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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 September, 2003, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
BBC's Roger Hardy answers your emails
You sent your questions to BBC Islamic affairs analyst Roger Hardy in response to his pieces 'Islam and the West: Bridging the divide' and 'Islam in Turkey: Odd one out'. He answers a selection of them below.

Your 'bridging the divide' questions:

Q. James Wadd, England
Can you explain to me why millions of people leave these countries which are offered up as shining examples of being Islamic states and head for the West?

A. Roger Hardy:
I am not aware of having offered up any Muslim countries as "shining examples". Most of these countries belong to the developing world and so suffer from a familiar litany of economic and social ills. In addition, democracy is conspicuous by its absence. Hardly surprising, then, that many Muslims seek a better life elsewhere. Does any of this tell us very much about Islam? I doubt it. Those who leave their homes are more likely to be escaping from poverty or oppression than from Islam.

Q. Dan Roberts, Nottingham, UK:
You are asking for some kind of reconciliation between Islam and the 'West'. What aspects of the West is this to include? If by saying the 'West', you are actually alluding to the modern concept of Christianity, then it is wrong to suggest that one should be more willing to accommodate the other. Our religion is based on our culture, whereas it is the opposite with Islam.

Q. Rich, USA
Why should the divide be bridged? Sometimes cultures are so different that they can only exist separately.

A. Roger Hardy:
In response to both questions, "bridges", in this context, can serve different purposes. Of course cultures and religions are different from one another, and will to a certain extent go on existing separately from one another. But in our shrinking world, different cultures often find they need to coexist within a given society. In this context, bridges won't abolish differences but may promote understanding and minimise conflict.

Q. Michael Smith, Australia, Sydney:
I think that the 'democratic' world needs to actually review how 'democratic' it really is. What if an Islamic party won in the elections in Iraq and they wanted to form an Islamic state, would the US be opposed to such an act or not?

A. Roger Hardy:
The West finds itself in a dilemma. It favours democracy but prefers to see pro-Western forces win elections rather than anti-Western ones. Hence the alarm when an Islamist party nearly came to power in Algeria just over a decade ago. A similar problem may arise in Iraq, where either nationalists or Islamists may eventually come to power and want to detach the country from the American embrace. There's no easy escape from this dilemma, but I think a great many people feel the idea of imposing democracy through "regime change" - whether in Iraq or anywhere else - rather problematic.

Q. Ali Al-Mufleh, Jordan:
The root of the conflict between the West and Islam stems from Western foreign policy towards Arab states, namely the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As Arabs and Muslims cry out for peace and justice, not a single Western institution has responded appropriately. What is your reaction?

A. Roger Hardy:
I agree that Western foreign policy on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is an important factor, but I do not agree that "not a single Western institution has responded appropriately". That seems too sweeping. The grouping which produced the Middle East "roadmap" - known as the Quartet - consists of the EU, the UN and Russia as well as the US (though I agree one of these is more powerful than the others). Moreover Western NGOs do valuable humanitarian and human-rights work in the area. Should we really lump them all together as being hostile or unhelpful?

Your questions on Islam in Turkey:

Q. J Kidd, USA:
It's funny that this article only talks about the modern day Turkey as a secular Muslim country. Is it really? This country has one of the worse human rights records according to the US State Department. Turkey was an Orthodox Christian country, remember! Many Christians were rounded up and forced out of Turkey in the early 20th century.

A. Roger Hardy:
Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, created a secular, multi-party state but not a fully democratic one. But does "secular" imply "democratic"? Not necessarily. Turkey's poor human rights record is well known and well documented.

Q. R Sanon, NY, USA:
Kurdish human rights in Turkey are very questionable. I wish Turkey the best in their Islam-democracy experiment, but how can they join Europe when they consistently clamp down on Kurdish culture and language?

A. Roger Hardy:
The reports of both Turkish and international human rights organisations suggest the Kurds have been among the main victims of the country's human rights abuses. The Turkish parliament has recently eased some of the restrictions on use of the Kurdish language, but the European Union has made it clear that, in order to join, Turkey must do much more.


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