Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cultural dialogue needed to create bridges of understanding in Middle East

The intersection of Islam and globalization provoked a number of hopeful recommendations at The Brookings Institution Wednesday, where the book “Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization” was released. Written by Professor Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam,” according to the BBC, the book highlights the most prominent trends that arose from formal questionnaires of people of various occupations and backgrounds from eight different countries throughout the Muslim world.

As a result of globalization, the gap between rich and poor, urban and rural is exploding in the Muslim world. Additionally, 80 percent of the world’s refugee population comes from the region. However, there exists a pervasive feeling that the Muslim world is under attack. Many Muslims “feel like the train of globalization is moving out of the station and they’re not on it,” Ahmed said. The number one concern facing the Muslims interviewed, Ahmed noted, is the deliberate distortion of Islam in the West, particularly in the media.

In order to effectively formulate foreign policy, we need to know what is actually going on in the Muslim world, he continued. This can be accomplished through a commitment to cultural dialogue on the part of both Muslims and Americans. Compassion, hope and friendship, all of which are normally left out of policy reports, are important to consider. These elements will help people “reach out and create bridges of understanding that will make a difference,” Ahmed said. Aziz Mekouar, ambassador of Morocco to the U.S., countered that “those bridges already exist; they just need to be crossed.”

Expanding upon Ahmed’s comments, Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) discussed the critical importance of America reaching out to the rest of the world. Now more than ever, Ellison said, “winning hearts and minds” is important, “just not through warfare.” A sense of cultural humility when dealing with the rest of the world is, therefore, imminent, according to Ellison.

In his concluding remarks, Ahmed encouraged the audience to “join us on this journey towards compassion.”


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