x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

'Work needed' to extend dialogue between Islam and the West

The dialogue between Islam and the West needs improvement, as for some it remains a love-hate relationship, conference told.

The dialogue between Islam and the West needs more work, experts said yesterday as they wrapped up a two-day conference on the subject.

Speakers at the conference, organised by The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research and the School of Policy and International Affairs, University of Maine, discussed how the relationship between Islam and the West had changed since the September 11 attacks, and in the wake of this year's Arab uprisings.

One said that while western Muslim leaders defended Islam, they failed to also defend the rights of Muslim individuals. "I was the first to criticise President Obama's speech in Cairo [in 2007], as it sets up a liberal paradigm or version of the clash of civilisations - and that is a problem we need to attend to," said Moustafa Bayoumi, a professor of English with Brooklyn College at the City University of New York.

For others, the debate was nothing new. "It's a love-hate relationship," said Prof Hassan Hanafi, chair of the philosophy department at Cairo University. "When the national liberation movements erupted recently, both parts of the Mediterranean proved that they are part of the struggle."

Others suggested there was a mutual lack of understanding. "The West is using Islam for political considerations," said Dr Ignacio Gutiérrez de Terán, professor of Arabic and Islam at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

Some said conflict is an ongoing issue. "We've become painfully familiar with Islamophobic images - such as Park51 cultural centre in New York," said Dr Melani McAlister, associate professor of American studies at George Washington University. But she added: "Hollywood has moved towards a self-conscious practice of representing Muslims positively," she said.

hhamid@thenational.ae