Relations between Islam and the West: An Old Wound Ready to Open

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Gholamali Khoshroo
Senior Editor and vice president of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam

Dr. Gholamali Khoshroo, vice president of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam Institute, has discussed the relationship of the West, in general, and the United States, in particular, with the Islamic world in the light of the recent release of a sacrilegious movie which insults Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). The text of his article follows.

The Islamic World as a Challenge to the West

The issue of Islam’s relations with the West is a complicated matter. A review of contemporary history will show that during the past 100 years, relations between the West and Islamic countries have been mostly unequal and hegemonic in quality. In clearer terms, since the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and after the big Islamic empire was broken down into a host of smaller states by the British colonialists, the region has been scene of freedom-seeking struggles. However, what happened at in the heartland of the Islamic world in reality was nothing but creation of the fake regime of Israel after the occupation of Muslims’ lands followed by unbridled support for Israel from the United States and the West from that time up to the present juncture. Today, the issue of Palestine has turned into a complete standoff due to the US policies. This means that the practical approach which the US foreign policy has taken to this issue is to support the occupation of Muslim lands and suppression of Palestinians. No US administration has ever wanted -- or at least been able to -- find a solution to this issue. Therefore, the United States has consistently supported the Zionist regime of Israel in a unilateral manner. In addition, the United States has for many years supported its allied dictators in the region who were also friends of Israel and enemies of their own people.

These issues continued during the Cold War period between two power poles. Following the Cold War era, Islamophobia was intensified in the West. Americans attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, deployed their forces to those countries, posed threats to other countries, and established numerous military bases in the region. These developments, however, have cost the lives of a great number of innocent people. For example, nine poor women and children, who were gathering firewood, were killed in a military attack by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Afghanistan just a few days ago. Nobody protests when a number of poor women and children are killed by NATO planes. However, if a group of people shout slogans on the streets to voice their anger at the desecration of their prophet, they are easily accused of violence. In view of this historical backdrop, it is clear that the United States’ relations with the Islamic world have been bloody and marked with deep wounds. It is now like an old wound which may open at any moment.

It is noteworthy that Islamophobia cannot be considered as a standalone concept in the West. The world has not forgotten frequent cases of burning of the Holy Quran by a prejudiced pastor, or the horrendous massacre of tens of Norwegian youth by a young man who allegedly committed that crime in order to protest to the Western countries policies which allow for the promotion of Islam in Europe. In other words, the minds of such people are so imbued with Islamophobic ideas which they actually believe that Islam will finally devour and destroy Europe. People like the British-American historian, Bernard Lewis, have put such a powerful stress on Islamophobia which this issue has been actually institutionalized in the minds of Western people and politicians.

The conclusion that they reach by accepting Islamophobic ideas is that they ought to fight Islam. As a result, the war on Islam is going on in various forms in the West. An example is the recent insulting film which has been made to desecrate the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). It is in line with the war on Islam and has been widely distributed over the file sharing YouTube website in order to further instigate the Muslim masses. In other words, the production of the film has pursued no economic or entertainment purpose, but its sole goals are to fight Islam, insult the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), and instigate Muslims.

Reactions of Muslims

The pith of any religious faith is that a prophet has been sent by God to convey a message to people. The core of Islam is also the message that Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) has brought to people which is bound in the Quran. It is by no accident that in a short time, both the message and the messenger - the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) - have come under attack in the United States. This is enough evidence to make us reach the conclusion that an organized current has come into being in order to counter Islam and it is trying to cause turmoil and unrest in the Muslim world according to a well-planned scheme.
It is noteworthy that common values among human beings are the sole link which connects human societies. The fundamental principles of every religion are among the most important values of any faithful society which strengthen its identity as well. Believing in those values connects people. In better words, they are the main factor which helps to differentiate a Muslim from a Christian or a Buddhist. Therefore, it is quite natural for any society to show reaction to insults against its fundamental values. However, the quality of that reaction and the method chosen to protest is quite a different issue.

Reactions to the sacrilegious film were also diverse. For example, head of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Seyed Hassan Nasrallah, condemned the film and invited the Lebanese people to take to the streets in a show of support for the Great Prophet of Islam (PBUH). The subsequent demonstrations were marked by no violence and served as a good proof that the Islamic world is vehemently protesting to and is very sensitive about this issue.

The subtle point in the whole issue is how an extremist action in the West may evoke an equally extremist reaction in the Islamic world. This state of events will help the Western media to depict Muslims -- who are faithful, wise, tolerant and moderate by nature -- as an extremist group of people.

An approach based on dialogue of civilizations and religions believes that the impact of extremist forces that seek to promote violence and have played a part in producing this film should be reduced to a minimum. In other words, those who have made this film have actually taken freedom of speech as hostage and hidden behind this concept which they use as scapegoat. Therefore, insulting the sanctities of one and a half billions of human beings cannot be upheld under the pretext of freedom of speech because if it is actually supported, the ultimate consequences will be very detrimental to everybody.

Unfortunately, at a time that extremism is at its peak in the West, other extremist currents may easily abuse this situation. However, it is incumbent on all religious thinkers to react to this issue. I even believe that it would be much better if followers of other religions took part in these demonstrations because protest to desecration of sanctities is the natural duty of all believers and free thinkers. If, today, insults are targeting Prophet of Islam (PBUH), other religions may become victims of similar insults in the near future. Continuation of this ominous trend will bring with it the risk of new religious wars among human societies.

Key Words: Islam, West, Sacrilegious Movie, Islamophobia, Turmoil and Unrest, Freedom of Speech,  Khoshroo

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