Posted by: Administrator | 18 January, 2005

OIC – Challenge and Response – Enlightened Moderation

1 June 2004

Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri Sahib, Excellency Dr Abdul Aahid Bilq Aziz, Professor Muhammad Kamal Hasan representing the Chairman of the Islamic Summit Conference, Senator Mushahid Husain, distinguished guests from brotherly OIC countries, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

Assalam-o-Alaikum: I would like to begin by welcoming the OIC Secretary General, Dr Abdul Aahid Bilq Aziz, for joining us today. I also extend a very warm welcome to all the illustrious scholars and intellectuals from brotherly Muslim countries all around the world and to the distinguished group representing the intelligentsia of Pakistan . I think this is indeed a historic occasion. Pakistan feels genuinely proud to host this important seminar on a subject that is aimed at the ultimate emancipation of the Muslim ummah. It therefore gives me immense pleasure to address this august gathering and to share with you my perception of the enormous challenges confronting the world of Islam, and also my vision for its future. I firmly believe that the challenges of the new millennium demand a resolute response from the international community in which the ummah has a vital role to play, not only for promoting its own well-being but also for the good of the whole world.

 Ladies and gentlemen. The world is passing through a tumultuous period. Ever since the decade of the 90s dawned with turmoil, our travails have continued and there are no signs of their abatement. The suffering of the innocent multitudes, particularly of my brethrenin- faith, at the hands of militants, extremists and terrorists, is increasing by the day. The devastating power of plastic explosives, combined with high technology and remote controlled activation, superimposed by proliferation of suicide bombers, becomes a lethal combination beyond any effective counter.

The unfortunate reality is that both the perpetrators of these heinous crimes as well as those who are their victims happen to be Muslims. The ummah thus faces a formidable challenge. Since most of the world conflicts today involve Muslims, this fact has inevitably led non- Muslims to believe, though wrongfully, that Islam is a religion of intolerance, militancy and terrorism. The thesis is rapidly evolving around the globe connecting Islam to fundamentalism, fundamentalism to extremism, and extremism to terrorism. Such connectivity in the minds of ordinary citizens subscribing to other religions must cause great concern to all Muslims everywhere.

Many people in the West believe that Muslims are bent upon destroying their values, their cultures and their assets. The tragic events of 9/11 generated a sense of rage in the West where many now perceive the Islamic world as volatile and hostile, and where vested interests are at pains to project Islam as a religion that opposes modernism and instead professes terrorism and instead professes terrorism, intolerance and extremism. Even though the world knows that terrorism has no religion, and even though we argue and protest vigorously that Islam is not like that, we are not likely to win this formidable battle of minds. This further compounds our apathy and powerlessness, for we are probably the poorest, the most uneducated, and most disunited people in the world.

Ladies and gentlemen. In the completely transformed world of today, there is hardly and agreement about the future shape of the international scenario. The emerging political contours do not kindle any hope for enhancing international cooperation for peace and prosperity, for the rule of law and justice, for combating poverty and social0 evils, or for pursuing the path of moderation and mutual accommodation. The world seems to be heading towards dreadful quagmire that bodes no good for humanity. The stark reality that faces anyone with compassion for this common heritage of mankind, this world of ours, this mother earth, is the question: what legacy do we want to leave for our future generations?

In this state of affairs Muslims have their own grievous problem – the challenge particularly to drag ourselves out of the pit of despondency through individual exaltation and collective socio-economic emancipation. The new millennium has brought within new and daunting challenges for the world in general and for Muslims in particular. The most obvious of these, and the most acute, are political in nature. As I have just said, most of the political conflicts around the world involve Muslims, and in almost all of them the Muslims are living under foreign occupation, as in Kashmir and Palestine and Iraq .

This has given rise to the perception in the Muslims’ minds that they are being targeted by the West because of their faith. Th00e post-9/11 developments only reinforced these perceptions and convinced many in the Islamic world that the persecution of Muslims was going on under a deliberate plan. The common belief among Muslims is that Islam is being projected as a religion of barbarism and terrorism so that, under cover of this charge, its adherents can be subjugated and their rich natural resources appropriated. Naturally these beliefs have created a deep mistrust of the West in the Muslim world. So that reality of suspicion and mistrust is on both sides of the divide.

