Note: The following article was published in the capital of Hagatna (formerly Agana), on the island of Guam, a U.S. possession. News of its appearance was delayed by slow oceanic communications.
Professor Akbar Ahmed, of the American University School of International Service, the nation's largest school of international affairs, reaffirms in "Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization" (2007) that "irrespective of gender, age, ethnicity, or nationality," and whether poor or rich, farmer, cab driver, president or king, the vast majority of Muslims see the Prophet Muhammad their "ultimate role model," and that "the most important problem" facing Islam is their perception that Islam is being deliberately distorted or attacked by the West.
Ahmed begins his book by quoting what he terms "chilling words, presaging more murder and mayhem," pronounced by a young South Asian Muslim named Aijaz Qasmi, a chief ideologue of Deoband, preeminent madrassah (religious educational center) of South Asian Islam: "The actions of Osama bin Laden, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Taliban, even if they kill women and children, are perfectly justified in Islam."
But interactions and subsequent dialogue brought a change of heart to this South Asian ideologue.
Islam's positive and negative relationships with the West greatly influence a future path to peace or to violence. With one out of five persons on this Earth a Muslim, including 2.5 million Americans, and one of the 57 Muslim nations a nuclear state, with a few others aspiring to become nuclear, condemning the Muslims' Prophet or branding their religion as murderous and a sworn foe in "a looming 'World War III'," because of man like Qasmi, is not a smart way to win hearts and minds. It gives legitimacy to the radicals who have hijacked Islam for political purposes and has pushed Muslims to men like Osama bin Laden.
Thanks to Google, I enjoy educating myself by reading a variety of translated writings from Arabic, Persian, and Turkish media and analyses of trends in the Middle East by the Middle East Media Research Institute. Readers should see anti-terrorism cartoons in the Arab press: Qatar's April 13, 2007 "Al-Sharq" and Saudi Arabia's April 13, 2007 "Al-Madina" ran a cartoon of a man wearing a hood, carrying a machine gun on his back, reading the Koran upside-down. A satirical poem by female Saudi journalist Wajeha Al-Huwaider is on Arabic reformist Web sites: "When clerics are referred to as 'scholars,' don't be astonished, you are in an Arab country."
In the United States, the non-profit "Free Muslims Coalition," and the "Center for Islamic Pluralism," are anti-militant Islamists. The "American Islamic Forum for Democracy," based in Phoenix and led by medical doctor M. Zuhdi Jasser, a former U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, is active in the struggle against Islamism.
Those who allege Muslims are silent may have not read enough.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy executive director Robert Satloff argues in "How to Win The War of Ideas" in the Nov. 10, 2007 Washington Post that the war "against the spread of the ideology of radical Islamism" is "not a popularity contest about" the United States on the world stage, but "a battle for political power among Muslims."
They lose, we lose.
Satloff calls on the United States to "give anti-Islamists the moral, political, financial, technological and material support they need" for this struggle.
"If anti-Islamists fail, they lose, we lose," posits Satloff, "no bump in America's poll numbers will ever offset the gravity of the defeat."
This brings me back to last week's tale of two grandfathers, a Jew and a Muslim, talking and modeling themselves for the followers of the Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, on how to reach understanding and peace.
University of California/Los Angeles computer science professor Judea Pearl, 71, born in Tel Aviv, studied in America and became a citizen in 1971. His son, Danny Pearl of the Wall Street Journal, was beheaded by terrorists in 2002 in Karachi. One week after, Pearl and his wife, Ruth, created the Daniel Pearl Foundation with "dialogue" as central in the foundation's work. Pearl's "revenge" is to "spread friendship" whereas terrorists "spread division."
Ahmed, 64, a native of Allahabad, British India, is a national of Pakistan. He grew up in Karachi, and was a Pakistani civil servant. His earlier book, "Islam under Siege" (2003) is another must-read. British educated, he has had a career as a Pakistani diplomat and as a visiting professor at Harvard, Cambridge, and Princeton. He resigned from the civil service, joined the American University, and arrived in Washington, D.C., just weeks before Sept. 11, 2001.
Since then, Ahmed's life has become an "interfaith dialogue."
On the night of Danny's death, Ahmed stopped for a moment of prayer. Asked why he cared so much for a non-Muslim, Ahmed replied: "This is really a great crisis for us in human society."
"I weep for Danny Pearl and I weep for Pakistan," he said. A few months later, Pearl and Ahmed discussed what they could do together.
In 2003, the local American Jewish Committee invited professors Pearl and Ahmed to a dialogue at Pittsburgh, Pa., about the divisions between Muslims and the West, and between Muslims and Jews -- a one-time deal.
But Pearl and Ahmed have never ceased traveling and speaking in the United States and around the world. Their two guiding principles: No issue is taboo, and there must be respect at all times.
In dialogue, they look for common ground, listen, understand the other's strength, and learn from one another.
A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at [email protected].
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