KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Osama bin Laden does not speak for Islam and not every Muslim is a terrorist, Malaysia’s leader said Friday as he urged the West and Muslims to stop demonizing each other to prevent disputes such as the Prophet Mohammad cartoon controversy.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, an Islamic scholar, warned of a “huge chasm that has emerged between the West and Islam,” particularly because of Muslim frustrations over Western policies toward Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestinians.
Many in the West see Islam as synonymous with violence, and view a Muslim as “a congenital terrorist,” Abdullah told an international conference on the future relationship between the West and the Muslim world.
“They think Osama bin Laden speaks for the religion and its followers. The demonization of Islam and the vilification of Muslims, there is no denying, is widespread within mainstream Western society,” he said.
At the same time, Muslims also must oppose “sweeping denunciation of Christians, Jews and the West” as well as violence and terror perpetrated by fringe groups, he said. Malaysia currently chairs the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference.
About 60 scholars, academics, religious leaders and writers from Europe, U.S. and Muslim countries are participating in the two-day meeting, which will discuss mutual misperceptions and the impact of globalization on the Muslim world.
Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami is one of the scheduled speakers at the conference, being held at a time of great anger among Muslims worldwide over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s prophet by a Danish newspaper late last year. Several people have died in Muslim protests against the cartoons in recent weeks.
Abdullah did not refer directly to the controversy, but said “we must put a stop to the mockery of any religion or the sacrilege of any symbol held sacred by the faithful.”
“Let’s start now by curbing the extremists in our midst. In the face of fanaticism and hysteria we must take action to counsel moderation and rationality,” he said.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, referring to the caricature controversy, said the fire that rages over Europe and most of the Muslim world “will not find kindle wood here in Malaysia,” a progressive Islamic nation where most Muslims live in harmony with Chinese and Indian minorities.
“Nothing can be gained by violence and carnage. Of course as a Muslim it is not easy to turn the other cheek when Islam is being attacked and vilified but we have to understand the very essence of our religion in advocating peace not violence.”