Why the West has lost goodwill of Muslims

Why the West has lost goodwill of Muslims

By Javed Akbar

Toronto Star, 29 July 2005

These are treacherous times. Peace seems to have become ever more elusive and we are all traumatized, as if an impending danger is lurking over our heads. The victims, who are falling to acts of either individual or state-sponsored terrorism, have mainly been innocent civilians.

This vicious cycle of tit-for-tat madness must stop. Every innocent life lost is too precious, too great.

To honour the souls of the more than 50 people who died in a planned and pathologically-motivated attack in London, people the world over did stop in solemn silence and paid their respects by adopting the slogan: “Today we are all British.”

It was a poignant way to express solidarity with the bereaving families and nation. Paradoxically, when more than 200,000 people were killed in attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan, no one said: “Today we are all Iraqis or Afghanis.”

What hypocrisy. What gall.

The horror of 9/11 and now the aftermath of the London bombings reveal, more than anything else, the discord between the true nature of Islam, as religion, culture and civilization, and the way it is projected in the current palpable cloud of Islamophobia. Islam is relentlessly portrayed as an obscurantist, unethical enterprise. Muslims now actually wear the garb of the very demons that the media have been projecting as a collective profile for an entire community and a whole faith.

Is it fair to compare the worst of Islam to the best of everyone else?

Muslims, by far, are the greatest victims of such brutalities, as their faith is continually and recklessly branded and cruelly tied to violence. Much time is spared to proffer, within an aura of intense demagoguery and downright ignorance, flawed definitions and interpretations about a whole religion and civilization.

The ultimate result of such an exercise in misinformation is not to enlighten but to inflame the audience’s indignant passion. Lost in the midst of this hallucinogenic haze is the fact that religion, any religion, like any other lofty aspect of human life, can be abused.

Is there a hierarchy in pain, torture and death? Can the word “innocent” be used selectively and the word “terrorist” be assigned mainly for Muslims?

Instead of getting carried away with passions stirred by the media, we in the West need to summon the moral courage to examine, and reflect on, the root causes of this horrendous reality and take swift action to address the concerns of the Muslim world. This does not mean giving in to the demands of Osama bin Laden and his ilk, but rather a master-stroke of statesmanship for winning an enduring world peace.

Such a move requires courageous leadership. But who among world leaders can rise to the occasion and seize this opportunity to help stem the tide of individual and state-sponsored terrorism once and for all?

Fighting violence with more violence has proven disastrous in prosecuting the “war on terror.”

How long do we have to suffer the rising death toll in Iraq, Afghanistan and the revenge attacks elsewhere? The occupation of the Muslim lands must end. It is illegal and morally reprehensible.

For their part, what can Muslims do to get beyond the current impasse? They must stop waiting for the messiah to come and deliver them on a silver platter.

Their faith provides an ethical and moral perspective within which Muslims must exert their energies to find answers to all human ills. The way forward to a fresh, contemporary appreciation of Islam requires a multi-dimensional understanding of Islam that demands from them to “enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil.”

Author Karen Armstrong makes a telling comment on this present state of affairs: “At the beginning of the 20th century,” she says, “nearly every single Muslim intellectual was in love with the West, admired its modern society, and campaigned for democracy and constitutional government in their own countries.

“Instead of seeing the West as their enemy, they recognized it as compatible with their own traditions. We should ask ourselves why we have lost this goodwill.”

Javed Akbar is director of outreach at Pickering Islamic Centre.