On top on that, and this is most unfortunate, the sole voice of the ummah, the OIC, has neither been able to register the touch on the international stage nor manifested and signs of rising to the new tasks facing Muslims. It appears as if has been paralyzed by the sheer enormity of the daunting problems emanating from the radical transformation of the bloke’s strategic political and economic scene. Despite it large membership, the organization has become almost irrelevant to the new dynamics of global politics. And the reason, if I0 may say so, is that it is not structured to face the challenges of the 21 st century.

My friends. The collective population of the OIC countries equals one-fifth of the world population. It is spread over three continents and is represented in the United Nations by a numerically strong group of 57 out of the total membership of 191. These 57 countries can boast only of an average literacy rate of less than 50 per cent. The human development indicators of the OIC members are among the lowest in the world, although possessing 70 per cent of the world’s energy resources and with a 40 per cent share in the global supply of raw materials.

As for the OIC’s share in global trade, it is a pitiful 6 per cent, while its collective GDP amounts to a meager 5 per cent of the world’s GDP. Sadly our individual economies too are weak and vulnerable in the face of the relentless onslaught of globalization.

What’s more, there is hardly any focus in the OIC countries on science and technology and on research and development. The doors of innovation and invention are closed. A majority of the Muslim countries stand marginalized in the process of globalization, while 22 of the world’s 49 least developed countries belong to the Islamic world. International institutions have of affairs!

Historically something has to be done, and done quickly, to stop the downward slide if we want to prevent ourselves from being sidelined in the future.

Ladies and gentlemen. My idea for untangling this Gordian knot is the strategy of enlightened moderation which I had earlier expounded at the OIC Summit and which I think involve a win-win situation for the whole of the world as well as for the Muslim countries. This is a two-pronged strategy. One prong is to be delivered by the Muslim world itself by shunning militancy and extremism and adopting the path of socioeconomic uplift to achieve its own emancipation. The other prong is meant to be delivered by thee West, and the United States in particular, to determinedly resolve with justice all political disputes in which Muslims are engaged and also assist in the socioeconomic betterment of the deprived Muslim world.

I would like to explain the logic behind this strategy of enlightened moderation and also elaborate on the methodology that must be followed by the Muslims to execute their prong. First of all we need to understand the root cause of militancy and extremism. I am convinced that the root cause lies in political injustice and in denial and deprivation. Political injustice can be both external and internal. It can be an imposition by outside forces or brought about by a country’s own national social order. For a national or a people, when political injustice combines with stark poverty and illiteracy, it makes an explosive mix that leads towards an acute sense of being left out with nothing but hopelessness and powerlessness staring them in the face. A people suffering from a mixture of these lethal ills are easily available as cannon fodder for the propagation of militancy and perpetration of terrorist acts. They can be indoctrinated with distorted religious beliefs because they are ignorant, or they can walk into the militant terrorist net under the sheer compulsion of deeding themselves. They see no other way out for improving their lot.

Ladies and gentlemen. I would be remiss if, in defence of the people of my faith, I did not trace back the genesis of Muslims getting labeled with the tag of extremists and terrorists. Before the Afghans started the anti-Soviet war, the Palestine dispute was the biggest cause of unrest and concern for the Muslim world and, in sympathy with the Palestinians, had led to a general unification of Muslims against Israel.

The Afghan was of the 80s, supported and facilitated by the West, as a proxy was against the Soviet Union , saw the emergence and nurturing of pan-Islamic militancy. For the first time Islam as a religion was used to harness mass worldwide Muslim support for the was. Subsequently, the atrocities and ethnic cleansing aimed at the Muslims of Bosnia, the Chechen uprising, the Kashmir freedom struggle and the invigorated Palestine intifada, all these erupted in the 90s after the Soviet disintegration. To make matters worse, all these political disputes involved Muslims.

 The militancy sparked in Afghanistan which needed to be defused after the end of the Cold War, was allowed to fester for the whole decade. The powers-that-be had left this area because of their greater concern and orientation with the Berlin Wall, and with the aftermath of the end of the Cold War and the east-west confrontation. The festering wound of Afghanistan , kept alive by fighters from the entire Muslim world during the period of upheaval in other Muslim areas, turned multi-directional, and those involved in it started looking for new conflict zones where Muslims were suffering. This probably was how Al Qaeda was born. All this while the intifada kept gathering momentum, angering and uniting the Muslims across the globe. So also the Kashmir dispute and the freedom struggle there acquired new urgency. Then came the bombshell of the 9/11 horror. You know the rest. The angry reaction of the United States against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, subsequent reactions and perceptions of the US, their domestic response against Muslims, their attitude towards Palestine, and the operation in Iraq, all these combined to lead to total polarization of the Muslim masses against them.

