Western view on Islam

"Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,

Subject : Western view on Islam

I would like to thank the Society of Asian Civilizations Pakistan and Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, Chairman , Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, for having invited the French Embassy to participate to this Forum with the honourable Chief guest, Mr Jorge Sequeira, distinguished Representative of Unesco.

1- A few comments on the subject “Western view on Islam”, I found it very challenging as it compares a geographic concept (that is West), to a religion (that is Islam). Moreover the term “view” in “Western view” is not a plural (western views) which suggests that there could be only one perception of the West. An other remark : when we speak about a “Western view on Islam”, we also speak about a part of ourselves, as all over Europe and the United States, specially in France (and Italy, Germany, Britain, Sweden), many Muslims are inside. Islam is the second great religion of France as there is about 10 % Muslim population.

2 - Now, more directly on the subject, “Western views on Islam” : In the past years we have observed a considerable increase in publications about Islam, the Muslim World, prompted by international developments such as the Iranian Revolution, the situation in Afghanistan, in Iraq, more recently, the cartoons question.

From the Western point of view, there are many convergences but also many misunderstandings, leading sometimes to some negative perceptions.

2-1 Some misunderstandings.

-  Which come from history. There were periods of hegemony either for Islam, or for the West, which staged a negative image of the other one, trying to legitimise their power. Hegemony of the Muslim world (between the 7th and 15th centuries specially) and it was also noted a huge expansion of Islam, spreading from the Arabian peninsula to North Africa and to some part of Asia and of Europe. Simultaneously or during other periods there was a Western hegemony, with the crusades (XI - XIII centuries) and the colonisation.

-  Which come also from the presentation of history in this regard some “orientalists” have been criticized for having presented a mythical view of Islam and having focused on the past, giving finally an Europe centric description of Islam.

-  Recent theories, such as the “clash of civilisations” by Samuel Huntington have also focused on the clash between the Western culture on the one hand and the Islamic and Confucian cultures on the other hand, creating a feeling of fear.

-  As a result, Western view on Islam is sometimes based on emotions (threat of the Muslim), without any explanation on the diversity of the phenomena. There are two variations : the first one is related to the risk of fundamentalism and the second one focuses about the difficulty of assimilation, integration of Muslim in Europe. There is a tendency to stress the differences.

2-2 convergences between our systems :

- From a religious point of view, Islam and Christianity are two monotheist religions. A fair dialogue between the two religions has been settled by Vatican II and also by Jean-Paul II in 1979, in his speech in Ankara he expressed the appreciation of the catholic church for the spiritual patrimony of Islam, the importance Islam gives to the humanity, its capacity to offer to the young people an orientation.

- Through history, there are lots of interconnections between the West and the Muslim World. The West recognizes the brilliant sides of the Muslim world, the mathematicians, philosophers (Avicene...). There have been many exchanges sometimes prompted by geographic proximity, for example north Africa is very close from Europe through the Mediterranean sea. By law, France is a secular (“laique”) society, religion beliefs are considered to be private and personnal questions, the State as such does not interfere with faith matters.

-  In the world of globalisation there is also a trend to a globalisation of solidarity which has been demonstrated by the important mobilization on the assistance after the earthquake in Pakistan. We can also remind the position of certain European countries on Iraq. Let me point out that in Middle East EU has always advocated the smooth resolution of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. On the question of cartoons, President Jacques Chirac, reminded recently that Freedom of expression must be exercised with a spirit of responsibility.
Violent acts cannot be justified under any circumstances.

3 - What seems to be the main causes of negative perceptions ?

- The main cause seems to be often an oversimplified information -a clash of ignorance, more than a clash of civilisations, as said President Chirac- lack of knowledge. The very young population may express the feeling either in the West or in Islamic countries that existing political economic and social systems had failed.
-  For some politicians, it could be easier to present sensational images, and for some citizen it could be easier to rely on stereotypes rather than to make the effort to understand, to go to the roots.

4- What could be done ?

- Everything should be done to facilitate dialogue and no conflict, and encourage intellectuals on international levels to promote understanding.

-  Media can also play an important role in this regard, as well as multilateral organization, United Nations, Europe, OIC, The Arab League, Euro Mediterranean parliamentarian Assembly. This dialogue needs to be conducted with open eyes and with humility. In a way legal immigration is a factor of better understanding and transformation.

-  As we live in a complexe world, we should cooperate more in front of new challenges which requires dialogue, common goals. In a way legal immigration is a factor of better understanding.

- If we come back to the core of the subject , we need a double move similar to the one indicated by M. Jean-Claude Barreau, when he was director general of the “Office des migrations internationales” : from religion towards modern democracy and from modern world to what is essential in faith (that is a sense of value and of responsibility)./.

Dernière modification : 04/11/2008

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