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Khan is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Adrian College in Michigan.
He is a Visiting Fellow at Brookings Institution and a Fellow of the
Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
For a comprehensive resume
click here: Resume
Diversity in Islam
American Muslims in Public Policy
Muslims in America: Roadmap for
American Muslims: Bridging Faith
Politics and the Promise of
A. Muqtedar Khan
This article was published in The Daily Star (Lebanon) Mar 23-24, 2004, Foreign Policy in Focus Feb 12, 2004, Alternet.org Feb 17, 2004 and Q-News (England), March 2004.
on the Dialogue of Civilizations:
After attending two back-to-back “international dialogues of civilizations”, one in Doha, Qatar (Jan 9-12) organized by Brookings Institution and the Emir of Qatar, and another at UNESCO in Paris (Jan 17-19) hosted by UNESCO, Euro Mediterranean and President Jacques Chirac, I cannot help but reflect on the promise and the politics of dialogues.
In response to Professor
Huntington’s now infamous argument predicting a future full of clashes
between civilizations, the world’s liberals responded with a call for a
civilizational dialogue. After 9/11 this call for a dialogue between Islam
and the West has become even more urgent.
assumptions behind these dialogues are not too difficult to discern. Islam
and the modern West share a common Abrahamic tradition and their
foundational sources; Islamic law and philosophy and Western enlightenment
philosophy have common roots – Hellenistic reason and Biblical
revelation. The two
civilizations have a common past and a common future, particularly in the
light of strong economic relations between the West and the Muslim World
and the growing presence of Islam in nearly every Western society.
Because the future of the two civilizations is inseparable, a clash will be devastating to both regardless of the asymmetry of power. A clash between Islam and the modern West would be like a clash between the present and the future for both. Islam is integral to the future of the West and Islamic civilization’s reticence towards modernity is untenable; eventually the Muslim World will have to modernize, democratize and recognize that its future too is interdependent. Neither the West nor the Muslim world can imagine a mutually exclusive future.
Dialogues between the two
civilizations help convince the undecided on both sides that there is hope
and conflict is not inevitable.
In the dialogue itself one
can convince the other that not all interests are sacred and not all
positions are etched in stone. With a little more understanding, patience
and a willingness to recognize the legitimate concerns of the other, some
compromise and much restraint, dialogues can bridge even the widest of
divides. For those who believe in the common humanity of all and dream of
a world where all can live in dignity and security, dialogues are
necessary and the only means to resolve disagreements and disputes.
Needless to say, I went to
each of the two international forums with hope, excitement, and
anticipation. But I discovered that the promise of a dialogue can be so
easily compromised, even subverted by the politics that underpin these
dialogues or by those political entrepreneurs who seek to exploit them to
score political points at the expense of advancing understanding.
Paris Forum: A Stage for
Bashing the US and Islam
The forum in Paris was entitled “The Clash of Civilizations will not Happen”. Both President Chirac and Foreign Minister Villepin argued that the clash of civilizations must not be allowed to happen. They feared that growth of terrorism and the undermining of multilateralism in the world was threatening peace and enhancing the prospects of a clash. The forum was apparently designed to underscore the common traditions between Islam and the West but it actually ended up as a forum that rejected Islamic resurgence in the Muslim World and America as a neocolonial power.
GLORY AND GRANDEUR OF FRANCE IS HARD TO MISS
As a result I found myself
as the only defender of America, pointing to the audience that compared to
Europe’s history American colonial ambitions are insignificant and as
far as democracy and freedom of religion was concerned the US was streets
ahead of the French who even legislate what Muslim women can wear and not
wear. I reminded them that
the US was, as former Secretary of State Albright pointed out, the
“indispensable nation,” and it was the US that acted to prevent
genocides in Europe (Bosnia, Kosova) and not France.
Finally I had to remind Europeans that in spite of their
pro-Palestine rhetoric they had done little for them. Even the
Palestinians recognized that if they were to get their independence, it
would have to be through a transformed role of the US.
On the panels that discussed Islam only those Muslims were invited who saw no role for Islam in the public sphere. As one of the voices advocating Islamic democracy I was surprised to find myself in the audience as people who had done little or nothing on the subject discussed how secular Muslims alone – not any interpretation of Islam -- were ready for democracy. The general mood at the conference was that there could be no peace or dialogue with Islamists. The occasional voice that advocated Islamic democracy was booed.
