Vol. 4 Num 148 Thu. October 23, 2003  

Why Mahathir echoes the cry for justice?

Words gushed out of Mahathir Mohamad's mouth during the 10th OIC summit rippled through Western capitals and sparked a controversy that might reverberate further. The West and Israel are mad on him for saying 'Jews rule the world by proxy.' Soon after the speech, Western media scooped out of context a selective portion of his speech, which seems to have rubbed a dose of salt on the West's neurotic conscience.

Then the obvious began to follow. Media in the West went berserk with his comments while the EU postponed a condemnation resolution amid French insistence. The mendacity and the slackness of a section of the Western media have been too obvious in this instance as were in umpteen other occasions.

Western leaders and the media feel they have a right to insult Muslims and their religion without being shot back at. By pouncing hard with bitter truths, Mahathir earned a loud applause from Muslims, however distasteful his comments might have been to the West and the world Jewry.

Mahathir's 'platitude' flows from the pool of collective Muslim anger after half a century of bloodletting between Arabs and Jews. If Israel's incessant war waging, or the US' diplomatic obligation, did produce any resolution of the Mid-East conflict, Mahathir would have had little justification to talk in this manner. The articulate Malaysian leader thought the dissemination of plain truths might do the trick in convincing the West, particularly the US, that they're backing the wrong party in the Mid-East imbroglio.

The OIC platform, the first one since 9/11, echoed a concern that the UN Charter should have taken care of by clipping Israel's wings to forestall major threats to global peace and security. Mahathir just fired a shot across Israel's bow to make that point clear.

Muslims have enough reasons to be angry. They've suffered 92 acquisitions of their territory by non-Muslim governments between 1757-1919. And, of all the armed conflicts between 1820-1929, 50 per cent involved Muslim nations as defenders. Although Colonialism came to an end after the Second World War, the West (particularly the US) still sacrifices men, money and honour for the Jewish state that roosts on the land of Palestine and seeks to expand further its geographic sway with Western backing.

Globally, two Muslim countries are under US-led occupation while another 14 have the presence of US soldiers in their soil or territorial waters. Besides, Syria and Iran face constant threats while the war against terror has virtually degenerated into a Crusade against interests of Muslims everywhere. If this is not oppression, what is?

Add to this the capacity of the Jews to keep the West glued to their side. Muslims know that the West could, and did, go to any length to scoff at established norms of international laws and human rights for the Western-Jewish collective interests. If such stands are unjust, so is the rationale that one discovers in the 'reactive' outburst of non-state actors like Osama Bin Laden. The West should thank Mahathir for not condoning suicide bombers and non-state actors waging Jihad against them. Quite to the contrary, he advised Muslims to disassociate from such self-abnegation and excel in science and enlightenment to revive their lost glory.

In the last half a century, Palestine conflict created a reservoir of Muslim grievances against the Jews, and the West, by extension. The OIC itself came into being in September 1969 during an emergency summit in Rabat of Muslim nations following the desecration of the Al Aqsa Mosque by extremist Jews weeks earlier. The US made things worse by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

As if that was not enough, Israeli had deliberately flouted successive UNSC Resolutions with respect to its withdrawal from occupied Arab lands. How many Muslim nations did the US and Israel attack so far under varied pretexts? And, curiously, did anyone ever hear of US condemning Israel's routine slaughter of unarmed Palestinians and its spider-webbing of settlements in territories that the UNSC ordered it to vacate?

Due to such Western biases against Muslims, a permanent committee on Jerusalem was created by OIC foreign ministers during the Jeddah gathering in 1975. They pledged to coordinate efforts of Islamic nations to restore Jerusalem's Islamic sovereignty. Bangladesh, since birth, stubbornly refused to maintain diplomatic ties with Israel due to the nation's binding commitment to uphold Islamic solidarity pursuant to Article 25(2) of the constitution that necessitated the 'maintenance of close fraternity with other Islamic countries to increase solidarity among Muslim nations.'

