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August 27, 2009

A GNA Feature by Mohammed Nurudeen Issahaq)

Accra, Aug. 27, GNA - "I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another and to seek common ground" - President Barack Obama of USA.

Contemporary global challenges are climate change, immigration, terrorism and of course, the famous credit crunch.

Remarkably, at the centre of all these phenomena is man himself - Us! Human kind is the cause of global warming; the problems of immigration; the global economic downturn and international terrorism.


Therefore, any action towards resolving these problems is primarily the collective responsibility of humanity. The Supreme Creator in His infinite magnanimity has given planet Earth and everything else therein to humans. He has also endowed humans with intelligence and the ability to think and act rationally. How humans manage or mismanage life on the Planet would determine their present as well as their future.


Of the four challenges named above, the most explosive and most sensitive one is the spectre of terrorism. It has manifested in various frightening forms ranging from suicide bombings to the blowing up of trains/subways, and even more tragic events such as the one witnessed on September 11, 2001.


Significantly, the issue of terrorism is currently interlinked with organised religion, although in some isolated instances it is also associated with politics. Particularly with the advent of 9/11, the word "terrorism" has become almost synonymous with one specific religious faith - ISLAM. More than anything else in today's world the notion of terrorism has generated considerable tension and friction notably among adherents of the world's two major religions, Christianity and Islam.


The concept Islam is derived from the Arabic word 'Salaam' (also 'Shalom' in Hebrew) whose English translation is 'Peace', but many in the Western World today would never identify Islam with peace. The fundamental principle of the Islamic religion is the attainment of peace through total submission to the will of God or Allah.


How come, then, that Islam whose founder, Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him), placed great premium on justice, equality, non-violence and total submission to the will of God, has become associated with intolerance, violence and terror as it stands today?


In the search for answers to this query, it is important to distinguish between the Religion Islam and those who profess to be adherents of that faith.

Historically, Muslims and Christians share a common ancestry. The former descends from Ishmael through Prophet Mohammed, while the latter is traced to Isaac through Jesus. Both Isaac and Ishmael were sons of Abraham, who loved them without discrimination and who, most importantly, never identified either of the two men as either a Christian or a Muslim.

From the Muslim perspective our forebears including Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them) all preached Islam - the existence of one God and total submission to His will. In the sight of God, therefore, Christians and Muslims are one and equal.

Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) did emphasise this point during the last sermon he delivered on Mount Arafat before his death in 632 AD. "Hear oh people, your Lord is one and your father is one. You all came from Adam, and Adam was made of clay. There is no preference of a Muslim over a non-Muslim; or an Arab over a non-Arab. The best among you in the sight of Allah is the one who is pure in word and deed," he declared.

In another instance, the Prophet also recommended that each year Muslims should undertake voluntary fasting on the 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram in commemoration of Prophet Moses' (PBUH) victory over Pharaoh in liberating the children of Israel from bondage and their subsequent exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. A rare demonstration of solidarity and fellow-feeling!

Indications are that the same message of equality, justice, peace, and harmony among mankind constituted the fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ (PBUH). It is, therefore, indisputable to assert that the division and discrimination that has crept into religion over the years are all manipulations by man for personal gain. An extension of this argument points to attempts from some parts of the non-Muslim world to build stereotypes and myths around the word 'terror', and to stigmatise Islam by associating the term 'terrorist' with the Muslim community.

If it is indeed impossible to have an entire race or society exhibiting the same attitudes/characteristics, then it is also a fallacy to assume that all Muslims (or adherents of Islam) reason and behave alike. Therefore, all Muslims cannot be terrorists as the impression around the world seems to portray.


