The recent summit at CUNY Graduate college in Midtown Manhattan hosted by AID Democracy was held to try to bridge the gap between Muslims and the West. In post 911 times there are a lot misunderstandings about Muslims in the media and the American public. The conference’s atmosphere was a very friendly and interactive atmosphere. The very first part of the conference the moderator encouraged the audience to look at their neighbors and introduce themselves and tell each other about themselves then afterwards. Then the conference kicked off.
The first part of the conference started with a group of moderators who had to answer the question of what can be done to improve the relationship between Islam and the West. Brother Zeehan one of the organizers started off by explaining that the Patriot Act made it more difficult for Muslims and Muslim organizations to effectively communicate with other groups. So summits like this gives individuals the chance learn about each other and be educated on what Islam is about. “We also need to revisit very recent historical times wherein Muslims and Jews lived together peacefully.” He stated. “We can have those times come back but it takes individuals with an open mind to make sure that it happens.”
The first speaker on the panel Mr. Andrea Bartoli, a senior research scholar at the School of International and Public Affairs and the Director of the Center for International Conflict Resolution spoke about a long term strategy to improve the relationship between the West and the Islamic World. He stated that there is a need to unify the relationship. The problem is that since September 11th people responded to Muslims as the enemy. People in the United States came together under the ideology that we are uniting against the enemy. This mentality is something that has transcended over the history of the United States of uniting together against a common enemy. “If this was the solution to a peaceful tomorrow then we would not have so many wars but obviously this is not working but it is actually causing more problems. It also does not create a space for people who want to solve the problems and create peace.” He used the example of a group of a few people who lost family members in the 911 attacks made an attempt to visit the Middle East to reach out to those ethnicities who were supposedly responsible for the attacks. They called themselves Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow. He concluded his speech with stating that the west has a legacy of the crusades that it is trying to uphold and it needs to stop trying to uphold this legacy.
The next speaker was Mr.Shamil Idriss who is the Deputy Director at the UN office of the Alliance of Civilizations. He stated the words Islam and the West are terms that within themselves are tools of division. “People refer to Islam and The West as if they are two separate entities that cannot coexist with each other and that is just not true. Islam is a religion that is growing on a daily basis and within mostly Western countries. People need to get out of the idea that Islam cannot coexist in Western countries without compromising the viewpoints of either one.” “Another problem that is happening is that those who are making the rules that everyone else is supposed to obey and follow are the same individuals who get to break those rules.” He went on to further explain how there are a lot of double standards in international law and the powers that be violate rules when it is in their best interest to violate them. He also went on the further explain that Muslims need to make themselves more known as well. “In a recent Gallop poll survey people were asked what did they like about Islam and Muslims and most of the correspondents replied nothing. Other said they did not know.” Muslims also have to make themselves more available to people so that people understand what the religion of Islam is really about.
Other speakers on the panel spoke about the need for the US government to revert its policies from the ground up. Sarah Leah Whitson stated boldly that “The relationship between the East and the West has a lot of improvements that it can make. The government needs to close Gautanamo Bay, stop the brutalization that American soldiers are doing to foreign civilians.” “Our society has been known to the rest of the world as a violent society. So of course where Americans go we may not be well liked or received and this is unfortunate.”
The conference broke with an hour lunch wherein students from various states broke off into rooms and got a chance to socialize with one another and introduce themselves and discuss what they thought of the conference. After lunch part two of the conference discussed what can the media do to help improve the relationship between Islam and the West. Members of the audience discussed how the media can stop portraying stereotypes of Muslims in the media and stop attaching Islam to random acts of violence. One member of the audience stated that when a fanatical Christian or Jew bombs an abortion clinic or a homosexual night club the religion of the person is not mentioned. But if a person who happens to be a Muslim does something the whole religion is attacked. Other suggestions from the audience was that there needs to be more balanced reporting on the practice of Islam in other countries besides Arab countries. Muslim women need to also be portrayed in a more positive light. And Islamic religious ceremonies such as Hajj could also stand to use more positive coverage. “On CNN national one only hears about the tent fires at Mecca. But if you watch CNN international you get to here the joy of those on Hajj and how diverse Mecca is during that time.” Stated a member from the audience.
The conference gave people from various backgrounds a chance to dialogue with each other and left everyone with a positive hope that there is still a great chance for change.