An Encounter with the Shadow: Islam and the West

An Encounter with the Shadow: Islam and the West
By: Dr. David Rabeeya

It is true that some Arabs and Muslims are refusing to accept the existence of malaise in their societies. It is also obvious to any objective observer that there is an urgent need to improve the status of women and minorities in many congregations of the Mediterranean Basin and North Africa. In addition, there is an emergency call in the areas of education, jobs, housing, and the establishment of political and democratic structure. However many segments of the Arab and the Muslim worlds see the unfolding historical events in a different prism outside the European and the American perspectives. One can often hear the claim that past Colonialist exploration of material and human power cannot be brushed off as a heritage of bad memories of fading times. This exploration by Western power had actually affected the economic and the psychological status of the residents of the area leaving an incredible, continuous, collective bitterness, resentment, and anger in the psyche of many Arabs and Muslims.

A relative claim was made that beside few religious and academic personalities and institutions, the Western powers were basically only interested in the richness of oil and the security of the Suez Canal for their economic and military strategic interests. In other words, the humanity of the Arabs populace as well as the Arab culture and Muslim religion were either ignored or only infrequently discussed. This dominant Arab and Muslim perspective often connects the establishment of British and French mandates with huge investment and profits of American companies in oil rich Arab countries together with the invasion of Iraq as one continuous, aggressive syndrome designed to dominate the non-European in this strategic area. Furthermore, Israel remains in the mind of many Arabs and Muslims an European garrison refusing to be integrated in the a vast culture of its surroundings, convinced that superior Western military technology will keep her in existence regardless of her geographical location.

Like many Diaspora Jews who support Israel, many Arabs and Muslims have also sympathy and affections toward many Palestinians who suffered so much in the last half century. Many in the Arab and Muslim worlds often prefer to explain the attack of September 11th not necessarily as a terrorist act against innocent Americans, but a way to awaken the people of the West to their indifference to serious oppressive measure of past history, which were inflicted on the developing of many Arab and Muslim countries. In the eyes of some terrorists, acts by one side may be considered nationalistic and patriotic activities by the other side. While this state of mind which can rationalize despicable criminal terrorist action, it needs to be condemned by all Arabs and Muslims. One cannot ignore that this way of thinking is the symptom of the breaking communication and relation between large segments of the Middle East population and the majority of the Western populations in Europe and the United States. Theoretically, the dialogue in this supposed ‘clash of civilizations’ may require the following historical and political procedures.

1. Arab religious ideologists need to stop preaching about the ‘Golden Age’ of Islam in the seventh century as well as the tenth and the eleventh centuries. Living the dreams of an actual or illusive past cannot assist their people to make adjustments to post-colonialism of the twenty-first century.

2. Recognizing the superiority of the West in high technology and advanced communication systems need to be admitted in order to integrate these powerful tools in the improvement of harsh economic and social conditions of millions of Arabs and Muslims on this planet. Clever games of rejection of “Westernization” and lack of acceptance of technological progress cannot lead to constructive results in the unavoidable transition to the new historical frontier.

3. An absolute rejection of terrorist acts as a device for political gains categorizing the non-Muslims as “infidels” by radical Muslims could not and would not enhance the image of peaceful Islam and will not enable the removal of racist generalization about this incredible religion exhibited by segments of the European and the American public.

4. Moderate Muslims who embrace the peaceful actual real messages of Islam are obliged to shout out their disapproval of violence performed in the name of their religion. They must demonstrate in writing and in oral fashion their denunciation of the murder of innocent Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and to begin the process of intensive dialogues with all members of monotheistic and non-monotheistic religions expressing tolerance and acceptance of others.

5. Muslims living in Western European and American democracies can utilize their freedom indicating the obvious: their religion of Islam not only processes profound democratic and egalitarian principles and their principles can demonstrate themselves in a secular society without any clash or contradiction, living in harmony and peace with non-Muslim people.

Now to the second aspect of these peaceful encounters. Western societies need urgently to move hastily in the direction of learning reconciliation and co-existence with the new dominant historical force called Islam.

1. Reviving and revolutionizing the educational texts in Western schools and universities concerning Muslims and Islam.  The perspectives of people of this faith must be included in the rewriting of new curricula based on serious historical and religious dimensions, appreciating the contribution of this faith to world history.

2. Teaching the work of Muslim reformists through history in order to demonstrate the complexity of the various Muslim and Arab societies with their multitude of facets of ethnicities, nationalities, and tribal structures. Teaching the work of Muslim reformists needs to be explored in order to demonstrate the existence of inner progressive forces within Islam which demand radical, social, and economic changes based on Muslim laws and customs dealing openly with ways to grant women and minorities equal rights before the law.

3. Students from Arab lands and Muslim countries need to be encouraged to study in Western educational institutions, while students in the West must also be exposed to the Arabic language and to the writing of the Qur’an.

4. The vast economic market of the Arab and the Muslim worlds can become an important or even a major source in future financial and economic transaction in the universal trade. The “small village” of money and the trade of modern times and the opening of universal markets can be utilized as a means for better understanding of various cultures and religions. Satellites, computers, and the fax machines have already brought to the attention of the masses the human reality outside the dictatorship sphere and have also already opened new opportunities of the exchange of ideas, goods, and tenders.

It is possible that the aggressive terrorists’ activities of Al-Qaida are the last gasp of its attempt to redesign the world to their illusive ideology. I am quite optimistic that the East will meet the West sooner than later. It is also possible that the first encounter will be difficult, but a peaceful horizon is within sight.

originally printed in Sephardic Heritage #145.  The Sephardic Heritage Update is a weekly newsletter published by the Center for Sephardic Heritage in Brooklyn, New York, a progressive advocacy group that promotes the study of Sephardic Jewish history and culture. You can subscribe to the newsletter by e-mailing .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  and may contact Mr. Shasha at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)