Iran and Qatar represented by heads of government.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had also been scheduled to attend, but after a recent visit to Saudi Arabia he canceled. The Saudi government is hostile to both Iran and Qatar, and Erdogan has sided with Qatar and Iran in the disputes, so Khan’s abrupt change of plan after talks with the Saudis did not come as a surprise.

The 50-year-old OIC, often criticized as an ineffective talking shop, did not take kindly to the hosting of a summit of Muslim leaders not under its banner.

“Any weakening of the OIC platform is a weakening of Islam and Muslims,” OIC secretary-general Yousef al-Othaimeen said in a television interview Wednesday. “It is not in the interest of an Islamic nation to hold summits and meetings outside the framework of the [OIC], especially at this time when the world is witnessing multiple conflicts.”

One of the conflicts that did not feature at Thursday’s summit was China’s treatment of its minority Uighur Muslims, more than one million of whom are reported to be held in reeducation camps in Xinjiang province.

The OIC has repeatedly come under fire for its silence on the Xinjiang crisis – a stance attributed to concerns about riling China – but if Uighurs or their supporters hoped for more from the Kuala Lumpur summit they would have been disappointed.

Ironically, both Erdogan and Mahathir have been critical of the OIC’s failure to act to protect Muslims under threat.

But in their speeches, none of the leaders mentioned the Uighurs or Xinjiang.

Rouhani mentioned crises in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Afghanistan and the Palestinian areas, together with “military, political, and economic threats by the United States against some Muslim countries.”

Erdogan said that the more the world’s leading powers “try to silence us, the stronger we talk about Palestine, Gaza, Arakan [the Rohingya Muslims in Burma], Libya, Somalia and Syria.”

The Qatari emir’s sole reference to a particular issue dealt with the Palestinians, and Mahathir’s speech mentioned no country situation by name.

Even when the question of the Uighur was raised by a member of the audience, the matter remained unaddressed.

During a panel discussion, a Turkish questioner asked those on the platform – Erdogan, Rouhani and Mahathir – to speak about “the tragedy suffered by the Uighurs” and proposed solutions for their plight.  Mahathir answered an earlier part of the man’s question but ignored the Uighur issue. Rouhani made comments moments later but did not touch on the Uighur issue. Erdogan did not speak.

“While Malaysia has been vocal, and rightfully so, about the targeted persecution of the Rohingya, it remains silent on the attacks on the Uighurs,” a Malaysian lawmaker Charles Santiago wrote in an op-ed earlier this week.

If the summit “is serious about addressing Muslim issues, it must discuss the persecution of the Uighurs,” he said.

In an interview in New York last September, Mahathir said Muslim countries do not speak out about the Uighurs “because China is a very powerful nation. You don’t just try and do something which would fail anyway, so it is better to find some other less violent ways not to antagonize China too much, because China is beneficial for us.”

The theme of this week’s summit was “The Role of Development in Achieving National Sovereignty,” and “Islamophobia” featured prominently on the agenda.

“We feel that we need to overcome Islamophobia,” Mahathir said in remarks at an opening dinner. “We need to find a way to address our shortcomings, our dependency on non-Muslims to protect ourselves against the enemies of Islam.”

See also:

After Leaked Documents Shed Light on China’s Abuses in Xinjiang, Islamic Bloc Remains Silent (Nov. 26, 2019)

Religious Freedom Envoy Dismayed Islamic Countries Won’t Condemn China’s Abuse of Uighur Muslims (Sept. 24, 2019)

Islamic Bloc Challenged Over its Silence on Uighurs: ‘If They Truly Care About Muslims …’ (Jul. 3, 2019)


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