British government pledges new cooperation with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation

On what, exactly, do Baroness Warsi and her British government colleagues intend to “cooperate” with the OIC?

Sayeeda Warsi took to Twitter to comment on the agreement
Hadar Sela
On 1 October 2012 10:50

Following the recent lethal violence and rioting which broke out across the Middle East and North Africa – on the pretext of being offended by a third-rate, amateurish Youtube video – the subject of the defence of the right to free speech is once more upon the agenda in the Western world.

Strangely, the British government has chosen this time to sign a new agreement with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (formerly known as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference or OIC) which it describes as a “Cooperation Framework” designed to lead to “closer dialogue”.

"Baroness Warsi, who in 2010 became the first Muslim to serve in a British cabinet, said, ‘This agreement is another significant step in strengthening the vital relationship between the UK and the OIC. When I addressed the OIC Conference in Kazakhstan in June 2011, I said we face the global challenges together. This agreement formalises that establishing our many, many areas of co-operation, from security to conflict prevention; from religious freedom to human rights. One of the central aims of my new role will be to strengthen this relationship further and I am looking forward to ensuring we continue to work closely to achieve our mutual goals.’"

In the same year that Sayeeda Warsi became the first British Minister to address the OIC annual conference, the government appointed Mohammed Shokat as UK Special Representative to the OIC.

The new Memorandum of Understanding was signed at the UN General Assembly in New York, even as OIC members such as Iran and the Palestinian Territories took advantage of  the UN platform to talk of Israel being “eliminated” and to accuse it of threatening Muslim holy places and “colonial occupation”.

Bizarrely, following the signing of the agreement, Saeeda Warsi was to be found championing the OIC's “interest” in human rights, conflict prevention, and religious freedom on Twitter. 

The OIC is of course famed for its rejection of universal human rights in favour of its own selective version of the concept as enshrined in the 1990 Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam  which states that "All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari'ah".

The OIC is also notorious for its serial sponsorship of anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations and for its claim to being the initiator of the Goldstone Report. Its founding charter states that one of the organisation's aims is:

"To support and empower the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination and establish their sovereign State with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as itscapital, while safeguarding its historic and Islamic character as well as theHoly places therein"


"The Headquarters of the General Secretariat shall be in the city of Jeddah until theliberation of the city of Al-Quds so that it will become the permanent Headquarters ofthe Organisation."

Currently, the OIC is engaged in pressuring the UN to adopt “global blasphemy laws”.

"Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said the international community should ‘come out of hiding from behind the excuse of freedom of expression’, a reference to Western arguments against a universal blasphemy law that the OIC has sought for over a decade."

So the question which naturally arises is on what, exactly, do Baroness Warsi and her British government colleagues intend to “cooperate” with the OIC? What “mutual goals” does the UK government think it has with an organization which seeks to limit universal human rights, curb freedom of expression, and establish its headquarters in the capital city of a UN member sovereign country?

The trouble with this kind of diplomacy is that it only works when both sides share the same perceptions of its intent. Otherwise, in a part of the world where “speak softly” is usually interpreted as a sign of weakness, it can be seen as acquiescence to the kind of agenda one would expect the British government to reject rather than encourage. 

Hadar Sela is an Anglo-Israeli writer and blogger living in Israel

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