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Let OIC not remain a toothless tiger

Image Credit: Luis Vazquez/©Gulf News

By Tariq A. Al Maeena
September 26, 2015

The plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar should be enough reason to galvanise an organisation comprising 57 member states to spring into action

Some global organisations have come under increasing fire for the inability to solve problems that their charter was supposed to address. The United Nations is one of them with its failure to get Israel to adhere to its many resolutions, some submitted by the UN Security Council.

For the Muslim world, an organisation was created way back in 1969 with a membership of 57 states and was called the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). It is the second largest global organisation after the UN and its members span four continents. The majority of member states come from Africa, closely followed by countries in Asia.

According to its charter, OIC is ‘the collective voice of the Muslim world to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world’. The organisation’s headquarters are based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, headed by a secretary general.

In recent times, however, the OIC has come under fire for its lack of firm and resolute actions on the fate of Muslims everywhere. The dispossessed people around the world, among them the Kashmiris and the Rohingya Muslims, find no comfort under the umbrella of this bureaucratic institution.

A week ago, an appeal was raised to the OIC by the Myanmarese Rohingya Union, asking for its intervention and assistance against the misery faced by the Rohingya people of Myanmar. In their letter, they claimed that the present government has stepped up hate-filled rhetoric against the Rohingya in various townships across Myanmar. The state has also been reshuffling sympathetic officials and drafting more anti-Muslim legislation, including the religious conversion law that denies a Myanmarese national the right to convert to Islam and denies any Muslim the right to marry a Buddhist.

In their appeal to the OIC, the Rohingya Union has also complained that the government of Myanmar has disenfranchised Myanmarese Muslims from the national election that is scheduled for November 8, 2015. This is the first time in the history of Myanmar that the Rohingya and Kamen Muslims have been denied voting rights in a national election. Further, the registration applications by Muslim candidates to contest in the national election have been rejected. A total of 42 candidates who had initially submitted their names for the voting process were denied on the grounds that ‘they are not citizens of Myanmar’.

Beginning in the mid 1960s and gathering pace in recent times, the military junta that has ruled Myanmar has been revoking the nationality certificate of Muslims and branding them as Bengalis despite their status of as an ethnic minority group with full citizenship.

Along with the rejection of their voting rights, the Muslims in Myanmar are subjected to rising racial and ethnic terrorism by the hardline Buddhist majority, whose mobs have descended and slaughtered countless defenceless Rohingya people. The letter to OIC highlights this alarming indication of “pre-planning of violence against Rohingya by Buddhist Rakhine, following the same pattern of violence against Rohingya and other Muslims in 2012 and 2013”.

The alarming signs are all there. Buddhist Rakhine communities have intensified hate speech, there is extensive movement of Buddhist Rakhine armed groups along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, increased harassment of Rohingya by Rakhine mobs and Rakhine police, the elected officials of Rakhine state have also been making provocative statements.

Inflammatory speeches

In an incendiary rhetoric against the hapless Rohingya, U Mra Aumg, the new Chief Minister of Rakhine stated that “The ‘Bengali’ Muslims [implying Rohingya] in Northern Rakhine state are planning to commit violence against Rakhine because they are barred from the upcoming election and the Bengali Muslim terrorist groups have also infiltrated Arakan; therefore, you [the Buddhist Rakhine community] must be prepared to defend yourselves as you did in the past”. The Rohingya have a reason to be concerned. The chief minister has been travelling to various townships in Arakan state and making similar statements. There are major concerns in the Rohingya community in Arakan over the inflammatory speeches of government officials and Buddhist Rakhine leaders that are likely to set off new waves of violence against Rohingya by the Buddhist Rakhine mobs on the pretext of barring Rohingya from the upcoming election.

In their letter to the OIC, the Rohingya Union has urged that pressure be applied on the government of Myanmar to allow all the Rohingya previously holding nationality documentations to vote in the national election. They also want Rohingya, Kamen and Myanmar Muslim political parties to contest in the November 8 election. Other demands include an investigation into the hate speech by the chief minister of Rakhine state and monks and appropriate actions to prevent a volatile situation leading to further violence. They want to abolish the religious conversion and marriage laws and other legislations targeting Muslims and Christian minorities and to reinstate all their basic rights, including the right to travel, right to marry, right to education, freedom to worship and other rights.

If indeed the OIC is more than a toothless tiger, then the critical situation in Myanmar is a good ground for it to prove its mettle. A body made up of 57 nations is no joke. It is time for the organisation’s bureaucrats to sit up and take note. This recent appeal must be addressed more solidly than with a press release of little or no consequence.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. You can follow him on Twitter at

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