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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September, 2003, 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK
Islam and the West: The way forward

By Nihad Awad
Executive Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations

The quest for world peace is a shared responsibility. No one can deny the fact that official relations between Western countries and the Muslim world have reached a heightened pitch.

It is not a "clash of civilizations" but reluctance on the part of the majority - on both sides - to be involved in honest discourse.

The result of this reluctance leaves the outcome of the relationship to the whims of a few; principally, those who desire to promote a "clash of civilizations".

'White elephant'

It is in the best interests of Western countries to recognise that there are unresolved problems in the Muslim world. Both East and West must actively participate in the resolution of these issues.

The major obstacles to this resolution include the lack of freedoms and independence in the Muslim world and the inability of Western powers to acknowledge and reform certain unjust foreign policies.

Israeli tank on patrol in the West Bank town of Ramallah
'The occupied territories have become the elephant in the room that everyone tries to ignore'
These obstacles manifest themselves most vividly in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which have become the proverbial elephant in the room that everyone tries to ignore.

Failures on both sides have allowed fringe elements in the East to manipulate and exploit the forgotten elephant.

After the tragic attacks of 9/11, the world's remaining superpower moved into action in an attempt to deal with the elephant's shadow, but not the elephant itself.

Reform in Islam

When we now cast our critical eye eastward, there are those in the Muslim world who have not come far enough in condemning some of their brethren who illegitimately use their faith to attack innocents.

Courage is needed in the Muslim world to stand up and declare that acts of political violence are completely antithetical to the teachings of Islam.

Such a stance is not a "reform" in Islam; it actually comes directly from the heart of the Koran.

O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other and not that you may despise each other.
Koran (49:13)
The idea of mutual respect towards humanity is not a product of modern-day liberalism - it is a clear text from the Koran itself.

The Koran tells us that: "O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other and not that you may despise each other." (49:13)

In sum, both the Western powers and the Muslim world have the obligation of addressing their own shortcomings.

America, my country, clearly sets the international agenda and must compel those within its sphere of influence to consistently adhere to basic human rights principles.

A brighter future?

As Americans, we must urge our country to act in our own self-interest and not succumb to the influence of special interest groups who negatively influence an otherwise even-handed approach to policymaking.

For the sake of humanity, we cannot surrender our destiny to those leaders and individuals who see only darkness ahead - those who see heroism only in the use of force; not in the power of reconciliation.

Only when we venture on the path towards cooperation and responsibility will we be able to offer ourselves and our posterity a brighter future.

Nihad Awad will be taking part in a live broadcast on Islamophobia post 9/11. If you'd like to take part, or make a comment about this article, fill in the form at the bottom of this page.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received:

It's amazing to me how people in the West criticize Muslim nations
Jeff G, USA
The Muslim world is no more guilty of discriminating against minorities, mistreating women, and terrorism than the West. Christian America had segregation, Christian South Africa had apartheid, Christian Mexico has machismo, Christian Ireland has the IRA, UVF etc., Christian Spain has the ETA, Christian America has the Klan, Christian Colombia has the FARC, and Christian Peru has the Shining Path. Of course, I could go on and on. It's amazing to me how people in the West criticize Muslim nations when there are many extremists and injustices committed in our own backyards. This is what Jesus called seeing the speck in your neighbors eye but not seeing the beam in your own.
Jeff G, USA

It is somewhat paradoxical to demand that Muslims denounce the horrific actions and policies of their countries, yet at the same time forbid them a voice by installing and supporting vile regimes that trample over their Islamic rights. But then again, it is naive to think that the interests of the Muslims lies in the hearts of the West. When Kuwait was liberated from Iraq, it was not delivered back to the people of Kuwait to determine their own fate; rather it went back to the dictators. US foreign policy is excluded from democratic process, the public does not have a say, or even a clue.
John R, UK

It appears to me that in the early years of the 21st Century that there's no real 'mass movement' to counter balance the almost unimaginable power of western companies and governments and their unrelenting march of globalisation. Islam however, appears to fill this vacuum as a voice for the common man. Are there parallels with the rise of Christianity and unrest with the Roman Empire?
Russell, Scotland

Certainly to Western eyes it can sometimes be difficult not to associate Islam with fanatical and violent practices. Most reasonable people realise that such behaviour is carried out by minority fanatical groups and that Islam is a religion worthy of our respect. The unsettling thing for people like me is the apparent reluctance of some Muslims - in the face of such inhumane acts to stand up and condemn them. If a zealous Christian group killed innocents or tried to enforce a law that didn't recognise the most basic human rights, then prominent Christians would be queuing up to condemn them as loudly as they possibly could. This is much less apparent with Muslims who seem to feel to some degree that the West are simply reaping what they had sown.
John Motture, UK

To J Motture: "If a zealous Christian group killed innocents". you say. I think you have just seen the outcome of such a case in the USA. The person who murdered the two abortion clinic workers and his "church" has refused to condemn his actions. How does this differ from the suicide terror tactics that we all deplore in the Middle East? Cooperation and justice for all, and a concept of "fair play" is what is needed and until that's granted there will never be the meeting of minds and acceptance
Robert, UK

Pretty words that mean nothing. Muslim demands for Islamic rule to be established over non-Muslims are a very real issue and it won't go away no matter how many times you try to wallpaper over it with pretty words that mean nothing. Come out and directly say that the Council on American-Islamic Relations is against Islamic rule and Sharia in the USA and other non-Muslim countries and you will go a long way toward getting rid of "Islamophobia". Come out and denounce the horrible discriminatory laws against non-Muslims and ex-Muslims in Islamic countries! Until then, we judge you by what you DON'T say as much as by what you DO say.
Jane, California, USA

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