Recently I was reading with a lot of interest the opinions expressed by several panelists in a seminar organized by ISIS together with the US Embassy on the current popular topic of “Islam and the USA”. The USA not only represents the single strongest world power but also influences much of the western thinking on issues affecting the global community. The divide between the Muslim World and USA remains wide which will be detrimental to the attainment of international peace and security.
However when discussing the subject of “Islam and the USA’ it must be done in a fair and balanced manner. I believe it will go a long way to remedy the pain and wrong suffered by Muslims if it is admitted that Muslim persecutions have indeed been going on for a long time before September 11. It would be incorrect to say that it was brought about by global terrorism. No one should be in a state of denial. The fact is that acts of racism and xenophobia in western countries continue unabated. There are too many untold stories of humiliations and indignities experienced in silence and simply passed on unnoticed. This may not be appreciated or understood by even Muslims who have gone on with their lives and normal routines and in turn feel honored to be called or considered as ‘liberal Muslims’. Generally they also have adopted western perspectives on Islam and Muslims.
What is understood by ‘liberal Muslims’ is also a subject of unending debate amongst Muslims as well as Non Muslims. There is fear always amongst Muslims that in the context of western mindsets to be called liberal would be equal to accepting their norms and values. In other word Muslims are asked to be just like another westerner. This being the case it is seen more as a process of westernization rather than accepting progress and modernization. In this regard they do not feel that the shackles of colonization are still controlling them even though they are citizens of a free and independent sovereign nations. The intention is to establish homogeneity and reject diversity.
Anything done to give honor and dignity to the followers of Islam are given negative and adverse hearings and comments by the Non Muslims and the so call liberal Muslims. A good example of the presence of this state of mind is whenever there is a mention that the “Syariah” to be implemented. In the Muslim country, there will be an upsurge of sudden frenzy and excitement. The emphasis is on it being a step backward and contrary to progress and modernity. Some would even go to the extent of suggesting this as an act of fundamentalism that would consequently be leading towards extremism and radicalism. The experts will then begin a continuous debate to ensure that this effort will not succeed. The poser to consider is whether in the minds of the west, Islam is a religion that abhors justice, freedom, human rights and democracy. There is a tremendous amount of ignorance when such a position is taken or when there is a failure to see the difference between the practice based on the culture and traditions of its adherents and the true teachings of Islam. It is thus necessary for a true understanding of Islam to be established in order to appreciate Islam in its totality with the diversities that exist within the Islamic world. At all cost we should avoid drawing conclusions on Islam based on labels placed upon it by others.
The other area of Muslim dissatisfaction, which need paying special attention to, is the question of biased treatment and prejudice against them making them feel discriminated and marginalized. It is important to recognize that colonialism is one of the major factors that contributed to this sense of deprivation and oppression of the Muslims today. However to blame colonialism alone for this state of affair would not be right. It is also true to say that Muslims themselves have contributed to anegative impression towards Islam. Unfortunately they have callously for everything they do, even to the extent of committing acts of violence and extremist activities brought Islam into the picture when in actual fact their acts are contrary to the teachings of the religion, nor allowed or sanction by it. The fact that Islam is a religion of peace, moderation and the middle path are not highlighted.
Since the criminals or the violators of Islam or the perpetrators of these acts are Muslims, therefore the religion as well as its adherents be lumped together and be blamed for those acts. Of course those who are against Islam and Muslims are quick to take advantage of this situation. They would then place negative prefixes to describe Islam and the Muslims, then go on describing about them (referring to Muslims) and us (referring to non Muslim Judeo-Christian civilization). Again this method of dividing “them” and “us” does not help in bridging the gap between the West and the Muslim world. In Bosnia Herzegovina how many thousands Muslims are practically slaughtered by Christians. No one associates these acts with the faith of the perpetrators of the crime of genocide. The religion come out clean, though we are conscious that these acts were due to the difference in their religious beliefs.
Western countries especially USA and Britain with their allies as the principal sponsors of Israel had succeeded in giving birth to the State of Israel in 1948 through the UN resolution but the establishment of the State of Palestine continues to be an unfulfilled aspiration. Israel’s expansionary policy is allowed to continue on the pretext of security considerations. She does not have to adhere to UN resolutions if it does not meet with her desire. US are willing to use its veto power just for the sake of Israel and will find good reasons to justify its actions. What is now left for Palestine is a small portion of what was the original State of Palestine. Is stating the facts equal to demonizing anybody. Let the debate be clear rather than emotional, Mr. Razali.
It is common knowledge that the creation of Palestine is reaffirmed over and over again in bilateral or multilateral forums. However its establishment is still illusory unless the international community is truly serious about taking some meaningful action to ensure its realization. The easy way out is to blame on the Palestinian lack of unity and the use of violence by some group to fight for the establishment of an independent Palestinian State. Many of us have short memories of history. Be that as it may, let the international community not apportion responsibility on the victims only but also those who allowed injustice to perpetuate. The supporters of Israel who are strong and influential with her can make all the difference. There is high hope that the current administration would be able to use its magic wand to make this happens. Israel must act now in the name of justice to come to an agreement with the Palestinians.
