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Zayed backs Arab-West dialogue plan

posted on 04/03/2002: 652 views

Arab states have drawn up a strategy to open dialogue with the West following the September 11 attacks on the U.S. The plan has already got US$1 million from President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, officials said yesterday. The donation was announced at a symposium on "Dialogue Among Civilisations", in which Arab, western officials and experts underlined the need for talks between Muslims and Christians. A settlement of the Middle East conflict is the only way for better ties between Muslims and the West.

The strategy was chalked out at an Arab League-sponsored conference held in Cairo in November and attended by more than 100 Arab and Muslim scholars. It includes contacts with other civilisations, intensified media campaigns, conferences and seminars and support of Muslim communities in the West.

"I would like to announce to you that there is now a comprehensive Arab plan for dialogue with the West. Its implementation is the real challenge," said Mahmoud Farghal, Arab League secretary general's representative. In his paper to the seminar at the Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-up, Farghal said the Cairo-based Arab League secretariat will soon begin contacts with regional governments to launch that plan, which also involves a Muslim TV satellite channel and improved rhetoric by Muslim preachers.

Speakers yesterday agreed that a dialogue between Muslims and Christians was the only way to remove misunderstanding and tension resulting from a Western anti-Islam campaign following the attacks on New York and Washington. Former U.S. congressmen, Paul Findely, said there are more than seven million Muslims in the US and the figure is projected to double in 20 years. But he noted most of the Muslims there are isolated from non-Muslims.

"Most Americans never encounter people they know to be Muslims. They have never read or heard a verse from the (Holy) Quran. Any impressions of Islam they hold are apt to be false," the congressman-turned-author said. But he added: "I think that with the passage of time, the dispersal of Muslims throughout the non-Muslim community will occur. This transition will help promote inter-faith understanding but the process will take time."

He said most Americans, including many Christian clergymen, are misinformed about Islam because of the lack of contacts with Muslims. "They believe that Muslims condone terrorism and abuse of women, oppose democracy, and worship a strange, vengeful God." Findely said Muslims are the second largest and fastest growing religious community in the U.S. as they outnumber Jews. "To me, it is a mistake to describe Islam as Eastern and Christianity as Western...Christianity is prominent in many areas of the East. In demographic terms, Islam is more a part of the West than Israel and Judaism."

Findely described the American people as fair-minded and said: "They seek the truth and want to help abused people. If a clash between Islam and the West does occur, it will arise from ignorance." He scoffed at U.S. president George W. Bush for his failure to understand the Middle East problem and his continuous rebuff of the Palestinians. He said Bush considered the Palestinian problem as a "vexing impediment" to his war on terrorism, while perhaps two billion people in the Muslim world and other countries see the issue the other way around.

"Bush's worst shortcoming is his failure to recognise the plight of the Palestinians as the central foreign policy issue of perhaps two billion people worldwide. He is unwittingly placing himself at odds with the vast majority of Muslims worldwide, a separation that could quickly become a chasm - even a harsh struggle that some might call a clash of Islam against the West." Findely said Bush had not met with any Palestinian officials since becoming president but he routinely "rolls out the red carpet" to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "the butcher of Beirut." "Perhaps each new president-elect in the U.S. should be required to take an elementary course in diplomacy before taking the oath of office."

Abdul Malik Hassan, former Yemeni culture minister, presented a paper entitled "Dialogue Among Civilisations in Zayed's Thought," in which he said the UAE president was among the first leaders to call for talks between religions. He quoted Sheikh Zayed as telling envoys several years ago: "Islam calls for unity and solidarity but this does not mean that unity of Muslims should keep them away from other countries and religions." On another occasion, Sheikh Zayed said: "No one can live isolated from the needs his own family and relatives as much as he needs cooperation and friendship with others be they near or far from him."

He also cited Sheikh Zayed as stressing that justice should be enjoyed by all people no matter what their religion or ethnic origins are. "Everyone on this earth has the right to enjoy respect and human feeling, which rejects injustice, because we are disturbed by any sort of injustice that might befall people anywhere and suffer for all oppressed people."

Meanwhile, Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan Deputy Prime Minister and President of the Zayed Centre for Co-ordination and Follow-Up, yesterday met here with Mahmoud Farghal and the Arab and foreign intellectuals participating in the seminar. He stressed the importance of spreading the message of tolerance among religions. (The Gulf News)


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