Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Other Talk With the ‘Other’

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

The next National Dialogue will be about another dialogue, this time “with the other.” Not much explanation was provided. But I understand, and hope I am correct, that the other includes the local other, as well as the foreign.
We seem to be in dire need to talk with many others, these days. While most attention is focused on our misunderstanding with non-Muslims, especially Western, more urgent talk is needed with non-Sunni, non-Hanbli, non-Saudi, non-male “others”.
Not that I don’t appreciate the external pressure on us to tackle the politically charged stand toward the West — I do. But I hate missing the chance to tackle the other files too. The world, I am sure, will feel better hearing a united voice, representing all factions and thoughts. Our credibility will be much stronger if we talk as a diversified, but united nation, with equal footing for all in an open-minded dialogue with a West built on principles of multiculturalism, human rights for minorities and women, and freedom of expression.
Once we did that, we must start a dialogue of our own. Here is how:
First, we should review our whole concept of isolationism. Like many conservative groups, especially in USA, there are some influential parts of society who think of the outside world as dangerous, corrupted, and corrupting place. They live a conspiracy theory of a scheming others trying to conquer our lands, steal our resources, corrupt our kids and distort our culture.
Unfortunately, certain events and policies of some Western governments, especially America, Russia and Britain, do lend credit to some of these theories. The one single issue that enforced the isolationists’ mode of siege has been, for half a century, Palestine. Today, the list of under-fire Muslim areas is much longer. It includes Chechnya, Kashmir, India, The Philippines, Thailand, and Sudan.
Of course, there are explanations from the other side, and complaints of faults and shortcomings on our part, too. Non-Muslim governments, West and East, that oppress Muslims, cite terrorism, independence movements and foreign jihadi involvement. They blame Muslims for being unable to integrate fully in dominant cultures. The problem is, neither party is willing to trust the other or even listen open-mindedly.
In our internal dialogue we must consider all perspectives and look for ways of bridging differences, and solving problems with the other side. This should happen in an environment of peace, hope and good faith in the other’s best intentions. Certainly, we cannot assume that all are of one mind about us. If we believe that certain circles of influence and power are too invested in their ways and stands, therefore a hopeless case, we could work with the better side, and talk directly to the silent, undecided, uniformed majority.
Many non-Muslim societies and intellectuals are simply unaware of our concerns and motivations. They see hate and anger, but don’t understand why. The devils inserted the notion that Islam, the religion, Qur’an the book, and Prophet Muhammad the messenger are the problem.
They put us all on a collision course, because they drew an impossible problem to solve. Since they can’t force or entice us to drop our religion and denounce our holy book and Prophet, the only way that remains for all of us leads to “Armageddon,” “Clash of Civilization” and “The End of History.”
Of course, both sides expect ultimate victory. This is just what the world was at during the Cold War. The wiser, of course, realized that total annihilation was the most likely end. They, and lucky historical events, helped in leading the human race away from this hellish road, to more cooperative, trade-based, electronically connected, multilateral world.
Today, we face similar dilemmas and challenges. We, Saudi intellectuals, must shoulder our share of responsibility. The forthcoming conference is one platform we should well utilize to come up with new logical, coherent, realistic and effective approach to all others.
We must face our internal differences, and sew a unified stand on this and all related issues. It is about time we admitted that many of our extremists mirrored their Western counterparts. They filled many innocents with misinformation that led to hate, apprehension and anger. They distorted our religion, reinterpreted our holy book and drew a hateful, arrogant, aggressive face for our peaceful, tolerant and inclusive religion.
The misinformed of them are our responsibility to re-educate and enlighten.
We tried this and it worked. The purposeful among them are our enemies and must be fought. The end products of their devilish work are terrorists who hunted the world and came back to hunt us. We should both face them and fight the schools of thought that produce them. Our future, peace and place in the world is at stake. We cannot afford to delay resolution any longer.

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