Islamic Bloc Criticizes Iranian Terrorism, But Reaffirms Stance That Fight Against ‘Foreign Occupation’ Isn't Terrorism

Patrick Goodenough | April 18, 2016 | 4:27am EDT
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Saudi King Salman and other Gulf rulers join host leader Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the center of the photo-op lineup at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit in Istanbul on April 14-15. Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, not visible in this photo, stood off to the right. (Photo: OIC)

( – A summit of Islamic countries made headlines for its criticism of Iran for supporting terror, but little attention was paid to the gathering’s indirect reaffirmation of a controversial stance that the fight against “foreign occupation” does not constitute terrorism.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s two-day summit in Istanbul ended Friday with a declaration, which among other things “deplored Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of the states of the region … and its continued support for terrorism.”

It also took Iran to task for “inflammatory statements” in response to Saudi judicial decisions – a reference to Iranian anger over the kingdom’s execution last January of a prominent minority Shi’ite cleric – and condemned the ransacking of two Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran that followed.

The OIC declaration further condemned Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, “for conducting terrorist activities in Syria, Bahrain, Kuwait and Yemen.”

The 57-member OIC’s criticisms of Iran were the latest manifestation of a Saudi-led campaign to isolate its Shi’ite rival, amid concerns among Arab Gulf states that the nuclear deal and sanctions relief will lead to a stronger and more destabilizing Iranian presence in the region.

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani tried unsuccessfully to dissuade the leaders from approving the critical paragraphs. Noting the summit’s “unity” theme, he said that “no message that increases division between Muslims should be put out.”

President Obama is due to arrive in Riyadh on Wednesday for meetings with King Salman and other officials, at a time of simmering unhappiness over the administration’s perceived tilt towards Iran at the kingdom’s expense.

Despite the OIC’s criticism of Iran and Hezbollah for supporting or conducting “terrorism,” and its end-of-summit declaration stating that “the fight against terrorism is a major priority for all member states,” the bloc still holds out for an exception to be made in cases where people are fighting against foreign occupation.

That exception has for years been cited as supposed justification for acts of violence against Israelis, against Indian troops in disputed Kashmir, and against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Istanbul declaration does not directly refer to an exemption to fighting occupation, but instead refers to earlier OIC documents that do.

For instance, it invoked a resolution on terrorism adopted by OIC foreign ministers in Kuwait last May, and a final communique adopted by the OIC at a special meeting on terrorism in Jeddah three months earlier.

In the Kuwait resolution, the OIC reaffirmed “its strong position against any attempts to confuse just and legitimate struggle for self-determination and liberation from foreign occupation with terrorism.”

The communique adopted at the meeting in Jeddah in turn invokes the OIC’s 1998 convention on combating international terrorism, which states that “armed struggle against foreign occupation … shall not be considered a terrorist crime.”

The OIC’s insistence on a foreign occupation exception has been a major factor in the U.N.’s failure, over almost two decades, to agree upon a common definition of terrorism.

The effort began when India proposed an international terrorism convention back in 1996. Over the ensuing years, a U.N. “ad-hoc” committee met almost every spring to discuss the proposal, but has been stymied ever since by several deal-breaking issues, including the OIC occupation exception stance.

An official account of one of the committee’s last sessions, in the spring of 2013, highlighted the issue: “[T]he need for a clear definition of terrorism, which distinguished terrorism from the legitimate struggle in the exercise of their right to self-determination of peoples under colonial, alien domination or foreign occupation was reaffirmed.”

The ad-hoc committee has not met since 2013, and a definition of terrorism continues to elude the U.N.

The OIC has reaffirmed its stance at regular intervals over the years.

One resolution, adopted in Yemen in 2005, condemned “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, while recognizing the importance of distinguishing between it and legitimate resistance to occupation.”

Another, agreed upon at a summit in Islamabad in 2007, stated that, “the struggle of peoples plying under the yoke of foreign occupation and colonialism, to accede to national freedom and establish their right to self-determination, does not in any way constitute an act of terrorism.”

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