At the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Makkah, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan started off his first ever OIC speech, emphasising the issue he deems the most urgent and compelling concern facing Muslims of the world. He said, “I would raise, first and foremost, the most important question, about whenever in the Western countries, people blaspheme our Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), I always felt that the response from the Muslim Ummah, and the OIC, was lacking. Therefore I wanted to use this platform (to say) that the OIC owes a responsibility to the Muslim world that when anyone in the Western world blasphemes the Prophet (PBUH), it is a failure of the OIC that we have not been able to explain to the western people the amount of pain they cause us.”

The rest of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech centred upon the oppression the Muslims are facing in Palestine and Kashmir by being deprived of their right to a state and to self-determination. He also said that the Muslim world was not paying much attention to science and technology, despite being on the verge of another industrial revolution with the artificial intelligence and new technologies coming in, and urged more emphasis on education and science.

As with all things to do with Imran Khan, the reception to this speech has been divided. Those who were his fans lauded his speech and the rare occurrence of a Muslim leader headlining the topic of blasphemy in front of the OIC, the second largest intergovernmental body after the UN. Yet his speech has received some criticism, not all from PTI haters or partisan groups, but from some in the international and Arab community as well. The platform, that of the OIC which represents the Muslim collective of the world, is a very meaningful and significant one; thus it would not be out of place to make some constructive criticism of the Prime Minister’s speech.

For one, bringing up blasphemy by Western actors as the first and foremost topic in his maiden speech at the OIC begs us to answer the question as to whether that is the most pressing issue facing Muslims currently. Certainly, blasphemy and casual disrespect of Islam in the West is a concern for Muslims; it leads to further marginalisation of the Muslim community in the Western world and causes anti-Muslim radicalisation, leading to the kinds of disasters that we saw in the Christ Church mosque massacre in March. The organised instances of blasphemy against the Prophet (PBUH) in the West also cause unrest and instability in the Muslim-majority countries, which is perhaps precisely what those bad-faith actors intended. Truly, it is an issue that causes distress and damage to the Muslim world, and we need to better communicate to the West the severe harm that occurs due to Islamophobic speech and actions.

Yet, though we recognise that blasphemy is an issue, is it truly such an urgent problem that the Prime Minister of Pakistan should identify it as a failure of the OIC? The last major incident of blasphemy in the West had been that of Geert Wilders, an obscure politician in the Netherlands, who had proposed an extremely disrespectful competition to be held in order to insult Muslims. This had last occurred in August of 2018 and was rightfully cancelled after the Muslim world registered their protest to it. This was nearly a year ago, and since then, although the environment in Western countries may have become increasingly hostile towards Muslims, no such incident which can be called “blasphemous” or disrespectful to the Prophet (PBUH), has occurred that would warrant the kind of urgency implied in the Prime Minister’s speech.

The argument could be made that even with the rare incidents of blasphemy in the West, there was a need to emphasise communication with the West due to the progressively hostile environment for Muslims. This argument holds weight but is ignoring the context behind why the OIC meeting was called, and the very significant geopolitical position Pakistan finds itself in today. Tensions between Iran and the Gulf allies of the United States have escalated to the point that war is not too far off if conciliation and peace efforts are not held by neutral stakeholders. Preceding the OIC conference were two emergency Arab meetings the night before in Makkah criticising Iran’s behaviour and influence in countries like Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. This clearly indicates that the goal of the OIC conference was to deal with the extremely crucial question of tensions with Iran, which could boil over to a devastating conflict across the entire Middle East and sub-continent area.

Pakistan, being a neighbour of Iran, and an ally of Saudi Arabia, is in a precarious situation and could be the country that could facilitate de-escalation between the two. It appears Iran thinks so too, evidenced by Imran Khan’s visit to Tehran right before the OIC. With this context in mind, it would perhaps been more appropriate had our Prime Minister emphasised the importance of peace and brotherhood among Muslims and started off the OIC conference on an anti-war and harmonious note. Instead, while our Prime Minister’s speech was certainly impactful and reflected the sentiments of Muslims everywhere, it felt somewhat of a waste of an opportunity to de-escalate a conflict which is right on our doorstep, a conflict which, if exacerbated, could result in complete devastation of our region.

The OIC has been criticised in the past for lack of solutions for Muslim countries in crises. By setting the tone for peace and resolution, Imran Khan could have used the OIC’s influence to shape the Muslim body for a more engaging, instrumental role in the geopolitics of today. Prioritising blasphemy cases in the West is definitely a crowd-winner and will appeal to Muslims in Pakistan; yet even after the speech, there is little that the OIC can and will do to combat such incidents other than through condemnation. Our Prime Minister’s speech was certainly impactful, yet in the grand scheme of things, will likely have little impact at all.