MESOP COMMENTARY BY NURAY MERT : Is there really a “Muslim world?” / OIC SUMMIT
The ‘Muslim world’ and the Istanbul summit (Hurriyet 18 Aprl 2016)
At the end of the Organization of Istanbul Cooperation’s (OIC) Istanbul summit, our Turkish president declared that “terrorism and violence are the two biggest issues facing the Muslim world.” I don’t agree, (and this is not the first time that I don’t agree with the president). I think terror and violence are only two results of the issues that the “Muslim world” is facing. In fact, I’m not sure if such a thing as the “Muslim world” even exists as a collective in any real sense, let alone as the name of an identity. A better term may be “Muslim-majority countries.” Still it is true that there are some common issues that these countries face, and these are “Islam-related issues.”
The first major problem is countries legitimizing their politics as “Muslim” or “Islamic.” Islam dominates the culture of countries populated mostly by Muslims, but any claim to political legitimacy with reference to a religion is problematic, as religious political authority is no more than political power masked by “sacredness.” That is why it is not a matter of theology, but of politics; it is the political power elite that defines and manipulates “Islam” in terms of their interests. Political manipulation of religious legitimacy hinders criticism and accountability. It is no surprise that Turkey’s rulers have started to use more religious vocabulary and references as they seek non-accountability and no tolerance of criticism. Almost all OIC member states are authoritarian states, ranking low in human rights records and high in corruption.
Although they pose as if they are fighting against violence and radicalism, the religious political power of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states is legitimized by radical and exclusionist interpretations of Islam, let alone their support of radical Islamist groups for their respective interests. They themselves use violence as a political tool to suppress opposition and minorities, while most of them manipulate sectarianism – which they appeared to criticize at the summit – as a political tool. Not so long ago, the Saudis were executing a prominent Shiite political leader, while Saudi Arabia also suppresses its own Shiite minority. What’s more, it was a sectarian military intervention on behalf of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states that suppressed the Arab Spring protests in Bahrain.
However, the Sunni countries raised the issue of sectarianism at the OIC summit simply to put pressure on Iran and use the occasion as a chance to consolidate Sunnicollaboration with the leadership of Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
The president and his party are very enthusiastic for Turkey’s two-year term leadership of the OIC, which comes at a time when Turkey needs the economic and political support of its Muslim neighbors in the face of economic crises and political isolation. Turkey and Saudi Arabia also have similar visions of Syria, prioritizing the removal of Bashar al-Assad and the establishment of a Sunni regime. That is why both are trying to hinder all efforts for a peaceful political solution – and they need each other’s support to achieve their goals. What’s more, Turkey’s present rulers seek more religious legitimacy for political power in order to avoid criticism, accountability and crises of governability.
The OIC summit in Istanbul only exposed the basic problems of the so-called “Muslim world” upon which such meetings and organizations are based. This only helps Muslim countries cover up their real problems. It also helps them pose as powerful countries, despite the fact that all are “failed states” in different respects. Finally, it allows them to make a show of solidarity in order to avoid confronting all their problems and weaknesses.