From Weekly Blitz of
Why Interfaith Dialogue
Dr. Richard L. Benkin
The need for open dialogue among people of different faiths would seem apparent; but the lack of such dialogue is at the root of misunderstandings so deep that they too often are assumed to be objective truth. And that misinformation forms part of the ill-conceived bedrock of opinion that still separates Muslims from non-Muslims.
Many westerners might be quick to cite our own culture and media as the culprits; and we should not flinch from critically examining our own role in this conceptual disconnect. An objective analysis, however, would attribute the problem—and solution—to Muslim actions as well. What might they be?
There are three reasons why discussions of Islam are dominated by Arab voices and issues, each suggesting a path for correcting this misconception.
Problem #1: The high profile and reprehensible acts that have spurred the international war on terror have been carried out by Arabs who claim to be acting in the name of Islam.
Westerners often find it difficult to believe that these claims Islam are illegitimate when we see little or no official Muslim outrage. Even if individual leaders have at times condemned these murderers, their condemnations too often were equivocal, either justifying the acts by the political motivations behind them or coupling them with equivalent condemnations of the terrorists’ targets. Since these terror groups claim far more Muslim than non-Muslim victims, one would expect the strongest condemnation to emanate from the Muslim world
Solution #1: And that is really the first
solution. Muslim leaders—religious and political—must unequivocally
condemn acts of terror wherever they occur and no matter who their victims
are. When an Israeli gunned down innocent Arabs recently, the entire
Jewish world and Israeli government were uniform in calling it “Jewish
terrorism.” No one in authority tried to “understand” or justify
it. That is what Muslim leaders must do. Bangladeshi State Minister for
Home Affairs Lutfuzzamen Babar’s
placing of a wreath recently at the site of the 9/11 terror attacks is an
example of this sort of action. And the single voice with which
Bangladeshi officials are speaking to US officials, making clear
Problem #2: In seemingly every international forum, Muslim nations ally themselves with the Arab world, which often takes stands that it justifies as representing Islam. With no counter statements by non-Arab Muslim nations, the impression remains to be reinforced with every subsequent action.
Solution #2: Alliances for most of Muslim Asia are more naturally with the West. The Arabs’ anti-development ideology stands in stark contrast with the aims of most Muslim nations. Perhaps it is sustainable for a nation glutted with oil wealth, but do those nations share the wealth with their Muslim brothers and sisters elsewhere (or even within their own borders. Non-Arab Muslim nations need to ally themselves with the more progressive and economically viable nations of the West—and the East, developing unique trade agreements and political and defense agreements. This includes cooperating against terrorists of all stripes. Finally, as a westerner, I suggest that Muslim Asia take charge of the OIC so it is not run as an adjunct of the Arab League.
Problem #3: Westerners—and certainly Americans—know too little about the non-Arab Muslim world, creating a knowledge gap that allows others to fill in the blanks. Even prominent think tanks (East and West) often fail to differentiate non-Arab Muslims.
Solution #3: Muslim governments should
proactively provide the world with high profile Muslim actions that have
nothing to do with Arab nationalism.
tearing down walls of ignorance is best accomplished mutually. As one of
the world’s largest Muslim nations—and with traditional values of moderation as
well as its religious minorities,
Writer is an analyst.