New situation between Western and Muslim bloc of countries

Dec 13 - 19, 2004





Recently, many articles have been published in the US newspapers decrying the targeting of European citizens in their homelands by Islamic extremists. For instance, the killing of Von Gogh in the Netherlands has been much written about. These articles seem to aim to influence the thinking of the European people to bring it in sync with the hard lined US stance in its fight against terrorists in various parts of the world. These articles also seem to be in support of higher immigration controls for people from Muslim countries and the imposition of greater supervision of the Muslim population including their places of worship, i.e. mosques. They also favor restrictions on the right of liberty of speech on Muslims by formulating a set of guidelines for their expressions of thought.

No matter what justifications are taken for these actions, it will result in the isolation of the Muslim world from the Western world and will further increase the gulf between these two worlds. If we look back in history we find that a similar pattern of events took place when a cold war ensued between the communist world and the West.

People who sympathized with the communist philosophy were targeted and ridiculed, stricter immigration restrictions were imposed on citizens from countries in the communist bloc, and economic sanctions were imposed on governments adopting a communist form of government. Such tactics continued until the West was able to regain control of most the communist world.

Now the same situation has come to exist between the Muslim and Western bloc of countries. Is this the start of a cold war between these two worlds? If it is, then, this time around the cold war will be a little warmer with military involvement in certain areas of the Muslim world. The correct approach would have been to engage the Muslim world in a dialogue to weed out the extremist elements from their societies. These extremist elements are in no way representative of the philosophy of Islam. The marked decrease in the students from the Muslim world traveling to US and some European countries will imbalance the bridge that can bring an understanding between the two civilizations. The West should also make a departure from their strategy of supporting autocratic regimes in many Muslim countries that suppress their population to the point that they resort to supporting extremist elements in their societies. The West should also take emergency measures to help solve long outstanding issues like the Kashmir and Palestinian issue.

According to an OPEC report issued in 2001, Muslim countries hold around 72.9% of proven world reserves of oil. Despite controlling such a vital energy resource the economic conditions and quality of life in Muslim countries is much lower as compared to western countries. This economic divide also creates a dissent among the populations and raises questions about the exploitation of their natural resources by the west. In order to over come these psychological hurdles the West should form trade and cultural alliances with Muslim countries to share knowledge, work with governments for a better economic infrastructure and increase foreign direct investment in their countries that would in turn help create employment for the local youth.



The Muslim world on the other hand cannot blame the West entirely for all its problems. The former need to rethink their social and religious structure with a special emphasis on people running the mosques. These maulvis or Imams educated in orthodox madrasas do not have in-depth understanding of the religion and its basic tenets of humanity and equality. They use the pulpit to promote a philosophy that is not in tune with current times. This raises a population that is put on the wrong path, that is, of extremism. Over 60% of the Muslim world comprises of people under the age of 30, which translates into 750 million youth. These youth feel suffocated for lack of outlets for expression of their talents and dearth of opportunities to earn a decent living. Such suppressed feelings are exploited by terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda to recruit people. Some of the 9/11 terrorists, like Mohammad Atta, belonged to economically well off families yet they decided to commit actions that did not commensurate with their high literacy level. This shows that even educated people feel the pain of the masses and blame the West for it.

Muslim leaders should use the forum of Organization of Islamic Conference to discuss the social, political and economic conditions prevailing in their countries. They should form a platform with other organizations like OECD, ASEAN and NAFTA to explore ways of creating trade opportunities. OIC should also explore the current structure of the religious institutions. The curriculum of religious schools needs to be revised to include science, technology, and community affairs along with religious learning. We can follow the example of the Mohammadan Muslim University or the Aligarh University founded on modern principles to impart education to the Muslim youth of India. Fundamental structural changes are required to be made in the running and management of the mosque where Muslims gather five times a day to listen to the sermon and interact with each other. Learned Imams with deeper understanding of Islamic philosophy should be appointed to lead the congregation.

A war of civilizations has not yet fully begun but if the current trend continues it might become inevitable as the two worlds would become so far apart that it would be extremely difficult to bridge the gap. All of us, as citizens of the world, should put our heads together and analyze this situation and come up with a workable solution to an impending crisis and move towards a peaceful global village. If we fail to do so, then all of us would be responsible for this as it would be our collective failure.