Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Islam Versus the West, Is There a Winner? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat- The events of 11 September 2001 are considered a watershed in the history of the relationship between the Muslim and the western worlds. New terminology has been approved in the international political dictionary, terminology that is based as a whole on the issue of apprehension or fear of the other. The term “Islamophobia,” or fear of the Islamic tide, has emerged, and it is countered on the other side by the term “westophobia,”

Despite the presence of moderates on both sides, extremists have also emerged. These extremists have been concerned with keeping the fire burning through the brandishing slogans such as “Islamophobia” and “westophobia,” which use the same accusations of either fear of “Islamization” or “westernization” of societies.

The street in the Muslim world has hardly calmed down after the controversy caused by the slanderous Danish cartoons, followed by the statements of Pope Benedict XVI of Vatican, which were also considered slanderous to Islam and Muslims. This was then followed by right-wing Dutch MP Geert Wilder’s online anti-Islam film Fitna (Sedition) which attacks both the Koran and Islam.

On the flip side, comes Osama Bin Laden, leader of the Al-Qaeda Organization, threatening the European people because of he claims are the violations and provocations imposed on the Muslims abroad in particular.

Those who call themselves victims of “Islamophobia” filed 62 court cases last year, 2007. Sami Dabbah, official spokesman of the Coalition against Islamophobia in France, explains to Asharq Al-Awsat that the hysterical fear of Islam stems from what some extremist groups circulate in Europe, which is based on exploiting the irresponsible behavior of some Muslims, exaggerate this behavior, and distort the image of Islam and Muslims in the eyes of the common people; this is done, as Dabbah says, through the “media organs.”

With regard to the discrimination against and pressure upon the immigrant Muslims, especially in France, Sami Dabbah points out that the percentage of those harmed in 2007 rose by 20 percent compared to the previous years. Dabbah says that the government institutions are at the forefront of the series of those exerting pressure on the Muslims, especially veiled women, as a percentage close to 80 percent of these institutions stop Muslims from getting some of their civil rights that are guaranteed by law, such as getting into some banks, accompanying their children to school trips, and in some cases they stop them from entering the schools when they bring their children to attend. All this, according to Dabbah, is due to pressure by right-wing politicians.

In his turn, Mohamed Mestiri, director of the International institute of Islamic Thought in Paris, considers that action and reaction keeps the “phobia” fire blazing; it is a war between the extremists, those belonging to the Islamic culture, and those belonging to the western culture. Dealing with this, in Mestiri’s viewpoint, necessarily requires establishing a joint dialog by the wise men and proponents of centrism, who ought to play their role to reduce the dangers stemming from the wave of joint extremism, and in putting out the fire which the extremists try to ignite. Mestiri denounces the role played by the intellectuals, which he considers to be a mere reaction to the address of the “phobia proponents.”

The most prominent problem of the Islamic societies, according to the director of the International Institute of Islamic Thought, is the interpretation of the Holy Koran verses correctly and the understanding of the aims of Islamic Shariaa. Mestiri gives as evidence on this the marginalization of women, and the consideration of the military option as the only and ultimate way of confrontation, in addition to the disregard of the pluralistic ideology. This has entrenched the hysterical fear of Islam by “the other.”

With regard to the hysterical fear of Islam, “Islamophobia,” which lies in the fears of reviving the Islamic movements in Europe and the Islamization of the west, Mohamed Mestiri considers that the “Islamization of Europe” is no more than a mere slogan created by the western extremists as a result of the increase in the number of Muslims in the western societies. Mestiri points out that Islamization or anything else in reality requires strength of political representation and participation in the European parliaments, in addition to economic weight that the Muslims currently lack. He also stresses that “it is not important to be a minority or a majority; what is important is the ability to influence.”

Mestiri says, “Osama Bin Laden’s recent statement, which he dedicated to the European countries, represents a real danger to France and to the entire west; however, the spread of Osama Bin Laden’s culture – by which Mestiri means takfiri ideology – is more dangerous, particularly after the spread of anger caused by the increasing provocation of the feelings of the Muslims every day.” Mestiri calls on the European governments to confront this danger by giving the immigrant Muslims their rights and recognizing them. Mestiri considers this to be more effective than security actions.

Mestiri wonders about the possibility of restoring the meeting between Islam and the west to what it was in Andalusia during the Umayyad Caliphate, especially during the era of Caliphs Al-Nasir and Al-Mustansir, when the Andalusia Government used some Andalusia Christians as ambassadors to the Kings of Europe, the Emperors of the Byzantine Empire, and the Christian Kingdoms in northern Andalusia. Mestiri considers this to be a positive model of the meeting between Islam and the west when the fears of “the direct neighbor of Europe” are disregarded, because the Europeans knew the Arabs since the latter established a civilization unprecedented in the west in Andalusia until the fall of Granada, and when the Arabs advanced into France until they reached the outskirts of Paris.

