Islam and the West

By Joelle Robichaud

Is peace a possibility between Islam and the West? This question has been asked a few times since September 11, 2001. On Thu., Sept. 23, a lecture and panel discussion was set up in Craigie Hall to debate the issue of conflict between the West and Islam. The event’s speaker Dr. Mohamed Elmasery, President of the Canadian Islamic Congress, did not shy away from expressing his opinion.

Elmasery’s thoughts on the war were quite clear. He said that Islam is not the victims, but instead the Muslims are.

“In history, there is an agressor and a victim,” he said confidently at the beginning of his lecture. “This is what we see today with the United States in Iraq, and what happened with Britain many years ago”

When there is a war, people should not introduce the idea of religion vs. politics, Elmasery explained. Combining the concepts confuses the real issues behind the conflict.

He also discussed democracy in the Middle East. In his view, the West takes the attitude that “These people have no respect of democracy, therefore we must feed them democracy.” Elmasery also pointed out that democracy in the United Kingdom 200 years ago was comparable to Iraq today where only 10 per cent of the male population could vote.

He believes that human development was occurring in the Middle East. In 1949, for example, public flogging was banned by the British Parliament. Elmasery argued this means that with time, the Middle East may also introduce laws, so it is unnecessary for the West to try and fix this problem.

When talking about religion, Elmasery beleives religion is between you and God. He said that resistance to those who try to take away your religion is allowed.

In his closing statement, Dr. Elmasery explained the fundamental idea behind Islam in what he called his 10-second TV quote:

“Islam is based on three things: to know, to love and to serve,” he said. “This order is important because you cannot serve someone very well unless you love them, and you cannot love someone if you do not know them.”

A man surprised the audience and Elmasery when he asked about a Palestinian speaker who visited the university a few months ago claiming he was taught, as a part of Islam, that “The day of Judgement will not pass until we have killed all Jews.”

Dr. Elmasery denied this claim.

The panel discussion following the lecture focused mostly on politics versus religions. Dr. Monia Mazigh, who’s husband Maher Arar had been deported to Syria by US officials, questioned the thought of a war between Islam and the West. She said there was no war, and that the “War on Terror is a completely different war.”

Mazigh had a simple solution.

“I think that by educating young children about Islam will help,” she said, adding that building a dialogue in the younger generations may open the doors to peace.

Bishop Frederick Henry, Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Calgary, said that we need time. He also stated that the Catholic religion recognizes Islam, because both religions worship the same God.

“There can be no peace among nations without peace between religions,” said Bishop Henry.

University of Calgary’s own Dr. David Bercusson, Director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, claimed there was a false dicotomy when dealing with the subject. He also told Elmasery he didn’t believe that history repeats itself.

“What is Islam? I think that Islam is a world religion, a faith, a way of life and more, but not a political entity,” Bercusson stated.

“To ask whether peace is possible between Islam and the West, there must be a war,” he added, echoing Mazigh.

Bercusson questioned the notion of the West. Most of Canada would say the West is the bad guy of South of the border. In Bercusson’s opinion allies of the United States, including Canada, are also partially responsible.

Gavin Cameron, an assistant professor in political science, believed that peace is possible in theory, but not in practice. He cited the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians.

“We constantly underestimate how much anger this generates into the Muslim world,” he explained.

“Neither side will let the extremes get over it.”

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