Section / Geopolicy / Global

Islam and the West: Bridging the divide

0 A historian might say they always have.

But, if so, their long and turbulent relationship has entered a new phase over the last 30 years or so.

A series of events - from the worldwide Islamic revival of the 1970s to the 11 September 2001 attacks against America - has fuelled the fear that Islam and the West are on a collision course.

Worlds apart?

Many in the West associate Islam with violence and extremism. Militant Islamic groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah are constantly in the news.

The most famous of them, al-Qaeda and its leader Osama Bin Laden, are the main suspects in the 11 September attacks and a string of others - in Bali and Mombasa and, more recently, in Casablanca, Riyadh and Jakarta.

In addition, Islam is seen as hostile to democracy, women, gays and other religions.

For their part, Muslims accuse the West of rampant "Islamophobia" - fear of and hostility towards Islam and Muslims. Examples abound - in US foreign policy, in newspaper cartoons, and sometimes in the everyday encounters between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Muslims look at conflicts around the world - in Gaza and the West Bank, in Kashmir, Chechnya and elsewhere - and see their fellow Muslims on the losing side.

They feel they are losing out in the new world order. They fear the West wants to dominate as well as demonise them.

One planet

The problems are real, but relations between Islam and the West are about more than battles and bigotry.

For hundreds of years Muslim and non-Muslim travellers, scholars, clerics and merchants have exchanged goods, ideas and information, and still do.

It is a story of mutual need. It's also a story of change.

At the time of the Crusades, there were two physical blocs, Christendom and Islam. No longer. In our new, globalised world, the "West" is everywhere - its ideas and ideologies, its science and technology, its movies and music, its fast food.

Islam, too, is now global. Millions of Muslims now live in the West. Mosques, Muslim schools and Islamic banks have become commonplace. The old geography is out of date.

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