The UN recently created a new initiative, the Alliance of Civilisations. This initiative rejects the idea that there is a “clash of civilisations”, that the West is fundamentally incapable of peacefully co-existing with Muslim nations, etc. I was really looking forward to reading their report, but it was slightly disappointing. Unsurprisingly, it said lots of things that I agree with and would like to believe are true, but it didn’t argue its case coherently or persuasively. For example,
4.14 In some cases, self-proclaimed religious figures have capitalized on a popular desire for religious guidance to advocate narrow, distorted interpretations of Islamic teachings. Such figures mis-portray certain practices, such as honor killings, corporal punishment, and oppression of women as religious requirements. These practices are not only in contravention of internationally-agreed human rights standards, but, in the eyes of respected Muslim scholars, have no religious foundation. Such scholars have demonstrated that a sound reading of Islamic scriptures and history would lead to the eradication and not the perpetuation of these practices.
4.15 Many of these practices relate directly to the status of women. In some Muslim societies, ill-informed religious figures, in some cases allied with unenlightened conservative political regimes, have succeeded in greatly restricting women’s access to public and professional life, thereby hampering their prospects and potential for self-fulfillment. The effect on those women, on society at large, and on future generations, has been to inhibit economic and social development as well as democratic pluralism. This problem can only be overcome through laws that ensure full gender equality in accordance with internationally-agreed human rights standards. Such measures are most likely to succeed if supported by religious education that is based upon a sound interpretation of religious teachings. It must be noted, however, that in many parts of the world, including Western countries, much progress is still needed with regard to the status of women.
4.17 Among the intra-Muslim debates that most directly affect relations with Western societies is that over the concept of “jihad”. The notion of jihad is a rich one with many shades of meaning, ranging from the struggle between good and evil that is internal to every individual (often referred to as the “greater” jihad in Islam) to the taking up of arms in defense of one’s community (the “lesser” jihad). Increasingly, this term is used by extremists to justify violence with little consideration for the historical context and the related religious exigencies that most Muslim scholars agree should inform its application. When such exhortations to violence by radical factions are picked up and amplified by media and Western political leaders, the notion of “jihad” loses the multiple meanings and positive connotations it has for Muslims and becomes associated with only violent and negative meanings which have been wrongly attributed to the term.
Yep, I reckon that’s probably all true, but why?
This sort of thing comes in the first third of the report, the rest is practical suggestions for how to bring about an alliance of civilisations. For some reason, they fail to excite me. This is probably my fault. I feel like, if we need to find an idea to rally around in bringing about an alliance of civilisations, then this isn’t it. I’m sure the ideas are good ones, but are they enough and are they convincing? Personally, I’m not sure.
Perhaps if someone else has read this report you could explain to me that I’m missing something?