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GENEVA AND ALFAZ, Aug 22 2011 (IPS) - Before Islam, Arabia lived for centuries under various forms of “asabiya”, variously defined as Arabism, tribalism, or clanism, which led to many long wars. But in 610, Prophet Muhammad, at the age of 40, received the first verses of Al-Quran, challenging the traditional social and political order. Asabiya yielded to brotherhood-sisterhood in a community of values, the Umma, from Umm, mother. Arabs engaged with enthusiasm in this new social order based on the Islamic religion which held that “there is no difference between an Arab and a non-Arab, or between a white and a black, except in degree of piety”. Distinctions based on race, ethnic group, colour, gender, etc., disappeared in favour of unity, freedom, justice, and above all rahma (true love).

The Umma was guided by the Prophet and ruled after his death by the Rightly-Guided Successors (al-Khulafa, ar-Rashidun). But only 30 years after Mohammed’s death, the values he had taught were violated, and asabiya prevailed again.

This was the beginning of a long decline of Muslim society. Even though there was a formal Caliphate, the Umma was divided into countless political-military sections based on repression and corruption. Autocracy and kleptocracy became the rule. This opened the doors to external aggression, and by the 19th century the seeds of “colonisability” -a term coined by Algerian philosopher Malek Bennabi- appeared. Colonisation became easy.

In 1924 the Ottoman Caliphate was dismantled. After independence, the political elites imported the secularist nation-state model and imposed it on their populations. Nation-based asabiya was born in the form of Arabism, Turanism (Turkey) and Persianism, which naturally provoked minority-based asabiya: Kurdism, Berberism, etc.

Regional organisations emerged within the Umma from West Africa to the Far East, first the League of Arab States founded 22 March 1945 -7 months before the UN- which today has 22 member states. Though it was formed to “foster economic growth in the region, to resolve disputes between its members, and to coordinate political aims”, in its 66 years it has brought neither peace nor prosperity to the Arab world. It was always undermined by the asabiya of its members and their contradictory goals, and by foreign interference and influence. The only operational body is the Council of the Ministers of Interior which coordinates their repressive policies.

On 25 September 1969, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) was founded by leaders of Muslim states at a conference in Rabat, Morocco, to safeguard the interests of the Umma. It was a political reaction to the arson inside al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem committed by Denis Michael Rohan on 21 August 1969.

On 28 June 2011, during the 38th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the OIC in Astana, the member states agreed to change the name to the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation.

With its 57 member states spread over four continents, the OIC is the world’s second largest international governmental organisation, after the UN. It should and will have an active role in a globalised world increasingly structured around regions.

With greater freedom and prosperity, the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims will promote economic and even political integration. In spite of opposition by imperialist and neo-colonial powers, this will eventually lead to an Organisation of the Islamic Community- a 21st century Umma-Khilafa model. The Islamic Community will not be chauvinist, built on antagonism with others, but rather be an open space based on Muslim unity and cooperation with others for peace and prosperity for all humanity.

Could an Organisation of the Islamic Community institutionalise a vision of a peaceful Islam, the dar-al-Islam, opposed to the rest, the dar-al-harb, the realm of war? The European Union is also built on a vision in which inter-state wars are not only ruled out but “unthinkable”. But this argument leaves out the third realm: the dar-al-ahd of treaties, pacts, for example, between a future OIC and the EU, in a regionalising, potentially more mature world. Important preparatory work has already been done in EU-OIC dialogues.

The new OIC of cooperation will pose a challenge to the UN. Of the five present Security Council veto powers, four are Christian (the US, UK, France, and Russia), and one, China, is Taoist-Confucian-Buddhist. Yet the OIC has a larger population than any of them, even China.

This is not only profoundly unfair, considering that the borders fragmenting the Islamic community were mainly drawn by those Western powers, but also makes UN Security Council resolutions against Muslim countries illegitimate. Muslim veto power could have saved many human lives, kept the US-West from adopting unwise policies, and opened the way to a more balanced UN and more regional action. A reformed Security Council should assign two of its permanent seats to the OIC and the EU. The idea of collectivities of states is enshrined in the UN Charter for defense, facilitating a transition from the world of 1945 to the world today.

But even better would be a “Uniting for Peace” democracy of states, with directly-elected representatives, ending the sabotage from powers living in the past. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Abbas Aroua, born in Algeria, is adjunct professor at the Lausanne Faculty of Medicine and director of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies at the Cordoba Foundation in Geneva. Johan Galtung is founder of TRANSCEND, a Peace, Development and Environment Network, and author of “50 Years – 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives”. (www.transcend.org/tup).

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