The OIC Needs to Show It’s Serious About Human Rights

January 24, 2013 1:33 am 2 comments

The member states of the OIC Photo: Hal Switkay.

On January 21, the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) placed a half-page ad in The New York Times (posted below) entitled “OIC-US Partnership: Building on a Solid Foundation.” The following is our open letter in response.

Dear Mr. Ihsanoglu,

We read with interest your depiction of a solid foundation between the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the United States. Without question, a working relationship with the OIC, representing 57 member countries and 1.4 billion people, holds great potential.

You touched on many issues that concern Americans: health; empowerment of women; combating extremism, terrorism, incitement and hatred. Less clear is what the OIC is doing to address them.

You speak of human rights. Instead of standing behind the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, your organization has been pushing the United Nations to endorse a different document, the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights (CDHR). Article 22 states: ”Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contradictory to the principles of Sharia.” What happens those who do not believe in Sharia? The Universal Declaration takes for granted the equality of men and women. Article 6 of your document, however, says that a woman, although equal to a man in human dignity, “has her own rights to enjoy.” Those rights rights do not yet extend to driving a car in Saudi Arabia, or to girls seeking education in Afghanistan, or the right of a girl to avoid rape in the form of child marriage – a right that may disappear under the new Egyptian Sharia-based constitution.

Less than a year ago, the UN Human Rights Council held its first sessions on discrimination based on sexual orientation. Do you remember that Pakistan spoke on behalf of the OIC? It stated that the discussion was at odds with “the fundamental teachings of various religions, including Islam,” and urged the topic not be brought up again.

Rightfully you worry about discrimination against the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar. All of us need to be the voices for those who cannot speak. But has the OIC also raised its collective voice for other oppressed religious minorities, such as the Baha’i in Iran, or the atheists, Hindus and Buddhists who have no standing in your Sharia-based states?

And what about the most persecuted minority of all today: Christians. They have been ethnically cleansed in Iraq, and butchered in Nigeria by Islamist terrorists. In Egypt, the most populous Arab country, over ten million Coptic Christians, live in fear for their property and their lives.

We would ask you about Jews, but with precious few exceptions most were long ago driven out of virtually all of your member states. But the mere mention of Jews in the Arab and Muslim worlds often conjures up visceral hatred not witnessed on the world stage since Nazi Germany. No oneless that Mohamed Morsi calls Jews “sons of apes and pigs”, and as the President of Egypt, answered “amen” to a recent prayer in a mosque calling for the destruction of the Jews.

Perhaps it is unfair to criticize you for not mentioning other groups in your advertisement. After all, your first concern if for Muslims. But where has the OIC been for 60,000 dead and 2.5 million displaced Syrians? Fifty-seven countries, united under the banner of Islam, and no collective will to intervene and stop the carnage? Where is the outrage as Muslims kill other Muslims gathering at religious shrines? Where were you to lend a guiding hand to young Muslims seeking a brighter, more open future during the Arab Spring, which has now turned into a frigid winter?

Against this backdrop of silence, apathy and hubris, no one should be surprised that you fall back on the Israel/Palestine straw man. In addressing our President you insist that issue lies “at the heart of the most pressing concerns to the OIC.” Is it love of the Palestinians that motivates you, or a desperate attempt to find one unifying banner for Muslim rulers, even if its writ in hate, rather than hope?

You expressed appreciation for President Obama’s historic Cairo speech four years ago. In it our President reminded his audience, “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.” The President recognized what most of the world outside of the OIC does. The solution to the Middle East problem lies in two states, one Jewish, one Palestinian, living side by side in peace.

With respect, the OIC hasn’t done much to quell violence, terror and hopelessness among its own. Some of that may lie beyond your grasp. But you can help advance peace in the Holy Land. Come to Jerusalem and begin to normalize relations with the Jewish state. Then drive to Ramallah and offer an economic package that invests in economic empowerment and hope, rather than in PA corruption or Hamas terror.

No can do? Then forget the public relations campaign in the US. Divert that budget to UNICEF to help save the children suffering within the borders of the OIC’s domain.

The OIC ad in the New York Times.

Rabbis Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Adlerstein, serve as the Associate Dean and Director of Interfaith Affairs of the Simon Wiesenthal Center respectively.


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