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Islam on the Defensive?

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) foreign ministers meeting that opened Monday in Malaysia expectedly blames Israel for flaring violence in the Middle East. But can they offer any solutions?

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Spiralling violence in the West Bank tops the agenda at the OIC meet

The tense situation unfolding in the Middle East over the Easter weekend is making itself felt at the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) foreign ministers meeting which kicked off in the Malaysian capital today.

With more than half of the 22 Arab League members keeping away from the meet, the conference has been reduced to a low-key affair.

Most Arab foreign ministers are on standby to attend a possible emergency Arab League summit called by Libya to discuss Israeli attacks on the Palestinian authority.

Several members of the OIC have sent lower delegations instead to Kuala Lumpur. But despite the lack of the usual show of strength, delegates at the three-day summit will try to hammer out a definition of terrorism that could be used for UN discussions.

Ire over Middle East to take centrestage

The general goal of the present OIC meet is to quell notions equating Islam with terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks in America by radical Muslims.

But it’s evident that Islamic States’ anger with Israel and the United States over the bloody Middle East crisis is likely to dominate the OIC meet. Most Islamic countries say that Israel’s occupation of Arab land is a main reason Muslim militants have turned to violence.

Despite the distinct Islamic slant of the conference, the host, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad slammed both Palestinian suicide bombers and Israeli troops as terrorists in his opening speech to the OIC on Monday. He said that any attacks on civilians amounted to terrorism.

Recalling the Nazi holocaust against the Jews during World War Two, the Malaysian Prime Minister said that Israel should pull its troops out of the Palestinian territories and urged the world to intervene by force if it did not.

"The holocaust did not defeat the Jews. A second holocaust with Arabs for victims will not defeat the Arabs either," he said in his speech to the OIC.

Mahathir, who faces a challenge from Muslim radicals at home, is expected to be insistent in the search for the root causes of terror. "We cannot just dismiss them (the perpetrators) as senseless perverts who enjoy terrorising people", he is reported to have said.

Palestinian delegation head Farouq al-Kaddoumi said Israel’s capture of his people’s land fuelled suicide bombings.

"The occupation is the highest and the worst kind of terrorism and for the human being, when he intends to lose his life and to sacrifice his life, there should be a reason" al-Kaddoummi, head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation political office added, "The reason is state terrorism".

Islam being pushed into a corner?

Though the OIC’s condemnation of the Israeli crackdown in the West Bank and the siege against Arafat in Ramallah is not surprising, observers say that the OIC meeting on terrorism mirrors Islam’s defensiveness since the September 11 attacks.

With militant cells being uncovered all over the world and an increasing number of Muslim governments being threatened by extremism at home, the Middle East remains one issue where Muslim nations will try and play up the role of the Palestinians as the underdog and drum up support for the cause of the oppressed and aggrieved Palestinian people, experts feel.

The OIC meeting is also being seen as a covert show of defiance against the United States, its policies in the Middle East and its proposed expansion of the war on terror.

Foreign Ministers from Iran and Iraq – branded by Washington as belonging to an "axis of evil" for developing weapons of mass destruction – are also attending the OIC meeting.

The OIC has 57 members from southeast Asia to west Africa and Muslims account for a fifth of the world’s population.

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