Soul searching, an atmosphere of toleration and respect and a dialogue among the civilizations (the West and Islam). Mutual respect, justice and equity and the rejection of bigotry and hatred; all basic humans values that the West and Islam have in common. Why then is a dialogue between these two civilizations so hard?

A DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE WEST AND ISLAM is the need of the hour. The Western powers must open up dialogue with the Muslim countries based upon mutual respect, equality, and understanding. Only then can the misperceptions that have guided the West’s foreign policy be altered with more productive approaches to peace. Furthermore, the radical forces in the Islamic world need to be fought on the intellectual front.

Perhaps this war of the minds is more significant in the long run than the military option. The nature of radicalism is such that it cannot be defeated by force, the only viable option is to empower the moderates from within Islam who can battle their brethren through canvassing and arguments. The continued employment of sheer force will only create more bitterness and hatred than there already is.

For such a dialogue to take place the circumstances are right; to meet and discuss the issues until they are expended. A lot of soul searching is required by all sides, the Muslims especially are in need of retrospection. Only an open dialogue in an atmosphere of toleration and mutual respect will help change the situation and usher in peace.

Along with an open atmosphere of communication, the next step is that, before a continuous and enduring dialogue. Only before will we then able to facilitate this dialogue. Earlier, the call for dialogue among civilization emerged first from Mohamed Khatami, then President of Iran. Later, the United Nations General Assembly issued a resolution proclaiming the year of 2001 as the United Nations Year for Dialogue among Civilizations.

The Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) in its capacity as the representative of the Islamic world played a role in the implementation of many activities related to dialogue among civilization according to a resolution issued by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). The ISESCO continued to show its interest in the issues of dialogue among civilizations. It had played a role, as per its mandate, in formulating a new integrated concept of dialogue at various levels. The ISESCO had maintained that the dialogue had a deep significance in the Islamic cultural and civilizational heritage, which referred to Islamic principles and values and Muslim culture. Unmistakably, dialogue was among the values of the Islamic civilization.

From ISESCO’s perspective, dialogue was based on clear and well established principles which were: (1) Mutual respect (2) Justice and equity and (3) Rejection of bigotry and hatred. IESCO felt that the dialogue must aim at the reinforcing of the efforts deployed at many levels to promote human solidarity and enrich world civilization. The dialogue called by IESCO made perfect sense, given that the conflict in some parts of the Islamic world that included Western military forces (Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sudan, etc,) needed a concentrated dialogue among leaders and academicians.

Undoubtedly, much more needs to be done on this dialogue program. We must begin wherever we can as the task is huge and the time little. People everywhere, at least the great majority of them, desire to live in peace. All the people of the world must join hands to contribute to the fostering of peace, security and stability in the world and to validate the values of faith and belief in God as well as humanity. We all share a humanity which is even belonged religion per say. The Islamic world needs introspection as never before.

Muslims must ask themselves why terrorism is committed in their own ranks. Why has the Islamic world failed to contain the scourge of terrorism? Why has good governance and rule of law bedeviled the Muslim world for so long? Why are Muslims not at peace among themselves? Hard questions need to be answered. Most importantly, solutions need to be found to these upsetting questions.

The Western world, especially the United States and European Union, must show more toleration for the way of Islam and must grant Muslims the space they require to develop from within. Instead of demonizing, the West must appreciate it.

After all, the Islamic civilizations have made a tremendous contribution to the growth of world civilization in the Middle Ages. At its zenith in the mid thirteenth century or so, the world of Islam was a center of creativity, tolerance and knowledge. What was once could be created once again. The magnificence of Islam that once was could be rekindled yet again.

For this, the Muslim world must get its act together. Yet, for this to happen it needs respite from foreign invasions and foreign manipulations. The Islamic world must be given the chance to recuperate from the wounds inflicted on it from within and without. It needs time to recover. The Western powers must show patience and assist in this recovery. After all, the people of the world all belong to a singular giant humanity that includes Muslims. Surely the strength of Islam can be the strength of all.

Meanwhile, the pious hopes of the OIC and the IESCO mentioned above must see the light of the day. More action is needed and mere appeals will obviously not do. We must all join hands to create a cosmopolitan world civilization based on justice, freedom and tolerance. These are Islamic values too.

The Western world has a lot in common with the world of Islam and unnecessary conflict can and should be avoided. A dialogue among civilizations is thus the need of the hour. Again, we must begin immediately and at various levels both academic and in the shape of a peoples movement of sort. Well meaning people must stand up for mutual tolerance, respect and human dignity. Are we really asking too much here?