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For the Sake of Humanity - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Surely, a call for all human beings to meet and talk on the basis of human brotherhood annoys extremists in all societies all over the world. For what would remain of extremism if its climate no longer existed, and how would the self-righteous evangelical address be circulated if its sources dried up?

When human beings meet and talk on the basis of human brotherhood, the calls for wars of civilizations and the exchange of verbal abuse among different cultures will have no place or effect, because the cultures will be meeting to talk face to face, not by distorted proxy.

In this tense international climate, especially after 9/11, there is no place for calm voices because the stage is already occupied by angry voices and mutual poems of verbal abuse. There is rage and tension on the part of Muslims at the slightest talk or incident relative to them, and that rage and oversensitivity is explicable with reference to the civilization’s “wounded dignity.” The dignity of a nation is wounded in the same way as the dignity of an individual is wounded. When that happens it becomes very difficult to control the chain of reaction because every action by the guilty party would be condemned in advance and received by the wounded party with rage and mistrust. Matters become even worse, and the picture more complicated, if the perceived offender actually decides to inflict a wound. When that happens, things get out of hand and both parties slide into the abyss of flagrant confrontation.

It goes without saying that a climate of conflict between civilizations and of rift between nations and cultures is a climate beneficial only to war propagandists in all its manifestations, as well as to the self-righteous, who reject in advance, the possibility or even the rightness of human brotherhood and dialogue. Such is the case between Muslims and the West and perhaps between Muslims and the rest of the world as well. There is a charged atmosphere and rift nourished by extremists from both the Muslims and the West.

The Dutch MP Geert Wilders and his short film “Fitna” is a case in point, and so also is the crisis caused by the Danish cartoons and Salman Rushdi’s Satanic Verses and Taslima Nisrin and others. A word of caution seems in order here before we proceed any further. Value judgment in the West may sometimes be entirely different from that in the Middle East. In the West, individual liberties are relatively more valued than collective value; where as in the Middle East and the Islamic World in general collective value rules supreme over individual liberties. This is a critical difference between the two cultures. Moreover, we should not ignore the fact that the media in the Arab and Islamic world give prominence to such examples (as Geert Wilders and the Danish cartoons) as would lead the poor Afghanis in the streets of Kabul and the bread queues in Cairo out of frustration to shout abuse at the Dutch MP without even knowing what he does, who he is, and what he said,. What I mean is that there is readiness in the Arab and Islamic media to put such events that are hostile to the Muslim culture in the spotlight. The question here is: Who keeps the charged atmosphere, the conflict and the event alive? There are people who have made it their business to live on the back of these events; they convene conferences and form societies.

More importantly, the confrontational atmosphere and defending the Prophet of Islam and Muslims elates the defensive religious passions, which are usually strong, and consequently breeds new crowds. True, most of the people who come out to the streets to demonstrate, express anger and shout against the Dutch film “Fitna” and the Danish cartoons are ordinary people, but there is no doubt that a certain percentage, however small, will go on and on listening to the star preachers of such atmospheres, and move from supporting the prophet to becoming followers of their preachers. Does this mean that there should be no objection to offenses against the Prophet, Islam, and all Muslims, lock, stock and barrel? Of course not – such objections are intuitive and natural defenses.

We are only trying to understand why we have this high readiness for provocation and tension. Are these hostile approaches to Islam new or a novelty? No they are not; they have been around ever since Europe came in contact with Islam, and history books are replete with examples of that sort, and on a higher and deeper level than the naive Danish cartoons or the worn out film of Geert Wilders. Such hostile approaches to Islam, though unscientific, have found their way into books and important research papers in the West, and have been discussed and replied to by learned Muslim researchers.

What takes place these days is something entirely different, partly because of media circulation, and partly because of the assault by rejectionists and protest and extremist groups against such events in order to justify their existence and continuity. What is a Dutch rightwing extremist MP worth if it were not for the fact that he is offering himself as enemy number one of Islam in the West and as the brave man who does not fear Muslim terrorists? And what is the worth of other people like him among Muslims if it were not for the fact that they offer themselves as defenders of Islam and jihadists for the Prophet of Islam? All this is on the surface level.

On the deeper level, there are the high levels of hatred and separateness that prepare the stage for the Crusade War actors and the defense of the Islamic nation, and there are the Muslim preachers, evangelists, and jihadists and the entrenching themselves around religion as they understand it. All these ideas and concepts could not have flourished without the intensification and multiplicity of the atmospheres of civilization rift. It was for these reasons that King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz launched his initiative during the reception of participants in the Conference of Dialogue of Civilizations between the Islamic world and Japan, for the dialogue of religions on the basis of human brotherhood. It was an important and distinguished initiative. At that reception, the king pointed out that his call and initiative was to confront the weakening family ties and the spread of atheism “that are not allowed in the holy books – the Koran, the Torah and the Bible.”

In a speech, rare of its kind, he said: “For the past two years I have been thinking about humanity. I found that all humanity at present is living through a crisis that has shaken the equilibrium of mind, morality and humanity, and for this reason I presented my thinking to our scholars in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to obtain the green light from them, and I thank God, they agreed with me.” The king summed up his idea by saying that he was going to ask all heavenly religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – to meet with each other in good faith and sincerity toward all other religions, because we turn our faces to one God. “As a matter of fact, I know of no Saudi scholar – let alone a politician – talking in such phrases with such clarity and purity, about the meeting of all nations on earth. No doubt, it is a daring and unprecedented call and was not made for verbal consumption, although, it has to be said; that the mere utterance of this idea in the manner it was done is an achievement in itself.

As the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal put it: “It is an idea and a working program, and it is open to all major religions in the world, including Judaism, as they too are followers of a holy book. “This kind of linguistic breach of the wall of extremist thought is a positive shock to that thought, and it is what we really need. I am sure that the extremists and exclusivists will be disappointed by the king’s invitation for human dialogue among religions, on the basis of the common denominators among them, in order to consolidate them. I am also sure that regardless of the probabilities of success and the readiness of all religions for brotherhood and dialogue, the Saudi invitation, coming as it is, from the king of Saudi Arabia, the cradle of the two mosques and home of the salafis is in itself, a precedent and a distinguished breach of extremist thought. In the near future, the enemies of dialogue and the issuers of apostatizing takfiri fatwas will express their complaints and attempts to circumvent the king’s initiative, but the river water is already flowing; it might be obstructed, but it could not be stopped from flowing.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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