The 13th Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit Conference hosted by Turkey began Thursday in Istanbul. The theme Turkey chose for the event is "unity and solidarity for justice and peace." It is telling that Turkey, as the host of 2.7 million Syrians, is organizing a summit with such a theme.
The OIC is a 47-year-old organization with 57 members across four continents. However, when it comes to its policy making, decision making and trade capacity, its effectiveness leaves much to be desired. According to U.N. figures, 22 of its members are among the poorest countries in the world. If one leaves out the oil-exporting states, the average national income is very low and their total share in global trade is below 2 percent. More than half lack a stable government and are faced with war, coups or military occupation. The share of foreign direct investments these OIC members attract is declining from their already measly levels.
According to OIC figures, there are a total of 73.7 million unemployed young people living in OIC countries and almost 350 million people live on less than $1 a day. Among the daily evils faced by Muslims around the world are extreme poverty, hunger, diseases, lack of primary education, lack of gender equality, lack of access to clean water and high rate of infant deaths. Global terrorism is just the last in a long line of challenges Muslims face.
The OIC needs to rise to these challenges and the only way to reverse this dire outlook is through unity of purpose. Instead of divided regional structures, the OIC needs to facilitate the creation of a common market with commercially integrated countries and free movement of goods and people akin to what the European Union has achieved. Member countries also should learn from the EU's recent spate of failures when it faced terrorism, economic crises and the refugee flood. A more effective international Islamic body will allow bilateral and multilateral cooperation that will enable the Muslim world to enhance its global clout when it comes to culture, diplomacy and economy.
The OIC should not become a club that prizes ceremony and futile meetings over substance. The main focus should be to improve the living standards of the people of the Islamic world, prevent exploitation, equitable distribution of national wealth and be a voice of reason at a time when one is lacking. It should be a force for good when it comes international crises like the refugee flood, violence and terrorism. It should also channel its inherent dynamism to fight rising Islamophobia and break the chains that hold back the Islamic world.
The Islamic world currently faces war, inequality, lack of justice and democracy. This summit, which will conclude today, carries a huge weight of responsibility to address these ills and the expectations are very high.
Turkey has considerable experience in organizing international summits. It maintains close ties to both Western and Muslim countries. The growing and dynamic Turkish economy, comparably high living standards, the huge progress it has made in recent years when it comes to international aid and its strong democracy, it provides a striking example that OIC members should emulate.
Islam is a religion of justice. How can we talk of justice when some Muslim countries live a life of luxury while the rest are mired in misery and famine? It is time to instill a sense of community among MuslimsThose more fortunate should channel funds to the less fortunate through investment into infrastructure and human capital to ensure more equitable living standards across the Muslim world. It is time to effectively utilize material and spiritual resources that exist within us to end poverty in the Islamic world.
Unfortunately, the concept of the international community rings hollow to both Turkey and the Syrians it is hosting. The OIC now has the opportunity to lead the world through a new vision of organization at a time when the many failings of the EU and U.N. are hurting their international credibility.