Global Trends by Martin
Monday 13 February
Facing the West-Muslim divide
As protests widened across
the Muslim world over the cartoons of Prophet Muhamed, the Prime Minister’s
warning about a huge chasm between the West and Islam caught the world’s
attention. The question is whether and how this divide is going to
The row over the printing
of cartoons of the Prophet Muhamed in European newspapers worsened last
week as demonstrations and protests took place in many countries, including
Malaysia, Lebanon, India, Pakistan and in many European cities.
The row has also deepened
the debate on the so-called clash of cultures. It looks as if this
controversy is not going to abate any time soon.
The Prime Minister’s statement,
that a huge chasm has emerged between the West and Islam, seems to have
caught the attention and imagination of the West.
It was highlighted as headline
news on the BBC’s world television network. A BBC journalist commented
that Datuk Seri Abadullah Badawi’s speech, made at an international
seminar in Kuala Lumpur last Friday, had been taken seriously by Westerners
because of his reputation as a moderate Muslim leader.
The fact that Malaysia currently
chairs the Organisation of Islamic Unity makes the statement more significant.
If it had been made by a
“radical”, the statement would have been taken more as rhetoric, said
The PM’s analysis that “the
crusades, western colonialism, imposition of Israel upon the Arab world,
post-colonial hegemony and Western desire to control oil and gas especially
supplies from Muslim countries contributed to the huge chasm that had
emerged between the West and Islam” did encapsulate the legitimate grievances
of the Muslim world.
His next line, that the targeting
of so-called Islamic terrorists in the war against terror had aggravated
the situation and the senseless violence of the terrorists made things
worse, updated the analysis to the present.
His solution – that there
must be “bridge builders” between the West and the Muslim world – is
a simple and good one. The question is how this can be done.
In many Western countries,
the politicians in power themselves seem to hold on to their prejudices.
More pertinent, they and their predecessors are the ones most responsible
for the policies Abdullah Badawi pinpointed as contributing to the chasm.
These policies includes siding
with Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinians, the grasping desire to control
oil resources especially in the Middle East, the occupation of Iraq,
and the treatment of Muslims in the war against terror, and now the
seeming persecution of Iran.
The Western leaders and media
recently condemned the Iranian President for saying that Israel should
be wiped off the map. That is their right and strongly have they exercised
However, it appears that
the Western establishment is unable to condemn the military and indeed
terrorist action that actually wiped Palestine off the map when the
state of Israel was created on Palestinian land.
That may be because the Western
political leaders were accomplices, even midwives, in those tragic events
over half a century ago.
It is double standards by
forgetting, that in the one case a threat to wipe off the map ignites
such a furore, when in another case (related to the first) the actual
wiping off the map seems to have been forgotten or condoned.
The stereotyping of the “Arab
terrorist” in countless Hollywood movies, then in much of the Western
mainstream media in recent years, contributed to the demonizing of Muslims
and their religion.
This is why there is quite
a lot of support among ordinary Europeans for the actions of the newspapers
that published and re-published the cartoons.
It could be that many of
them just do not understand why Muslims find the cartoons so insulting
and blasphemous. And that they hold on strongly to the values of freedom
of expression and the media.
But underlying this attitude
could be something far more disturbing. A Danish researcher who recently
wrote a book on the attitude of Europeans towards Muslims living in
European countries found that many of the Europeans she interviewed
were ignorant among the Muslims and many even held a feeling of hatred
She told a TV interviewer
last week that she was not surprised by the publication of the cartoons,
nor how a large part of the Danish or French population supported this,
even though this deeply offended the Muslims.
She herself had been subjected
to a lot of hate mail from quite ordinary European individuals after
she appeared on media interviews trying to explain the perspectives
of Muslims who feel marginalized and demonized in Western countries,
and why they were so indignant about the cartoons.
Obviously there is a big
gap that will continue to spell more trouble for the world, unless something
is done about it.
Building bridges is crucial.
But to have a positive effect, there must be serious attempts to address
the underlying grievances of the Muslim world, starting with the ones
that have been identified by the Prime Minister.
The rights of Palestinians
have to be addressed. If they were wiped from the map, they have to
be “de-wiped” or put back on the map. What the new map is going to
be is of course a politically charged issue to be resolved.
The occupation of Iraq has
to end as soon as possible. It should have ended yesterday, as in fact
the war should not have taken place at all.
The Western formulation of
their policies towards resource-rich countries, geared foremost to how
to control their oil and other resources, should also change. The West
should accept the sovereignty of countries to their resources, and their
right to control and obtain fair benefits from these resources.
The stereotyping of Muslims
and demonizing of their religion should end. Prejudices should not
be perpetuated or championed in the name of freedom of expression.
In the same speech last week,
Abdullah Badawi also spent a lot of time on the reforms that need to
be undertaken in the Muslim world, and how it should also reach out
to the West. The building of bridges should be from both sides of the
The scales are however not
evenly balanced. Historically the Western world has a lot to answer
for, from colonialism to post-colonial hegemony. Economically and technologically,
the West is also far stronger, and it also controls the levers of world
It could try harder to understand
why the Muslim world is so frustrated, and starting with the cartoon
incident. “We are shocked at the response to the cartoons,” said several
Europeans interviewed on TV. “What is the fuss all about?”
A serious attempt to find
out what the fuss is about might help start build the bridges across
the huge chasm. Without such attempts, the chasm will only grow wider.
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