A glimmer of hope at the Islamic summit

April 17, 2016

Amid the numerous wars, religious conflicts and general malaise and mayhem gripping large portions of the Levant and North Africa, there comes a glimmer of hope, a tiny flicker that peace can be within reach — at least in the humble opinion of this commentator.
I have been chronicling devel­opments — political, economic, military — as well as social trends in the greater Middle East for more than four decades and have seen the region in times of crisis and in times of greater crisis. And in all those years every attempt at resolving any crisis has lacked one thing: addressing its root problem.
The Middle East region has weathered its share of violent conflict — and then some. And with each new conflict, the level of violence increases exponen­tially.
Quite naturally as the violence grows, it feeds on itself, gather­ing momentum and growing like a demented monster. The war in Syria, which has claimed at least 270,000 lives, is a perfect example of how a conflict can grow and grow, leaving politi­cians powerless when they try to intervene because they often forget to address the root cause of the problem.
And here is the reason on which I base my optimism: the decision by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) not only to tackle the main issue that is driving the violence in the Middle East and beyond — terror­ism — but also to address the root cause or causes of the region’s turmoil.
Addressing 30 leaders of Mus­lim countries, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an opening speech at an OIC conference in Turkey, called on Mus­lim states to unite in fighting terrorism and overcoming sectarian divisions.
“Why are we waiting for help from outside to solve our problems and put a stop to terror?” asked Erdogan.
“I believe the greatest challenge we need to surmount is sectarianism. My religion is not that of Sunnis, of Shias. My religion is Islam,” he added.
The summit nonetheless con­demned Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah for “support for terrorism”.
The events of the past few years have demonstrated that the most sophisticated security systems can be easily bypassed if terrorists have the will and resolve to strike.
If you want to resolve a conflict, you must start by addressing the reasons that have driven the ter­rorists to take up weapons in the first place. If the initial problem is not taken care of, the issue will persist. The challenge facing the OIC and its members is that the Middle East’s problem has metamorphosed into a series of different issues, making attempts at resolving the root problem all that much harder.
The OIC meeting in Turkey hoped to address the issue of the Palestinian territories, which many observers say is the root cause of the region’s problems. What began as a dispute over real estate between those inhabiting Palestine and newly arrived im­migrants claiming historical at­tachment to the land, has turned into a multifaceted religious, sectarian, political and economic conflict — at times pitting differ­ent cultures against each other.
Many will argue that the Pal­estinian problem is not what is driving today’s violence in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. That, of course, is absolutely true. How­ever, had the conditions been different from the start, would the regimes that have found their way in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen have had the same excuse to rule the way they did all those years?
As for the second issue the OIC planned to address — terrorism — again a very difficult and multi­faceted problem to solve.
There is no doubt that those tasked with solving these issues will not face an easy job.
What makes me optimistic, however, is that Muslim leaders seem to acknowledge the exist­ence of the problems and the need to address them urgently. Peace may not be achieved right away but this is the right course to follow.