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Targeting Islam again

03/20/2008 11:55 PM | By Tanvir Ahmad Khan, Special to Gulf News

The latest summit of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) held in Dakar on March 13-14 was projected as having focused on Islamophobia in the West apart from issues such as Palestine that constitute its raison d'etre. It had before it a comprehensive report on provocative statements and actions against Islam. Predictably the summit decided to intensify the dialogue with the West to combat this aspect of "the clash of civilisations".

One could describe these deliberations as timely as there are clear indications of a fresh wave of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab campaigns in the months ahead. It is unlikely that the OIC will make much of an impact on this impending onslaught as its causes are complex. Unfortunately, several years of inter-state consultations and non-state efforts to promote inter-faith harmony have not established effective mechanisms to reverse confrontationist postures.

Diplomatic niceties aside, Western governments fighting unpopular wars in Iran and Afghanistan continue to maintain a state of denial about the real causes of conflict and mislead public opinion at home and abroad by blaming it on Islam's alleged belligerence towards other cultures. The guarded optimism about the Annapolis conference is fading away as the actual policy seems to be to set the stage for some coercive settlement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by first letting Israel crush the radical "Islamist" Hamas in Gaza.

The US President George W. Bush told an American Legion convention quite some time ago that the West was engaged in the "decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century"; he has not moved away much from his identification of the enemy as "Islamofascists".


This is not to suggest that present day Islamophobia is simply a propagandist extension of the shooting war though it would also be naïve to de-link it from its overall strategy. A careful deconstruction of the more outrageous anti-Muslim "events" often reveals hidden connections.

Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of the Danish newspaper that staged a particularly egregious such event by publishing the infamous cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was not only wired to the hardcore neo-conservatives of the US but also to Daniel Pipes, the founder of the notorious Campus Watch that literally terrorises the American academic community on Israel's behalf. Admittedly, the recent repetition of this blasphemous act has other motives too but these motives do not invalidate the original intention of demonising Islam in the context of the so-called global war on terror.

Consider something similar in Netherlands too where a legislator is hell-bent upon screening a movie said to be highly offensive to Islam's Holy Book and its greatly revered Messenger. This is not something sudden or spontaneous.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali expatriate with little claim to scholarship, was trying to create a lucrative niche for herself in Holland by saying and doing shocking things about Islam. A veritable industry sprang up to build her up as a Muslim intellectual laying bare the aggressive and intolerant essence of Islam.

Theo Van Gogh who collaborated with her in a film project was murdered by an outraged Muslim of Moroccan origin. This solitary criminal act condemned by Muslims everywhere continues to be used to incite hatred against Arabs and Muslims all over Europe while Ayaan Hirsi Ali was lapped up together with her staggering ignorance by the American Enterprise Institute. Washington does not, however, grant a visa to Tariq Ramadan who symbolises authentic moderate interpretations of Islam.


Islam also gets vilified in another battle of ideas that is not directly related to the struggle for dominance in the broader Middle East but is intrinsic to post-Enlightenment Western dialectics on religious questions. There is a whole library of studies arguing that from mid-1970s onwards crises of various kinds created a global trend amongst Christians, Jews and Muslims alike to reaffirm their religious identities. This was particularly strong in the case of Muslims disillusioned with nationalism and socialism. In the Western world this trend provoked a strong reaction from scholars called "secular fundamentalists" by the author John Gray and dubbed as "evangelical atheists" by many other Christian thinkers. Their primary aim is to demolish the existence of God but very often they build their general case against religion by concentrating on the "warlike" ethos of Islam.

One cannot but be sceptical about OIC's ability to address a complex set of factors driving the present anti-Islam campaign. It, however, remains relevant as its deliberations highlight the need to do so. What is really needed is a massive effort to accelerate the long-awaited renaissance in the Muslim world.

In more recent years Arab investment in higher education has gone up; in countries such as the UAE the increase is exponential. But there are very few universities and other centres of learning and research in Muslim states that are equipped for and also free to undertaking creation of new knowledge. The OIC can help networking but in the final analysis it would be up to the Muslim leaders and disinterested private and corporate donors to bring about the desired transformation in this field. Muslims certainly need to talk to the West but they also need to talk to one another.


Tanvir Ahmad Khan is a former ambassador and foreign secretary of Pakistan.

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