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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 November 2005, 16:24 GMT
Terror 'distorts' image of Islam
By Bethany Bell
BBC News, Vienna

Hamid Karzai (from left), Jalal Talabani and Mohammad Khatami in Vienna
Some of the Muslim world's most familiar faces are in Vienna
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani says the Islamic world must fight the scourge of terrorism and the problem of sectarianism between Shia and Sunni Muslims.

He was speaking at an international conference aimed at fostering dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims, which is taking place in the Austrian capital, Vienna.

Mullahs, muftis and Christian clergy, as well as high-ranking Muslim leaders including the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, and former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami are meeting in the baroque splendours of Vienna's Hofburg Palace.

The conference, which is hosted by the Austrian foreign ministry, comes at a time of increased tension between the Islamic world and the West.

Many Christians take an especially radical approach to pluralism like some Muslims - both are mistaken
Mohammed Khatami
Former Iranian President
"Muslims throughout the world are suffering increasingly from the unacceptable connection of Islam with violence or even terrorism," Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik told the meeting.

She said that the recent bombings in Jordan and the riots in France had no direct link to Islam but that some people were trying to make the connection.

"It is imperative to get rid of the distorting simplifications, dangerous stereotypes and 'images of the enemy' which prevail in some quarters with regard to Islam," Ms Plassnik said.

Distorted message

The Iraqi president said Islam was being disfigured by terrorism.

"The Islamic religion is facing a disfigurement in essence to its reality as a religion of love, compassion and peace by a small group of radicals who have lost the way," he told the conference.

President Talabani said it was incumbent on Muslim religious leaders to condemn those who incited others to terrorism and he urged them to fight sectarianism between Shia and Sunni Muslims.

The Afghan president said Islam was a fundamentally tolerant religion. But he said parts of the Muslim world faced challenges:

"Muslims throughout the world continue to make major contributions to the progress of cultures, arts and sciences today.

"But it is also clear that, unlike in Islam's glorious past, parts of the Muslim world today suffer from stagnation, violence and a weakening of state institutions which curtail their ability to address the demands of their populations."

'Not challenging enough'

The former Iranian president said Islam was not the only religion to face problems.

"Many Christians take an especially radical approach to pluralism like some Muslims - both are mistaken," he said.

Although he did not specifically name the United States, President Khatami denounced the use of the word "crusade" - sometimes used by American and Western politicians in the context of defeating Islamic terrorism. Many Muslims find the word offensive.

He said great religions should concentrate on the points they had in common - and that dialogue was the way forward.

But there was some concern that the Vienna conference had failed to address the full range of Muslim views.

"The majority of those invited to the meeting already have good relations with the West," said Omar al-Rawi, a member of the Islamic Community in Austria, who is active in integration efforts.

"The great challenge would be to have a more inclusive dialogue with people who perhaps have more controversial opinions."



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