Editor’s Note: Recep Tayyip Erdogan is President of Turkey. The views expressed are his own.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit begins Thursday in Istanbul
Erdogan: Muslims around the world must raise their voices against all forms of oppression
All people – regardless of their political opinions, nationality, religious affiliation and cultural backgrounds – are united in a desire for peace and justice. Indeed, the history of mankind is, in a sense, also the history of the quest for justice and peace.
Islam has also been part of this quest. The Arabic root of the word Islam, “silm,” means peace, and Islam is a faith that commands its followers to promote justice and act justly in political, commercial and social life. As a result, Muslim states in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East attached particular importance to the values of justice and peace for some 1,400 years.
Sadly, the Islamic world today suffers from a scarcity of both justice and peace.
From Syria to Iraq, Libya to Palestine and Yemen to the Central African Republic, millions of Muslims yearn for peace, stability and dignity as they fight for survival. Yet terrorist groups and bloodthirsty regimes have been wreaking havoc through ancient cities, and destroying some of Islamic civilization’s most prestigious artworks, libraries, mosques and other historical relics.
The Islamic world is effectively being crushed under the weight of one of the most serious challenges since World War I as armed conflicts, civil wars, failed states and outdated political structures deprive many Muslim countries of peace and security. All this is being compounded – in Syria and elsewhere – through military intervention and the support of illegitimate governments by foreign nations with little or no knowledge of the region’s history, values and sociology.
Meanwhile, sectarianism is creating ever greater friction between fellow Muslims. The fact that the Islamic world is still grappling with a problem that Europe resolved in the 17th century is something that is clearly worth thinking about. Of course, sectarian tensions are rooted in political conflict that is being fueled by groups driven by greed and short-term interests. But it is ironic that the main beneficiaries of this sectarian conflict are terrorist organizations and enemies of Islam.
Unfortunately, many Muslims – particularly young people – find themselves particularly vulnerable to the message of terrorist groups such as Daesh (ISIS) and al Qaeda, and this is an issue that Muslim countries cannot and must not remain indifferent to.
The reality is that terrorism is no longer a threat only to a handful of nations or regions. It has evolved into a global problem that victimizes, first and foremost, Muslim communities in Europe, South Asia, West Africa and the Americas. Sources of evil go by different names, and adhere to various ideologies. But what they have in common is a desire to destroy the memory, values and future for Muslims around the world.
This problem is made worse in Western societies, especially, that have seen the spread of racism, discrimination, xenophobia and Islamophobia, all of which offend and intimidate Muslims. Across Europe, mosques, Muslim-owned businesses and residential buildings are regularly torched and vandalized. It is therefore essential that the international community take steps to ensure that Muslims – who have actually been the primary target of terrorist attacks – are not simply treated as suspects.
Here in Turkey, we have been fighting the PKK, a globally recognized terrorist organization, for 30 years. We have lost more than 40,000 people to terrorism. And, having learned firsthand what terrorists want and the destruction they cause, we have been working hard to persuade the international community to take a firm stand against terrorism.
Unfortunately, in this case, the international community has not assumed a principled stance on terrorist groups that threaten all of us. In Northern Syria, PYD/YPG, the PKK’s Syrian franchise, has been subjecting native Arab and Turkmen communities and rival Kurdish groups to forced migration and ethnic cleansing.
Yet it would be a fatal mistake to play favorites among terrorist groups and make an imaginary distinction between “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists.”
By employing double standards on terrorism, the international community only encourages terrorists and undermines the global war on terror. The only way to defeat terrorism today is for Muslims and the rest of the world to cooperate more closely and to promote solidarity.
I have no doubt that member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, who are meeting this week in Istanbul, will come together to lead the global effort against terrorism.
Yet Muslims around the world must raise their voices against all forms of oppression and stand with the oppressed, and the identity of the oppressor and the oppressed must not be a factor in this endeavor. That is why Turkey refused to leave the victims of conflict in Syria and Iraq to the mercy of terrorists and criminal regimes. Today, the Turkish people are proud to host some three million Syrian and Iraqi refugees at refugee camps across the country. And we pledge to address the needs of our neighbors until the violence ends and peace is restored in their native countries.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has facilitated discussion on the Islamic world’s problems and consultation among Muslim leaders, and it has assisted member states in reaching important decisions for nearly half a century. The question of Palestine and Jerusalem, in which the OIC is rooted, will be at the top of the Istanbul summit’s agenda. Meanwhile, we believe that addressing regional challenges, including the situation in Syria and Iraq, falls within the OIC’s responsibilities.
When Muslim leaders meet this week in Istanbul, they will not be coming as Shiites and Sunnis, Africans and Asians, Westerners and Easterners, blacks and whites or members of various ethnic groups. Instead, we will be joining together as individuals who are all equally responsible for the welfare of 1.7 billion Muslims – and the rest of humanity.
Muslims make up about a quarter of the world’s population, but we need to work together in taking the steps necessary to ensure they take their proper place in the global system. In practical terms, that means the adoption of the OIC 2025 Action Plan, which identifies key targets for the next decade. And when Turkey takes over the OIC’s presidency for a two-year term, we will also work hard to meet these objectives.
Islamic civilization considers human beings to be the most noble creatures, and it calls on leaders to “let people live so that the state shall survive.” With this in mind, Muslim leaders bear a heavy burden. And the best way to manage this burden is to prioritize the broader Muslim community’s well-being over individual interests so that we can make a constructive mark on the 21st century.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is President of Turkey. The views expressed are his own.