x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UN panel told Muslim-West relations back at 9/11 low

An opinion poll carried out by United Nations Alliance of Civilisations last summer, in the midst of the Arab spring, concluded that "on balance relations are bad".

Israeli soldiers detain an activist in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh yesterday.
Israeli soldiers detain an activist in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh yesterday.

DOHA // Relations between the West and Muslim-majority countries are as bad as at any other point in the decade since September 11, 2001, but the events of that day are also increasingly irrelevant.

That was part of the complex message to emerge from a panel at the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations conference in the Qatari capital that focused on post-9/11 relations between the two blocs.

Jim Bell, the director of international research for Pew Research Centre, said an opinion poll carried out by the organisation last summer, in the midst of the Arab spring, concluded that "'on balance relations are bad' - both from the public in the West and from Muslim-majority countries".

The three top characteristics cited by residents of Muslim-majority countries to describe the West were "selfish", "violent" and "greedy", while the latter described the former as "fanatical" and "violent" but also "honest". "There was a mixture of negative and positive, but the Muslim world has a more negative opinion of the West," Mr Bell said.

When asked about which religion was the most violent, those in the West designated Islam, but those in the Muslim world named Judaism. However, the views of young people in the West were markedly more positive about Islam than their older peers. The panel moderator Anthony Shadid, the Beirut bureau chief for the New York Times and a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in Iraq, said the survey findings confirmed the perception that the events of 9/11 had been overtaken by the Arab Spring.

"For a lot of younger people, 9/11 is a distant memory," he said. "We're still in an inchoate state of relations between the Muslim world and the West."

Ahmed Younis, an Egyptian American working for Gallup, cited another poll in which people were asked what would make the biggest improvement in their lives. Most said it would not be democracy but getting a job or getting a better job than the one they currently hold.

Ibrahim Kalin, the chief foreign-policy adviser for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said it was not a case of whether the Arab world was ready for democracy but whether the West was ready for the democracy that would emerge in the Arab world. "The Arab Spring is a reality, and the Arab revolutions are taking places in people's minds as well as in the streets," he said.

Earlier yesterday, Rami Nasrallah, the chairman of the International Peace Cooperation Centre, warned that Jerusalem was "moving towards a worst-case scenario" for its Palestinian residents.

He said Jerusalem was moving from its current status as a "besieged city" to becoming a "scorched earth" community where the Palestinian Authority has no ability to resist Israeli domination.

The only alternative is for Palestinians to create a city based on rights and plans so its citizens can reverse the deterioration of civil functions such as education. "We don't care about high politics. We want to create some more functionality to Jerusalem," he said.

The most achievable successful option for Jerusalem would involve an intermediate step of a hybrid city, where both Israeli and Palestinian governments are strong enough to "control the peace spoilers" and the Palestinians have functional autonomy in the form of a borough with limited security and planning responsibility.

jhenzell@thenational.ae