Open Debate: Key to Westerners and Arabs Misunderstanding [Archives:2001/46/Focus]
Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi
I do not agree with those people claiming that the recent US-led war against terrorism is targeting Islam in particular. Islam, as a divine religion calling for peace and harmony among human beings, has been victimized and misused by some people. They use Islam to invite Muslims and Arabs’ sympathy in order to achieve their own purposes. I believe there is no sense for this argument and for people in the modern time to wage wars against each other for ethnic or religious reasons. Wars now are of economic background and interests. People all over the world should be open enough to understand each other and live in peace.
The terrorist attacks in the United States last September and its recent consequences have formed a misconception towards Islam. Some fanatic Westerners seized this opportunity to depict Islam and its followers using all bad titles. Their problem is that they do not understand the essence of Islam and have a stereotypical image about it.
Muslims themselves are partly responsible of this, as Islam has turned into a puppet for every Tom, Dick and Harry who misuse Islam for their own personal interests. I do not know who gave the people of Taliban the right to declare themselves as representatives of Islam and defenders of its beliefs. What nonsense they are talking about? They have brought their people centuries back, banning everything including watching television. Then, they beg for the aid of international charitable unions including those from the West to support their suffering people. It is something incongruous and contradicting. When they came to power, they started focusing on such things like the veil, any kind of statues, and so on. They should have begun with how to improve very low living standards of the starving masses. These guys are accountable for the bad image of Islam conveyed by the non-Muslims.
The puritanical and horrible image of Islam the Taliban people are presenting is not at all the core of Islam. Islam always calls for peace and harmony among people in the world and gives the people the right to think and live openly with other cultures and religions.
I do believe this sort of misunderstanding between Arabs and Westerners can be sorted out only through open debates which intellectuals and medias should initiate. Muslims and Arabs are in need to have Americans and Europeans, in particular, understand their own culture and mentality. These people have no knowledge about Arabs and Muslims and even if they have it is stereotypical. But, most of them are willing to get to know and understand. They are against the association of terrorism with religions. This actually would help Arabs to show the image which they like the Westerners to have about them. Independent medias can play a substantial role in this respect, as the official ones are just busy with spreading nonsense news from the high officials in the decision-making structure.
We need independent media that can bridge the gap between the two sides and and bring them together to discuss their views and settle down their scores. It is the only way out. Seminars and forums to this end are the task of intellectuals who can undertake the responsibility of cultural exchange between the two parties. The US Fulbright program, which brings so many people together and help them understand each other and accordingly form friendship associations, is very important. Arab and Muslim countries should give the same opportunity to Westerners and help them to observe closely their culture and way of thinking.
I believe Arabs need another version of the Al-Jazeerah Space Channel in English which can reach the Westerners and report to them the Arabs problems and aspirations and the way they think of the Westerner. Such a channel reporting without bias or influence of the political regimes can help a lot in correcting this misconceptions and open a free and open debate between the two sides. Al-Jazeerah is dominating the public opinion in the Arab world because of its professionalism which is missing in the official medias. The latter only reports one side of the story and presents the official opinion which is most of the time disgusting. Westerners and Americans can show up through this channel and speak out their opinion towards Arabs and Muslims, which accordingly will enable them to understand their views. This would create, of course, more voices for peace and more partners for prosperity. It is only by this way we can understand each other and make the world a better place to live together in peace and harmony.