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April 25, 2015

Understanding the west – again


April 25, 2015


“And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear”, said President Obama at Cairo University on June 4, 2009 in an address to Muslims televised throughout the Middle East.
And AP of the US released a menacing picture of masked and armed Palestinians of the Popular Resistance Committee watching Obama’s speech on television in Gaza City. Talk about stereotyping!
Mutual stereotyping is the common factor in relations between the Muslims and the west. Muslims are often stereotyped as illogically violent and regressive while the west is widely stereotyped as eternally conspiring and contemptuous against Muslims.
However, lately there have been conscious and consistent attempts in the west against the stereotyping of Muslims. “The terrorists do not speak for a billion Muslims”, Obama told a Washington conference on February 18 this year. Earlier in the same month, while addressing the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama urged people not to confuse extremism with Islam, saying that Islam was not the only religion distorted by extremists to suit their practices and that it was done in other faiths too.
French President Francois Hollande too talked against the generalisation of Muslims as fanatics; on January 15 this year he said that Muslims were the main victims of fanaticism. He was speaking in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. On the same day, Pope Francis on the same day emphasised that freedom of speech has its limits. His statement reflects growing recognition in the west of Muslims’ religious sensitivities.
Muslims in the west are gradually opening up to people of other faiths. On February 21, a week after shootings in Denmark targeted a synagogue and a free speech seminar, Muslims in Norway organised a peace vigil by forming a symbolic human chain outside an Oslo synagogue. And a week later hundreds of Norwegians formed a unity and

peace human chain around the Central Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat mosque in Oslo to show their solidarity and respect for Muslims by offering a symbolic ‘thank you’. Courtesy still begets courtesy.
Muslims in the west are now also more actively pursuing their legal rights. Jana Elhifny, an American Egyptian girl who openly displayed her Islamic faith and wore a headscarf, dropped out of North Valleys High School in Nevada in 2004 due to continuous harassment. She filed a federal civil rights lawsuit complaining that teachers and the administration did not take steps to stop the harassment. On April 8, 2009 she received a settlement of $350,000 (around Rs35 million) with the Washoe County School District.
After the 9/11 attacks Abdullah al Kidd an American convert to Islam was held for two weeks without charge by US authorities. Later he was placed on a 15-month probation. On January 16 this year the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that the US government offered “regrets” and had agreed to give $385,000 (around Rs38.8 million) to Abdullah as compensation.
A lot still has to be done in the west – especially by political parties, human rights groups and the media – to check the rise of racist groups discreetly tagged by western media as the Far Right that ply Islamophobia for political gains. And at their end Muslims have to re-invent their approach to the west.
In today’s world there are no friends, no brothers greater than a nation’s very own interests. We are unfortunate to be ruled by an incurably corrupt ruling class that prefers its interests over the interests of this nation.
When in distress both our western friends and our Islamic brothers threaten us. Our corrupt ruling class has stashed Pakistan’s looted wealth not only in the west but in Muslim countries as well. Unlike the sophistication of the west our ‘brother’ countries openly interfere in Pakistan’s internal politics and boldly patronise their favourite elements in Pakistan’s corrupt ruling class.
Such countries do not consider common Pakistanis worthy of their citizenship nor of equal legal and civil rights in their societies; it is the west where we get citizenship with all civic and social facilities, equal rights.
Our governments are captives of rulers’ self interests – and act accordingly. But at least we should begin to be more rationale about our logical place in the community of nations and for that we would have to think beyond our stereotypes and understand the west again.
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