2002 Report (Continued)
The deliberations reached several conclusions.
1. Civilizational clash: Many pointed to defined historical and doctrinal differences between Western and Muslim societies, but the overwhelming view of the conference was that these antipathies are neither insurmountable nor ingrained. This is in part because civilizations do not operate as monoliths, and in part because there is no longer (if there ever was) a neat divide between them. Moreover, participants pointed to overlapping interests and areas of mutually beneficial interaction. Whatever “clash” exists is mainly a clash of perceptions, and this can be shaped and ameliorated, to a considerable extent, by honest and goodwilled interaction.
2. Challenges of democratization: The conference concluded that Western efforts to instill greater political participation and pluralism in the Muslim world appeared heavy-handed and hypocritical. There was an overwhelming consensus that Western democracy is not the only model and that Muslim societies need to work out their own arrangements. Western nations should set a good example and provide assistance when sought, but the presumption that the West can teach democracy, and that Muslim societies need to learn from them, was specifically rejected.
3. Media responsibilities: Participants voiced considerable criticism of media depictions of Muslims and Islam, and many believe that these were even more biased in the aftermath of September 11, when the immediate demands for coverage of historically and politically complex topics led to less than satisfactory accounts. The role of the media is, however, vitally important to promoting accurate DIAimages of the Other and connecting widespread communities through shared information.
4. Islamic authority: Participants vigorously discussed the nature of authority and legitimacy in the contemporary Muslim world. Although there was considerable disagreement over who, if anyone, should speak for Islam, there was broad agreement that, while there is only one Qur’an, there are many Islams in terms of historical interpretation and social manifestation. Muslims belong to a global community based on shared belief in a number of principles, but modern improvements in education and communications, among other factors, have encouraged many people outside the traditional religious class to interpret doctrine and revelation. The implications of this ongoing reexamination of the nature of Islamic authority and authenticity are potentially momentous for the development of both modern Islamic thought and relations between Islam and the West.
5. Muslims in the West: The conference unanimously acknowledged not only that Islam now constitutes an integral part of the West, but also that the future of the Muslim-Western encounter depends to a great degree on how Western Muslims influence developments in the majority-Muslim world. Millions of Muslims have migrated to the West for political and economic reasons, and a second generation of native-born European and North American Muslims has now acquired citizenship in multicultural, liberal democracies. This shift is inducing change in Western societies at the same time as it encourages new thinking in Muslim circles. Western states face the challenge of meeting Muslim claims to better treatment and equal opportunity, etc., without attempting to impose cultural or political uniformity on them. Muslims, for their part, face the challenge of being loyal and committed citizens without abandoning their Islamic beliefs and practices or cutting themselves off from developments in the larger Muslim world.Back to the top.