Extremism can be found in every human society, race and religion. It exists among Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Atheists and any other faith one could think of. There are extremists amongst adherents of Islam just as there are moderates. All over the world there are Muslims who detest acts of terror even more strongly than some non-Muslims do; Muslims who uphold the values of peace, non-violence and of our common humanity as preached/practised by the Prophet (PBUH) during his lifetime. Presumably, it is in recognition of this that governments of the United States, Britain and allied nations at the forefront of the war on terror have declared on several occasions that their actions should not be misconstrued as an assault on Islam or Muslims generally; that they were out to get only the bad guys.


Unfortunately, however, the approach to the conduct of the war on terror apparently sent out wrong signals to the contrary, generating the perception among a majority of the world's Muslim population that they and their religion were being wrongfully persecuted. Indications are that members of many Muslim communities in the predominantly Christian parts of the world today still feel they are being discriminated against on grounds of religion or faith. The war on terror is likely to lose support from people in such communities whose cooperation is crucial for the success of the campaign.

Fundamental lessons drawn from international relations indicate that in addition to the inherent/insatiable ambitions of State Leaders (Classical Realism), the other most important factor that influences great power politics is fear about national security. In an essentially anarchic international environment, the quest for survival compels nations to behave aggressively. John Mearsheimer in his 'Offensive Realism' theory on great power relations contends that the principal motive behind great power behaviour is survival.

If these lessons are anything to go by, and if indeed the over-riding concern of the world's great powers is the security of their respective nations and that of the world at large, then let them direct their attention to resolving the issues in perspective, because one of the most crucial elements confronting global security today is the relationship between Muslims and the non-Muslim world.

Therefore, any genuine search for world peace should begin with addressing these and other related situations through the promotion of dialogue and reconciliation. This would be possible only if rigid positions such as the unwillingness of governments to engage in talks with terrorist groups are abandoned. Did one hear someone shout; "blasphemous naivety?!"

The world has undergone, and continues to undergo, dramatic changes since the demise of communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall. These changes have also had profound implications on international relations, an example being the shift from the long-held maxim of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign States to that of non-indifference on the part of the international community today.

The reality of the necessity to intervene dawned on the international community at a very high price. Anyway, if the borders of the nation-State which were held as sacrosanct can now be penetrated, then it should also be possible to engage renegade groups in talks aimed at softening hard positions and resolving some of the world's protracted stand-offs including the Middle East issue peacefully and amicably.

When United States President Barack Obama (then candidate Obama) stated during his campaign in the run-up to that country's historic election that he would enter into talks with Iran and close down Guantanamo Bay if he became President, it was as though he had said he would invite Osama bin Ladin to the White House for dinner. His political opponents picked it up, dragged and put a spin on it in all ways imaginable. "Recklessness clothed in righteousness," charged Former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Like it or not, the courageous and decisive leadership style demonstrated by President Obama is precisely what the world needs today to be able to move forward. How else can disputes be settled other than 'jaw-jawing' in order to achieve compromises and eventually arrive at mutually acceptable decisions/solutions?

One of the world's former simmering hotbeds, Northern Ireland is largely peaceful/stable today because the British Government demonstrated maturity and mustered the political will to enter into dialogue with the IRA and other militants in that part of the country. The failure or hesitation to intervene in another country's internal affairs even at the point of genocide had caused the world untold tragedy in the past - Rwanda, Bosnia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

In much the same way the prevalent stance of, "we will not negotiate with terrorists", which many governments around the world seem to hold so dearly to their hearts; continues to bring preventable death, misery and untold suffering to millions of people.

The argument that holding talks with militant groups accorded them legitimacy or recognition is becoming as indefensible and burnt out just as the age-old principle of non-interference in a country's internal affairs even in the event of clear signs of obvious ethnic cleansing. Our world has got to where it is today mainly because of our fear to confront and deal with burning issues boldly.

Crucial as it is, any public discussion about terrorism is surprisingly being regarded as a taboo in some circles of society in the same way a compatriot from the village of this Writer would avoid any open talk about sex; a no-go area where most people would rather not tread for fear of being branded, shunned, or implicated.

