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Freedom: The Right Way to Reach Out to Muslims By: Fred Gedrich
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, February 26, 2009

In public pronouncements, President Barack Obama signaled to Muslim governments that the U.S. will pursue a new means of dialogue based upon “mutual interest and mutual respect.”  

But instead of extending the olive branch to the authoritarians, dictators, and tyrants that rule most of these countries, shouldn’t he have spoken directly to Muslims desiring a better life who suffer from oppression, discrimination against women, poverty, illiteracy, genocide, and locally-bred terrorism?

The world’s estimated 1.5 billion Muslims mostly reside in Middle Eastern, North African, Central Asian, and Southeast Asian countries.  Muslim governments formed the 57-member Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) about 40 years ago, among other things, to “ensure the progress and well-being” of their citizens. While the stature and influence of the OIC has dramatically grown during ensuing years, particularly in the United Nations, most Muslim leaders have not loosened their rigid grip on power or made lives of citizens much better. Radical Islamic extremists, whose activists and sympathizers represent up to 20 percent of the total Muslim population by some accounts, offer fellow Muslims little more than a trip back to the seventh century under Shari'a law.   

Freedom House – a non-profit, non-partisan group co-founded by Eleanor Roosevelt and dedicated to monitoring and advancing freedom’s cause worldwide – provides a glimpse of freedom-deprivation occurring in the Muslim world. Its report for 2008 shows that only six of 57 OIC members (Benin, Guyana, Indonesia, Mali, Senegal, and Suriname) provided their citizens the full panoply of political rights and civil liberties to qualify as free countries. And only two members (Mali and Suriname) provide the necessary legal environment, political influences, and economic conditions to guarantee that news provided by national media outlets has been fully accessed, objectively reported, and accurately disseminated.

Freedom House also reported women are subjected to systemic discrimination across Middle Eastern and North African countries in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In some Muslim countries, women must obtain a male guardian’s approval to marry, to work, undergo mandatory surgery, or receive an education.

Other sources of information reveal OIC residents lag far behind much of the world in terms of sustainable income, despite enormous wealth in countries like Bahrain, Brunei, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. The per capita gross domestic product for OIC residents is $4,480, compared to $12,300 for residents of non-Muslim countries. In nations like Afghanistan, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Somalia most residents live on less than $2 a day.

About 35 percent of residents in OIC countries, age 15 and above, cannot read or write. Conversely, the illiteracy rate for similarly-aged residents of non-Muslim countries is only 13 percent. In 16 Muslim countries more than half of the population is illiterate.

Muslim on Muslim genocide has raged in Sudan’s Darfur region since 2003, killing up to 400,000 and displacing about 2.5 million others. OIC nations have not intervened – seemingly preferring to honor the organization’s charter requiring each member to “not interfere in the affairs of member states.” African Union and international efforts haven’t yet curbed the violence.

Two-thirds of the world’s 42 foreign terrorist organizations, according to the U.S. State Department, have gestated and/or operate from areas governed by OIC members. While the primary aim of most of them is to destroy Israel and greatly diminish U.S. regional and global influence, the vast majority of their victims have been innocent Muslims used as human shields or targeted for death because of their religious sect or political affiliation. Radical Islamists use a dangerous mix of politics and religion to recruit from among the abused, misinformed, impoverished, under-educated, and others to become participants in various jihad movements.

Since President Obama’s “respectful” Muslim outreach began, Iran has continued with its internationally outlawed nuclear development program and support of Hezbollah and Hamas terror groups; Pakistan released from house arrest, A.Q Khan, the world’s most notorious nuclear weapons proliferator; Yemen decided to release 170 al-Qaeda prisoners; Kyrgyzstan began action to close down an important U.S. airbase; Somalia pirates still held seven cargo ships hijacked on high seas; and the Taliban welcomed Obama’s regional envoy Richard Holbrooke’s recent visit by brazenly bombing Kabul and beheading an innocent Polish captive.

These actions suggest that the President Obama’s outreach may not be falling on receptive ears and that experts who advised against negotiating with terrorists were right. Hopefully he will soon realize that the best way forward in the Muslim World is through its people that truly desire a better life, and not through accommodation or appeasement of their authoritarian or radical Islamist rulers.

Fred Gedrich is a foreign policy and national security analyst. He served in the U.S. Departments of State and Defense and has traveled extensively throughout the Muslim World.

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