This is what lay behind our moral attachment with the Palestinian cause of self-determination. Dhaka's election as a member of the Jerusalem Committee during the Dakar summit (1978) was in recognition of our diligence and sincerity in this regard. The Fez gathering (1979) further upgraded the Jerusalem Committee's status by involving ministers from member nations while the Casablanca gathering of August 1980 set up a 3 member Head-of State- group to craft a strategy to liberate Al-Quds Al Sharif.

The trio of leaders included the President of Bangladesh along with King of Morocco and President of Guinea. In the early 1980s, President Zia exerted his good offices to negotiate a cease-fire between Iran and Iraq under OIC auspices.

The talks of economic collaborations among OIC members are not new either. The third OIC summit (Mecca-Taif, 1981) went to a great extent to spawn such cooperation, creating three standing committees, including one for economic and trade cooperation. An Islamic development fund was created with $2.3 billion contributions from Saudi Arabia ($1 billion), Kuwait ($500 million), UAE ($500 million), and Qatar ($300 million).

This spurted inter-OIC trade (excepting petroleum products). The total flow of export to member states rose from 6.4 per cent in 1978 to 10.3 per cent by 1983. Import too rose from 8.3 per cent to 11.2 per cent during the same period. At the same time, Islamic Development Bank augmented its funding for development projects to $3.89 billion. Creation of an Islamic Common Market, despite the member nations not being geographically contiguous beyond the Arab heartland, has been a dream in the conduit ever since.

But the time proved to be a vexing one, and so was politics. The Muslim-West relations soured following Arab countries' decision to slam an oil embargo on the West after the 1973 Arab-Israel war. The embargo devastated many Western economies, and the US, which never bothered to recognise the PLO as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people until recently, hurried in 1978 to get a peace deal signed between Israel and Egypt. This left the Arab world strategically imbalanced vis a vis Israel, particularly the Shah of Iran being a US stooge. Islam-West relations plunged further after the 1979 Iranian revolution that spanked overt anti-Americanism.

And, at a time when the end of post-1973 oil boom curtailed OIC exports and pulverised their economies, the West espoused that the doldrums in the global economy were linked with mismanagement in developing nations. The IMF and the World Bank were led to mend the situation by instituting a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) that later earned its deserved nick- name as 'Sorrows And Pains' for its devastating effects on the poorest people of the OIC and of other developing nations.

Between the early 1980s through the 1990s, a group of 29 OIC countries adopted and implemented a set of 174 IMF packages relating structural adjustment. These programs affected drastic cuts in public expenditure on basic social services like health and education. Millions lost their jobs. Yet, the Human Development Index (HDI) of the UNDP showed in its reports (of 1990,1993 and 1996) that, excepting Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria and Indonesia, all other OIC countries registered low human development. IMF prescriptions simply aggravated their economic afflictions. Like many developing nations, Muslims view the SAP as a tool of economic imperialism.

In the 1980s, the UN did nothing to stop the US from freezing $11 billion of Iran's assets after the Iranian students' seizure of the US embassy in Tehran. The confiscated Iranian money pushed the value of the greenback up, further increasing the value of OIC imports and disrupting the hoped for equilibrium in their balance of trade. The move was illegal. Israel meanwhile received nearly $4 billion annually in economic aid from the US alone and US armed Israel with nuclear deterrence in the late 1970s. This carved the backdrop to Iraq's quest for nuclearisation.

Two decades on, a generation of Muslims holds the US accountable for blocking all moves against Israel in the UN. The legal recourse slammed shut, it was only natural that the dawn of a new century would witness the growth of various non-state actors to fight out the US' excesses. The pent-up angers thus initiated suicide bombings, a strategy adopted by Muslim youths -- many educated in the West -- to fight an enemy touting invincibility.

Can Israel answer why Muslims must pay reparation for the European Christian's persecution of Jews during the holocaust? Muslims aside, billions around the world ask the same question along with Mahathir. His might be a rare voice, but it mingles well into a global tumult, transcending national and religious boundaries. It also echoes the humanity's cry for justice.

Author and columnist M. Shahidul Islam is a Senior Assistant Editor of The Daily Star.