Anyone who is fed up with demonizing of Israel as expressed by an ex Malaysian diplomat Razali in his intervention at the seminar may have missed the fundamental point. Its quite surprising to hear from him, a former Malaysian Diplomat and President of UNGA who had now failed to understand the distinction between the State of Israel and Israelis. It is true there are Israelis who would like a peace accord be signed between Palestine and Israel but the fact remains, the Government of Israel is still applying mass punishment with the use of their full military might and power excessively to subjugate the political will of the Palestinians and the world watches helplessly. Israel’s western patrons could undertake the task of forcing Israel to honor its obligation under the many unimplemented UN resolutions on Israel if they so desire. Have we been able to abate the ongoing conflict between the Muslim world and USA? The answer is Yes and No. It is true now there is a better awareness in the USA and globally about Muslims and Islam. No, because the divide continue to persist for so long as Islamic and Muslims issues are not addressed in a holistic manner. Of course after the tragic events of September 11, the situation got worse.
The campaigns of portraying Islam and Muslims with negative images become more direct and visible which widen further the gap between the USA and the Muslim world. This becomes more conspicuous and unacceptable with the US invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq and the conflict with Iran. Moreover the US was also trying to impose its brand of democracy on Muslim countries. At least in Obama’s recent speech he acknowledged while democracy is the norm to pursue but it should take into account the country’s peculiarities and there should not be any imposition from outside.
Talking about Muslims in the US the panelist from the US Embassy who himself is a Muslim, alluded to the fact that he is a clear proof of the absence of problem in the treatment of Muslims in the US. He said he was well received by society. I suppose in the context of the seminar the debate is not about individuals but more of societal attitudes and worldview on Muslims and Islam, be it in the US or other western countries.
Based on the book “ Who Speaks For Islam” written by John L. Eposito and Dalia Mgahed, quoting from Gallup Poll study,
“Nearly one quarter of American say they would not want a Muslim as a neighbor, less than half believe US Muslims are loyal to the US”. What does this Gallop Poll indicate? Of course we can forget about the findings of Gallop as this was done in 2006 and may be considered outdated. I agree there may have been changes since then in mindset and a better understanding of the issues. However we cannot take things for granted.
There are many instances that can be referred to in order to illustrate the feelings of anger and annoyance amongst fair minded Muslims who are equally interested to find a solution. These tend to have the capacity to repeat itself. Examples like the cartoon incident, the movie by the Dutch MP and the willingness to accept with open arms, those Muslims who speak disparagingly about their own religion or those considered as detractors of Islam. Those Muslims who condemned Islam are given the widest publicity and become instant stars and experts on Islam in TV shows and lecture circuits. These acts were seen as intentional acts to belittle Islam. Some of them are even awarded with honors. What is the message then intended to be conveyed to the Muslims?
Terrorism is another favorite subject closely identified with Muslims and Islam where they have to bear the brunt of adverse publicity and comments from all sides. Some western leaders join the bandwagon. Intellects and academicians followed suit to take this opportunity as an excuse to demonize Islam the Muslims. The so call experts do not fail to blame Islam for global terrorism. The result and consequence of these are the strengthening of radical groups such as Al Qaeda to react and portray the west as the enemies of Islam and Muslims. Their call become popular under the circumstances amongst Muslims, as they are able to project the image of courage to speak against the west in defending the good name and sanctity of Islam against prejudice, oppression, marginalization, discrimination, injustice and unfairness of the west.
The Muslims who deny the existence of these problems are those who have taken the bandwagon of adopting the lives of a westerner and accepted western civilization as the answer towards progress and modernity. They have forgotten their own Islamic heritage. The fact that Islam also promoted civilization and learning when the West was still living in the dark ages is not admitted and acknowledged.
We are now confronted with the dual problems of anti USA in the Muslim world and the growing Islamophobia in the west. How do we reconcile this divergent, to enable us to create a world based on respect, goodwill, tolerance and harmony. These require both sides to move beyond rhetoric towards practical solutions that will ensure the achievement of durable peace and security.
Of course during the Presidency of George W. Bush, he made some initial blunders when describing the New York twin tower tragedy and obviously the international media joined him in the condemnation of those involved in the commission of such monstrous crimes. It was only later that they realized that the Muslim world shared the same position and feelings against such unjustifiable acts. Subsequently he did make some adjustments to his rhetoric and the media though take a long time to do the damage control. Berlusconi and the Pope also made statements, which upset and touch on the sensitive veins of the Muslims. They later made amends to their statement and rhetoric to soften the Muslim anger.
Have we then overcome these problems? The new punch line is, the US and the west are not against Islam but terrorism. Yet whenever the subject of terrorism or some violent tragic incident happened the media and commentators were quick to describe the personalities behind them as Islamic or Muslim terrorists, radicals or extremists. In this regards anti Islam and Muslim feelings is further perpetuated which add fuel to fire in the hate and prejudice that exist on both sides.
I am very happy with the speech made by Obama, President of the USA at the Cairo University. We can say that there is a clear intention to reach out to the Muslims. Undeniably it contains a lot of understanding involving the issues regarding Islam and western divide and was indeed very substantive. The Muslims felt he was sincere and showed their response positively. However without some visible steps being taken as a follow through to the speech in resolving the conflicts in the Middle East, it will be construed as another rhetorical statement. In resolving the Muslim issues and problems, it should not only be left to the Arab world but also the 80 % Muslim of Asia and Africa as they formed the majority of the Muslims. The Muslims need to be united and cohesive. We should not allow one group to be used against the other or allow a holier than thou mindset to prevail. Otherwise the Muslims will continue to be weak and abused. It is only from the position of strength that we can move to narrow the gap between the US or west and the Islamic world.