If humanity should succeed in expanding the frontiers of civilization and human progress, it must begin to challenge some of the long-held concepts and traditions that affect societies.

Continuing to cling to ideas that belonged to another era would only keep humanity ignorant of present day realities, heighten undue tension and exacerbate global insecurity. It also provides breeding grounds for all sorts of disgruntled groups to capitalize on, not to mention the sprouting up of conspiracy theories since the absence of authentic or rational explanation often gives rise to rumour and speculation.

Take for instance the one that made the rounds in the wake of the Bush Administration's proclamation of the war on terror. The dominant theory was that with the end of the Cold War, the United States needed a theme and a new target for another engagement abroad, hence the emergence of the concept of terrorism and the pursuit of terrorist groups around the world.

A counter school of thought also called for a clear distinction between resistance and terrorism, arguing that groups that were labelled as terrorists have been pushed into that state because the international community had isolated and denied them a hearing. That the concerns of terrorist organizations have been largely ignored, with no conscious effort by the international community to take a dispassionate look at the circumstances that drove those groups into such depths of hatred and hopelessness. But even though one may have a genuine grievance, there is absolutely no justification for taking the law into one's hands and murdering defenceless civilians, innocent women and children in cold blood.

Indeed, such acts are at variance with the teachings of the Qur'an, the holy scripture of Islam, which admonishes that taking the life of a single person is like killing the whole of mankind, and that saving one person's life is like saving the whole of humanity. The religion Islam, therefore, does not endorse wanton killing and unprovoked acts of aggression. What is wrong is wrong no matter how hard one tried to justify it, and those who perpetrate such acts are nothing less than criminals that should be brought to face the full rigours of the law.

However, even as those whose hands are covered with innocent blood are being pursued, the international community should embark on a deliberate and sustained effort to ease tensions and to promote world peace. The US in particular needs to start building international goodwill in order to redeem its image that has fallen very low in most parts of the world mainly due to the controversial Iraq war.

The use of American hard power to pursue soft power goals or objectives is what should engage the preoccupation of the present leadership of that country in the years ahead. It should stretch out a hand of peace to the rest of the world.


Fortunately, that is what President Obama seems to have set out to achieve and which must be supported by all peace-loving people the world over. Most importantly, the time is ripe for a global forum at which the inconvenient truths would be told in order to right the wrongs of the past. A gathering where every stakeholder who matters would be present to deliberate openly on all burning issues that are known to be responsible for the heightening of tension between the Muslim and the non-Muslim world.

Dialogue fosters understanding and is capable of building bridges between different cultures and societies if pursued open-mindedly and in good faith. On his maiden trip to the Middle East recently, President Obama called for a new relationship between the United States and the Islamic world. It is the belief of this Writer that the global forum being advocated herein would provide the foundation for such a fresh beginning.

Perhaps unknown to the vast majority of Christians and Muslims is the fact that what the two sides have in common far outweighed their perceived differences, but these could better be appreciated only if both sides engaged in honest deliberations to dispel the doubts, misconceptions and mistrust that have characterized their relationship for nearly 2,000 years.

Globalisation, the current prevalent trend, is supposed to bring people together. Interdependence in our world is here to stay; hence peaceful coexistence becomes an imperative ideal. Therefore, if organized religion poses a divisive factor tipping against all the above, then religion must of necessity be crowned the centre of focus for this and the next century, as mankind engages in the search for world peace.

Just as world leaders and other stakeholders convene global conferences on the environment, immigration and other important concerns, time is up for a global conference on religion where the world's religious leaders would engage in dispassionate and frank deliberations on the issues that divide as well as those that bind them. The United Nations and United States should help to make this initiative possible - if not for anything; to prove the conspiracy theorists wrong.

End-note: A genetics professor at Oxford University predicts the gradual disappearance of the "Y-Chromosome", which is responsible for the formation of the male foetus in humans - an imminent extinction of the male species?


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