Future story watch: Should a Muslim state gain a permanent UN Security Council seat?

Let's' play with some hypotheticals, courtesy of an idea floated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But first some necessary background. A columnist for Turkey's English-language Hurriyet Daily News, wrote recently that Erdogan thinks the makeup of the United Nations Security Council's permanent members should be revamped along religious lines. His reason?

To end the Christian world's UN dominance over the globe's non-Christian nations.

Never mind, for now, as columnist Burak Bekdil, a prominent and frequent Erdogan critic, pointed out with more than a hint of sarcasm, that China, one of the Security Council's five permanent members, is hardly a Christian nation. That, is, unless you stretch the meaning of "Christian nation" to mean any nation in which Christians live, no matter how tightly controlled they are by a repressive government, such as the one in Beijing.

Still, Erdogan makes a point. The Security Council has no permanent member whose dominant religion is Islam, the world's second largest after ChrIstianity.

Journalists take note: This issue is likely to become an active debate, sooner or later. And when it does, it will not be easily resolved.

The Security Council's other four permanent members are the United States, Great Britain, Russia and France -- all of them historically Christian nations. Additionally, 10 other nations at a time, including Muslim ones, are elected to the Security Council to serve two-year rotating terms.

However, only the Big 5, as the permanent members are called, can veto a proposal, a power that single-handedly can block the UN from taking action in a time of crisis. This system has been in place since the UN's founding after World War II.

So, would the world be better off if a key Muslim nation gained a permanent seat? Would that make the Security Council -- the most powerful UN body charged with keeping the global peace and authorizing international military action -- more fairly representative of the world as it is?

Theoretically, Erdogan's suggestion would seem to have merit.

Much of the Muslim world was undeveloped and under the Christian West's thumb when the UN was created. Now that the Muslim world has grown in economic and political importance, the democratic ideal would seem to require a change in the Security Council's composition.

Except that the UN is not a democratic body. Nor is democracy the norm in the Muslim world, particularly when it comes to religious freedoms and social issues.

An aside: Regular Great Religion readers may recall my past criticism of how the UN functions, in particular how authoritarian nations have stacked the UN Human Rights Council to keep from being singled out themselves for opprobrium, and how the panel's Muslim nations and their allies have ganged up on Israel. Click here to read one such post of mine from last year.

Then there's the recent resolution passed by the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organizational (UNESCO) that erased Jewish history from Jerusalem's Temple Mount and Western Wall, making them exclusively Muslim sites of historical religious importance.

OK, now let's get hypothetical, starting with this question asked by Bekdil: If you add a Muslim nation member to the Security Council, should other religions also gain representation?

Mockingly, Bekdil asked, does that mean that Israel -- which has never served on the Security Council because of Muslim opposition -- should represent Judaism on the council?

India seems the obvious choice for Hinduism, but what about Buddhism?

China actually has more Buddhists within its borders than any other nation. But China treats religious Buddhists no better than it does Christians, so that probably won't work. Besides,  many Chinese Buddhists are, in actuality, Tibetans, whose once independent nation is now occupied by China.

So perhaps It should be Bhutan, the small Himalayan kingdom that is arguably the world's most traditional Buddhist nation? But alas, Bhutan studiously avoids foreign entanglements, so it would probably recuse itself. Oh well, there's always Thailand.

Even selecting a Muslim nation would be complex, to say the least. Given the deadly animosity between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, would Iran acquiesce to Turkey (Erdogan's presumed choice) or Saudi Arabia joining the Security Council without it also gaining a seat?

Clearly, Erdogan's idea is dead on arrival -- for now. If you think the Security Council is a politicized bottleneck, as I do, imagine how dysfunctional it would be with several additional members wielding veto power. And do we really want additional democracy-averse nations gaining veto power over the Security Council's sometimes life-and-death decisions?

I think not. But to a greater or lesser degree, a lack of democracy is all you get in the Muslim world (yeah, I know, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and even Tunisia exhibit aspects of democracy, though they all fall short of Western norms).

So, my guess, and preference, is that the Security Council will remain as it is for some time, despite its many failings. Given how the UN operates, meddling with the current formula is just bound to make things worse. Besides, the Big 5, are not about to willingly dilute any of their power any time soon.

Still, it cannot be denied that a shift in global power, seemingly away from the democratic West,  is in the wind. And it's not inconceivable that Russia or China, perhaps to inure themselves from some future Muslim political backlash, might back a powerful Muslim state (will it be Sunni or Shiite?) when this debate over a permanent Security Council seat eventually heats up.

This will be a slowly developing story, for sure, with global religious trends right in the middle of it. But it's one that bears some watching.

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