Why this needs to be recapitulated is just to prove that it is not Islam as a religion that preaches or gives rise to militancy and extremism among Muslims but the political disputes involving them that led to their antagonism towards the West. My friends. All this is history now, and what has been done cannot be undone. But the situation cannot be allowed to simmer at red heat point. For the sake of universal harmony, a remedy has to be found. In this atmosphere of mutual distrust theories like clash of Civilizations only add fuel to fire. Most humbly and very reverently, I refer to the Pope’s statement made while welcoming the new entrants to the European Union, and I quote: “The bloc could only face the challenges of the 21 st century if it defended its Christian roots. Europe ‘s identity would be incomprehensible without Christianity.”

Allow me to submit that such remarks don’t help to soothe inflamed tempers. The cry of the day, as I have stated earlier, is for the West to resolve our political disputes with justice, as part of its contribution and commitment to the strategy of enlightened moderation.

Ladies and gentlemen. I would now like to turn to the Muslim world to which I owe adherence as a very emotional Muslim. My heart bleeds for its travails. What we need today is serious self-introspection. Who are we? What do we as Muslims stand for? Where are we going, and where should we be headed? And how can we reach the point where we can find salvation? The answers to all these questions I see as the Muslim prong of the strategy of enlightened moderation. We have had a glorious past. Islam exploded on the world scene as the flag-bearer of a just, law-tolerant and value-oriented society. We are taught to have faith in human exaltation through knowledge and enlightenment. In fact we were the fountainhead of learning in the Middle Ages. We exemplified tolerance within ourselves and for people of other faiths.

Our religion places great emphasis on resolution of problems through dialogue and has always stood for peace, justice and-co-existence. Despite what some historians of the West say, the armies of Islam did not march out to convert people with the sword but to deliver them from darkness through the visible example of the Muslim own character and virtues. They reflected their noble values in all their actions and not through their devotional practices alone. As for statecraft, Islamic state should be like but only in terms of values. The stress in on powers rather than on what form the state should take. It is time we went back to those ideals and abandoned distorted, shallow and merely ritualistic notions about our faith. Let us throw away the veil of ignorance and return to the true ethos of our great religion.

What better projection can be found of these deeper values of Islam than the personal example of the Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him)? In his person he was the embodiment of justice, compassion, tolerance of others, generosity of spirit austerity with the added spirit of sacrifice, concern for the weak, respect for the learned, a gentle piety, and above all, a burning desire to raise humanity to be better level.

The Muslim world of today is distant from all these attributes and values. We have been left far behind in social, moral and economic advancement. Those who were trailing us are now leading us an d my even be seen dictating to us. The West acquired knowledge and enlightenment from Islam during the dark ages and used them for self-development. But unfortunately we went on the decline and remained in our shall s and refused to learn, and to acquired and assimilate from the West, till we got to the present depth of despair and despondency. We desperately need to face stark reality. Is the way ahead one of confrontation and militancy? Will the present path lead us to our past glory and also show the light of progress and development to the world? Do we at all possess any light to illuminate the world, and are we at all capable to lead and guide?

My friends, the time have come to re-think our position. What we need is a renaissance. The way for ward is first of all to head towards enlightenment such as once we could boast of and which we are now obliged to acquire from others. We must learn to help one another. We have to concentrate on human resource development, and the best way for that is through poverty alleviation, greater education, better health and assured social justice. If we once decide that this is to be our new direction then we must also realize that this path cannot be achieved through confrontational approach. We have to adopt the path of moderation, a conciliatory approach, a pacific approach, in order to cleanse ourselves of the charge that Islam is a religion of militancy and is averse to modernization, democracy and secularism.

Let me say that moderation is strongly advocated by Islam. Muslims are enjoined to follow the middle course and to avoid extremism. And this has to be done with the realization, a very practical realization that the world environment in which we live today will not always assure us fairness and deal with us fairly. We must know this bitter truth. This, briefly, is our prong of the strategy of enlightened moderation. If we deliver on this, we shall be in a better position to demand from the west the just resolution of political disputes in whish Muslims are involved. Ladies and gentlemen.