With regard to the crisis of the “westophobia” concept within the Islamic eastern societies, Mohamed Mestiri blames the political and Islamist action group for the spread of the address of this term. These groups have excluded the intellectuals who call for a pluralistic ideology and the revival of the Islamic civilization. This is because these groups fear the strong pressure that the intellectuals could exert in their societies. Now, these groups are in a critical situation within their societies. The director of the International Islamic Thought in Paris calls on the “phobic” Islamist sides to stop talking about the fears of integration under the pretext of fear of dissolving, which Mestiri considers to be a deceptive call. He stresses that integration means “respect of law and secular principles.” Mestiri emphasizes that they are positive in two aspects. The first aspect is the freedom of religion for the individuals, and the second is the neutrality of the state toward the religious rites. In exchange, Mestiri calls on the governments to respect the individual religious, cultural, and national character of the Muslims for the sake of making the integration succeed.

Let us go back to the Muslim east, and the “westophobia” calls, which have prevailed over the minds of the common people and the elites, and which describe the other as “infidel,” call for not letting him pass or initiate greetings to him, and accuse him always of being a “conspirator.”

Islamic Caller Dr Aaidh al-Qarni says, “For a long time, we should have had plans, methodological studies, and institutional action in order to reply in a logical way to the western other on such issues, and even to convey the correct moderate voice to these people.”

Al-Qarni admits that the Muslims themselves have been negligent, “For a long time we kept talking to ourselves internally, and we did not consider the nature and universality of religion. This negligence in the address has blurred the image of Islam.” Al-Qarni calls on the rulers to adopt a political stance to establish communication and dialog with the other; and he calls on the ulema to adopt a high-standard universal address.

In his turn the Saudi young Islamic caller, Ahmad al-Shuqayri, stresses that the Muslims themselves have played a role in distorting the image of Islam. He accuses the Muslims of causing the emergence of the term “Islamophobia.” Al-Shuqayri stresses that the issue is an intellectual one, and it will not be dealt with “except by correcting the thinking of the Muslims in the west so that they would represent an ideal Islamic model worthy of being followed.” Al-Shuqayri adds, “The aim is not to convert them to Islam as much as it is to convey our religion.” Al-Shuqayri considers the transfer of “westophobia” from one generation to another to be a grave indication; he says, “We are repeating the same mistake of the Jews when thy said, we are the Chosen People and the fire of hell will not touch us except for a few days; we are transgressing against God by assuming a divine status and deciding the fate of people by saying that they go to hell and we go to paradise.” Al-Shuqayri considers that the Muslims` inability to understand the Prophet has caused all the current problems; he says with regret, “We still are following the Islamic jurisprudence of the times of glory, such as the fatwas and interpretations of dealing with the non-Muslims by Imam Malik, Imam Abu-Hanifah, and Imam Ibn-Hanbal. These fatwas and interpretations were suitable and beneficial during their era, 1,000 years ago, when the Muslims were at the peak of their glory and were in control of the world during the era of the Islamic conquests.”

Al-Shuqayri adds that he believes that had the ulema whom we follow today lived in our times, they would have changed their fatwas about dealing with the non-Muslims in the light of the fact that the Islamic address now is translated quickly on all the Internet websites, contrary to the situation hundreds of years ago.

Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu stresses to Asharq Al-Awsat that the OIC is not neglecting the issue of “Islamophobia.” He says: “We are conducting a number of contacts at bilateral European levels with politicians and parliament members of the countries, and at the level of the European Union and its committees, also direct contacts with the universities in Europe and the United States, in addition to the official work. The OIC informs the member countries and the public opinion of the developments of “Islamophobia,” and we exert political and diplomatic efforts with the sides concerned, particularly the European ones, in order to rectify their actions.”

Dr. Al-Qarni says that “westophobia” has become integrated in our identity and culture; he says: “We, the Arabs, have a great deal of cruelty and dryness; if a man is cruel to his neighbor, how will he be to the non-Muslims? Instilling fear of the west indeed exists in some Muslim countries, so is looking with a suspicious eye, and not communicating.”

Al-Qarni calls for getting a deep knowledge of Islam and of the Prophet, God`s prayer and peace be upon him, and learning from him the way to deal with others.

The well-known Islamic caller Rashid al-Zahrani attributes the causes of “westophobia” to the political events and crises that stormed the nation, such as in Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq, which created a great deal of fear. Thus, the Muslim now looks with apprehension and fears to the west, and considers that the non-Muslim westerner is the cause of the problems. Al-Zahrani adds, “Many people still fear that the non-Muslim could influence the Muslim and make him change his identity and religion, because a friend can influence you.”