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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

ISLAM AND THE WEST, A CLOSER LOOK IS NEEDED

By W. John Tritt
Opinions Editor, The Keystone


The past presidential election in this country has left the nation
politically polarized. However, we are now deeply entrenched in a worldwide
polarization that by its very nature, will become increasingly confusing
and thus, increasingly dangerous. The division between the Islamic Middle
East, its satellites such as parts of Southeast Asia and Pakistan and the
Judeo-Christian Western world.
Ok, so that's obviously not a new observation, but why is it happening?
Simply saying the war in Iraq cannot be it. For decades, Saddam Hussein's
neighbors lived in fear of the secular Iraqi dictator. We said, "Hey, we
don't like him either, we'll go in and kick him out."" After we did, it
seemed that more and more of those same people we thought we'd be helping
out started showing animosity towards the United States.
All the questions we've been asking filter down to this, what do we really
understand about Islam?
After September 11, regular run-of- the-mill Americans became Islamic
theologians. Insights such as "Oh, Islam is innately violent," and "Islamic
expansion in the middle ages was really the cause of the crusades" could be
heard in the media, in coffeeshops and in classrooms.
The problem lies in the fact that what the vast majority of people in this
country understand about Islam is filtered numerous different ways before
the information gets to their ears and then begins to go through their own
filters in their mind. The reverse is happening on the other side of the
world. What picture is then left of the original message?
Well, it depends on the filters.
Think about the United States; it in itself is one of the newest
manifestations of Western culture. Aside from certain biblical locations,
the Middle East became a point of interest to modern Europe and America
when large oil reserves were found underneath its sandy landscapes about
100 years ago. Our communication with the region has been, for the most
part, concerning oil.
There¹s nothing wrong with trade between people, but what's happenedis a
lack of a sense of world community shared between us and most of the Muslim
world and no real understanding about where each other is coming from.
How many people in this country have read anything from the Koran? How many
people have discussed religion with anyone who is Muslim? And in the
reverse, how many Muslims living in the Middle East have sat down and
discussed religion or anything for that matter, with a Christian living in
the West?
Yes, it happens, but, considering how much our two fates rely on our
interactions with one another, not nearly enough. We cannot take our
impressions of Islam from the media or from Joe Schmo at work, we should
try to educate ourselves in a way that we can have intelligent insights.
There are Muslims in this country, many different kinds, from numerous
different countries. But of the Muslims who live in this country, a lot who
have come from well-to-do families who gave them the ability to travel
here, what are their experiences in their home countries? Well if a
Christian northeasterner from a well-off family, say, a son of a surgen,
moved to Egypt, would he be able to articulate the plight of a poor rural
farmer from Arkanas properly, just because they're both Christians from the
same country?
Maybe, but wouldn't it make more sense that a poor Muslim farmer outside of
Cairo might have his own insights that would allow him to relate better.
Maybe they both suffered through things like droughts or banks foreclosing
on equipment.
Many people cite that the gun lobby in this country is so passionate about
defense of gun ownership, not simply because of the guns themselves, but
instead, a sense that their particular rural lifestyle is under attack. In
many ways, the problem the United States is having with the Muslim world
and Iraq isn't any affinity towards Saddam, but instead a feeling of strong
arming the America in their backyard.
There needs to be some kind of open communication between the Muslim and
Christian worlds, one that is not used for the benefit of governments or
industry executives' agenda, but instead for the interest and benefits of
the people making up both sides of the spectrum.
What happens if that communication does not exisit? Then poor farmers and
other common citizens from both sides are going to continue to be
manipulated by the powers that be who are never personally going to be in
harms' way.
Trying to find a common ground that we can all walk on isn't unrealistic if
people see it as a goal worth attaining. But it's up to people on the
grassroots level to actually make that step.
Were trying to fight a war on terrorism in this country, and in the Middle
East they think they're fighting a war of Western agression. If everyone
tried to make a step towards understanding one another we could circumvent
future violence.
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receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
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