Once we are agreed on adopting this strategic approach, then we have to draw the operational parameters through which this strategy is to be executed. We have in the OIC, the Organization of Islamic Conference, and our collective body to which we all subscribe, and it is the OIC that will have to play a crucial role in this process. But we need to infuse life into this body so that it is truly able to deliver on the twin principles of its charter – unity within and solidarity without.

The OIC has to be restructured, reformed and energized to meet the challenges of the 21st century, live up to the aspirations of the Muslim world and take us towards emancipation. Overall, the Commission of Eminent Persons being formed will develop the strategy and the plan of action to enable to ummah to perform its due role in today’s world, and, specifically, make clear recommendations for reforming and re-structuring of OIC system of working, including the general secretariat, and consider questions like financing its activities and programmers-all on an assured and continuous basis.

In this context I am of the opinion that the OIC should establish professionally staffed departments dedicated to Islamic thought and devoted to clarifying the real values of Islam so that we may project them within ourselves and also propagate them outside. To name a few, there should be with a focus on science and technology, healthcare and women’s welfare and empowerment. If it is going to take some time to attract funds for the purpose, the member countries should be ready to depute qualified professionals at their own expense.

Ladies and gentlemen. I regret to have to point out some deficiencies in the arrangement that I have just outlined. We decided last year at the OIC Summit that the Commission of Eminent Persons should be in place and operational long before the end of 2004. However I am sorry to have to tell you that we have not even named the eminent persons who are to constitute the commission. Some four or five countries have nominated their representatives, as Mr. Mushahid Hussain had told us, so have Pakistan and Malaysia , but the full Commission is yet to come into being. We were planning that if should be able to present its first recommendations in the OIC Foreign Ministers meeting to be held in June in Istanbul, but I don’t think that is possible now. And the possibility of receiving the Commission’s complete recommendations in the Summit at the end of the year also looks remote. We have only six months left for that. They say “Better late than never.” So I only hope and pray that the Muslim world will wake up to the realities that confront us and start taking action. We must get out of the shell we are living in and realize our compulsions for the sake of the future generations of Muslims. I know we will do it, but my only desire is that we speed up the process of restructuring the OIC.

In fact I fervently pray for it. We have to show resolve and political will, with full financial backing, and rise above self-interest for our common goal in the spirit that Islam teaches us. I lay particular stress on financial backing which needs some sacrifice-on the part of those who are better endowed by good fortune than others. Unfortunately, even for important subjects like science and technology the contribution is not what it should be. F

or example, look at COMSTECH, supposedly the symbol of our joint scientific progress. That is not the way to go forward. Finances have to be found, by us and other members if the OIC is expected to deliver. Before I close, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to say that the strategy of enlightened moderation cannot be a one-way affair. Both the prongs must be launched an implemented simultaneously, and both must succeed. Let no one make the disastrous mistake of putting the onus on one side alone.

If the Muslim world give effect to enlightened moderation by focusing on socio-economic development and rejecting extremism, the West too must play its part by sincerely implementing its prong in the wider interest of global peace and harmony It is imperative that the entire international community should address the dangers that are pushing the human civilization towards the abyss of barbarism. This is a very important task for scholars, intellectuals, think tanks, opinion-makers and of course governments around the world.

The intelligentsia of the Muslim world gathered here today should identify the challenges confronting the ummah in all relevant fields – political, ideological, economic, security, cultural, scientific, technological, and mediarelated – and suggest durable measures. I am sure your deliberations will produce an objective analysis of the ummah’s prevailing condition, and draw up pragmatic guidelines for the way forward for it in the light of the strategy of enlightened moderation.

My friends, while the present state of the ummah is deeply disturbing, it is not too late to initiate corrective measures. In fact it is never too late if you want to do something good. But let there be no doubt in the mind of anyone of us that unless we change for the better the future generations of the ummah will never forgive us. The world at large and the powers-that-be must also face the ultimate truth that confrontation and the use of force in everything is no more the option available to bring peace and commonsense into the world. Justice must be done, and seen to be done, so that it may not be said by the coming generations that we, the leaders of today, could not thing of tomorrow and took humanity towards hopelessness and destruction. We must beware.

Thanking you, ladies and gentlemen.

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