by Mowahid H. Shah
America--the world's richest country--pounding Afghanistan--the world's most destitute and devastated land--is not the most auspicious curtain-raiser to usher in the 21st Century. There is shooting and shouting but little talking. Issues that matter are not being discussed at the table because nobody is, or wants to be, at the table. Debate, discussion, and discourse between differing points of view--often the blood transfusion for democracy--is missing.
The much-touted concept of clash of civilizations is intellectually fraudulent in that it leaves the false perception that Islam--which is integral and central to world civilization--is outside the orbit of Western civilization. Much of Western law, science, and medicine rose from the building blocks of Muslim learning.
Newsweek carries a cover story, "Why they hate us" (written by a Muslim). Others keep hammering that Muslims hate the U.S. for its freedom, fun, openness, democracy, and emancipated women. Simplifying and personalizing is a clever diversionary tactic to deflect attention away from the real causal roots. The focus remains on religion when it properly could be on the political.
A refreshing break from all this sabre-rattling was an event at American University honoring noted academic Akbar S. Ahmed who has recently been endowed with the Ibn Khaldun Chair. Akbar, along with other eminent scholars present on the occasion, endorsed, in effect, Iranian President Khatemi's call for a dialogue of civilizations. In the mainstream, however, such voices unless broadly aired and supported would remain marginalized. Power corrupts, and the key question is, should any individual, group, or entity have so much concentrated power to veto or to hijack bridge-building efforts or initiatives?
Meanwhile, the tempo of fury and frenzy continues to rise. The momentum toward an escalation continues to gather steam without a serious counter-balancing attempt to lower the temperature by simply sitting down and talking one-to-one and face-to-face with adversaries, real or imagined.
What else is the choice? Can those who defy and crave death (and those who emulate them) be permanently deterred? Only through a dialogue can "how it happens" be put and understood in the context of "why it happens." While the West keeps asking, "Why do they hate us," Muslims around the globe, too, keep querying why there is so much indifference to Muslim sufferings.
Copyright © 2001 Mowahid H. Shah