The radical secular
fundamentalism of France in my opinion will enhance rather than diminish
the prospects of a clash of civilizations. Secular westernized Muslims
have little influence in the Muslim World. Islam has become the dominant
idiom of the Muslim World and the West must find a way to cooperate and
co-exist with moderate/liberal Islamists who believe in democracy,
tolerance and pluralism, but within the Islamic rubric. French style
secularism is neither welcome in the Muslim World, nor in America, nor by
a majority of French Muslims who now constitute about one fifth of the
The Doha dialogue was orchestrated by the Saban Center for Middle East policy at Brookings Institution. Unlike Paris, where the main players – Americans and Islamists – were conspicuously absent, the Doha Dialogue focused on bringing in all the key players in the ongoing struggle between the US and the Muslim World. Academics, policy makers, former government officials, media, former military personnel and a strong contingent of American Muslims represented the US. The American delegation included former President Bill Clinton, Ambassadors Richard Holbrooke, Martin Indyk and Edward Djerejian. The Muslim World was represented by former government officials, scholars, journalists, politicians and some key Islamists such as Prof. Qazi Hussain the leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami and also the leader of the opposition in the Pakistani Parliament, and Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi an important leader in the Muslim brotherhood and easily the most prominent opinion maker and cleric of the Arab world.
The dialogue included open
plenary sessions and several close door three-hour workshops. The
different formats revealed the extent to which political considerations on
the part of all parties undermines the promise of dialogues. In open
sessions, Muslim representatives focused on US-Israeli relations as the
crux of the crisis in US-Muslim relations and sought to underscore the
injustices that Muslim suffer at the hands of US and Israel. In closed
door session’s representatives from the Muslim World acknowledged that
political and even cultural reform was necessary in the Muslim World. Many
were willing to concede that the Israeli-Palestinian issue could be
settled peacefully. Above all even the most stringent public critics of
the US were more cooperative and willing to discuss things openly in
The American delegates tended to waffle on most issues in public. They were often unwilling to discuss key complaints that Muslims had with regards to US foreign policy. While there was a plenary session dedicated to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the American delegations’ discomfort on the topic was palpable. But in private not only were many Americans willing to admit the insanity of the Bush administration’s policies but also acknowledged the policy logjam that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute constituted. Many prominent Americans even acknowledged that perhaps it was time to rethink US positions vis-à-vis the Middle East crisis.
But the only public statement that everyone remembers is Ambassador Holbrooke’s. At first he refused to discuss the issue and then finally made one statement, “the US will never turn its back on Israel.” Many Islamists interpreted this as “no matter what happens, no matter what Israel does, the US will continue to finance, support and arm Israel.” Until Bill Clinton came to the rescue, Holbrooke’s commitment to Israel had subverted the dialogue. Some cynics concluded from Holbrooke’s comment that perhaps he might become the Secretary of State if Democrats won in November 2004 now that he had sworn his allegiance to Israel in public.
On many issues it appeared
as if Americans and Muslims were public enemies but private allies. When
not posturing for the consumption of respective constituencies both,
arrogant Americans and intransigent Islamists, were actually willing to
negotiate, share their fears and aspirations and really open up to each
other. In public dialogues the sources of divergence dominated, in private
conversations areas that constituted common ground were explored.
The conference ended with an eloquent and thoughtful talk by Bill Clinton. Unlike some Americans who showed both ignorance and insensitivity to Muslim concerns, Clinton showed not only a clear understanding of the underlying problems, but also great respect and familiarity with Islam, the Quran and Muslim issues. He was willing to acknowledge past mistakes, admit American limitations on key policy issues, and did not shy away from criticizing the Arabs, the Israelis and Americans for failing to resolve the Middle East crisis by now.
January 1, 2004
December 15, 2003
This article distinguishes between the positions that liberal and radical Muslims take with regards to the US, towards democracy, modernity and Islam. It argues that both liberal Islam and America have a lot of common interests and supporting liberal Muslims should be the top priority of American foreign policy. The paper also advances a liberal interpretation of Syed Qutb arguing that Syed Qutb can also be read as the John Locke of the Muslim world. To read More:
September 11, 2003
This New York Times Op-Ed discusses how the American Muslim community is changing as a result of the changing condition in America.
August 16, 2003
"A rare moderate voice" Khaled Ahmed, Pakistan's prominent commentator and reviewer on American Muslims.
July 21, 2003
Muqtedar Khan Debates Dr. Daniel Pipes on Islam and Democracy
The debate was originally posted on PBS' Wide Angle and includes topics such as Islam and modernity, women, democracy, Shariah and more.