OIC 2016: A new path forward

OIC 2016: A new path forward

This week, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held its Heads of State Summit, to create solutions for problems facing the Muslim world. The theme of the summit was unity.
The conference created a plan for rapprochement in the Muslim world, around the common objectives of peace, development, and education for stability and counter-extremism.
It is essential that in the next decade, unlike in the previous decade, the Muslim world can create its own solutions rather than relying on outside “interventions” that may not always have the best long-term interests of Muslim countries at heart.
The summit committed to rapprochement and unity, recognizing that sectarianism is often the first step to extremism, division and failed states such as Syria.

The OIC heads of state were tough on extremism and tough on the causes of extremism. Socio-economic difficulties often lead to youth falling prey to radicalization. This political risk is evidenced by the fact that much civil strife in the Muslim world has begun not with political demands, but economic demands around food prices or the cost of living. That is why the conference committed to further increasing intra-OIC trade. Member states of the OIC include some of the wealthiest and also some of the poorest nations on earth; mutual trade will create safety, security and solidarity. The conference also welcomed the establishment of the Islamic Organization for Food Security, a new specialized institution of the OIC. National and global security starts with food security. 
As well as socio-economic improvement, many Muslim countries are lacking in quality educational institutions. The OIC has already established institutes of higher education in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Uganda and Niger, and the conference committed to increasing the percentage of female students in these universities. 
Just as important as education is job creation through development programs. This is why the leaders supported various member states in contributing to the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development, which is currently scaling-up its micro-finance and vocational training, with a target capital of $10 billion. It also commended the increase of the Islamic Development Bank’s authorized capital from 100 billion Islamic Dinars. 
One of the key objectives for all this activity is to resolve Muslim-world conflicts and fight extremism. The vast majority of the victims of extremists such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are Muslims. That is why there must be a zero tolerance for double standards on terrorism, which the leaders unequivocally opposed in all its forms.
It is not enough to just oppose terrorism verbally, which is why at the summit a so-called “Islamic Interpol” was approved to fight terrorism. This will be based in Istanbul, at the intersection of Europe and Asia and with input from various member states. The conference also invited member states to join the Islamic Military Coalition to combat terrorism. Since Muslims are the biggest victims of terrorism, it is Muslims who should be motivated to do the most to fight it in its tragic manifestations as well as its hidden roots.

The heads of state also welcomed the hosting of a workshop to ensure Islamic charities operate officially and in a way financial regulators can ensure they are not being abused by extremists.

Extremism and Islamophobia are intertwined and mutually dependent - each disease feeds off the other. The OIC has held annual Islamophobia observatories for several years, and the heads of state committed to countering Islamophobia through both mainstream and social media. There is a need for extensive public diplomacy, particular online, from member states, and the conference supported this effort.

 It is impossible to discuss extremism without also discussing the global Muslim youth, as this is the demographic from which the vast majority of ISIL recruits are drawn. The OIC’s youth wing held its first ever Young Leaders Summit this week, and all its recommendations were welcomed by the conference. The OIC is leading the way in narrowing the perceived gap between Muslim youth and their governments; this is one of the best defenses against disenfranchisement and alienation of young Muslims.

All these OIC efforts towards solidarity, development and counter-extremism crystallized in positions on resolving conflicts and preserving the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states including Palestine, Syria, Kashmir, Libya, and Yemen - and protecting Muslim minorities in Myanmar and the Philippines.

The conference is committed to a 10-year strategic plan for the Muslim world - and it is working to ensure that there will be more security, development and, above all, unity for the Muslim world in the next decade than there has been in the previous one.

 * Maha Akeel is the director of information at the OIC and the chief editor of its quarterly journal.