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World: Islamic Conference Fails To Define 'Terrorism,' Condemns Israel

  • Ron Synovitz

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), has concluded a three-day summit in Kuala Lumpur by issuing a call for an international definition of "terrorism." The 57 Islamic countries at the summit were unable to agree on a definition themselves, but their declaration condemns all forms of terrorism -- including what delegates called "state terrorism" by Israel. But the OIC declaration also says a distinction must be made between "acts of terror" and legitimate resistance to foreign aggression, domination and occupation.

Prague, 3 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- After three days of meetings in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, foreign ministers and delegates from 57 Islamic countries have approved a declaration that condemns terrorism.

But the Organization of the Islamic Conference failed to achieve what some ministers had said was their main goal -- to define "terrorism."

Instead, their declaration calls for a 13-member OIC ministerial committee to continue working on an international definition of the term. The committee also will try to get a United Nations conference to consider the issue. But OIC delegates say privately they doubt whether the United States and other permanent members of the UN Security Council will support the idea of such a conference.

The Kuala Lumpur summit was called by the OIC in response to the 11 September attacks in the United States by radical Muslim hijackers. The original aim was to demonstrate the collective resolve of Islamic leaders to respond to events that affect Muslims and Islamic nations.

But the debates were overshadowed by the escalating violence in the Middle East. Efforts to define terrorism were sidetracked by a disagreement on whether Palestinian suicide bombings should be considered terrorist attacks.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir Mohamad told the gathering on 1 April that all attacks on civilians -- either by government forces or by suicide bombers -- should be classified as terrorism.

"Whether the attackers are acting on their own or on the orders of their governments, whether they are regulars or irregulars, if the attack is against civilians then they must be considered as terrorists."

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi was among the many delegates in Kuala Lumpur who argued that Palestinian suicide bombers are not terrorists.

"In Palestine, the lands of these people who are committing suicide have been occupied. So in general, the resistance is a legitimate one. To resist against occupation is quite different from the terrorist attack on New York, which was condemned by everyone, including the Islamic Republic of Iran."

The OIC's final declaration says that the notion of "state terrorism" must be included in any future definition of terrorism. But it specifically rejects any attempt to "link terrorism to the struggle of the Palestinian people" for an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Instead, the declaration says a distinction should be made between acts of terror and what the pro-Palestinian delegates called "legitimate resistance," aimed at achieving "national liberation and self-determination" in the face of "foreign aggression, domination, and occupation."

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar says the references to "state terrorism" reflect the serious concerns within the OIC about Israel's ongoing military actions in the Palestinian territories.

"The Israeli military action clearly demonstrates the practice of state terrorism. We have urged the international community to assume its responsibility in putting an end to the Israeli military aggression and have called for the immediate and total withdrawal of all Israeli military forces from the occupied territories."

Palestinian delegation leader Farouq Kaddoumi told the gathering that Israel's escalation of military force in the West Bank ultimately is the result of pro-Israeli U.S. foreign policy.

"The United States is fighting terrorism but giving the green light to state terrorism by Israel. So we condemn this policy of the Israelis and their continuation of occupation."

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir expressed support for the U.S.-led global campaign against terrorism. But Mahatir, who has a long record of supporting the Palestinian cause, said Washington is hurting its own campaign by backing the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"Well, the U.S. is doing right in terms of getting the world to act against terrorists. And I think the whole world supports that. But unfortunately, the U.S. has supported the action by the Israeli government, which also amounts to terrorism. And it is difficult for the world to unite against terrorists when there is ambiguity or double standards."

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri told the gathering that oil-rich OIC member states should stop exporting petroleum products to the United States in order to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the Palestinian territories.

"This is up to the Arab oil-producing countries. But we think in general terms that the Arab world, or Arab countries, have the right to coordinate their policies and their efforts to stand by their brothers in Palestine and to defend themselves against this threat to their security because the Israeli threat is not designed against Palestinians but against the whole Arab world."

Such a decision would be a clear violation of the rules of OPEC -- the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries -- which forbid the use of oil as a political weapon.

But Iranian Foreign Minister Kharazi agreed that the strategy could be effective -- provided there was unanimous participation by all OIC members.

"I believe the Islamic world has enough instruments to use. But it all depends on the collective decisions of the Islamic countries. If they decide to use oil as a weapon, certainly it would be very effective."

Broad support within the OIC for the Iraqi proposal never materialized. However, there was a show of diplomatic solidarity with Baghdad in the face of U.S. suggestions that Iraq could be a future military target in the campaign against terrorism.

The Kuala Lumpur declaration signals the opposition of all OIC members to any unilateral action against any Islamic country in the name of the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.

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