Saturday, February 11, 2006

Islam-West Divide 'Grows Deeper'

Malaysia's Premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi says a huge chasm has opened between the West and Islam, fuelled by Muslim frustrations over Western foreign policy. Badawi, seen as promoting a moderate form of Islam in largely Muslim Malaysia, said many Westerners saw Muslims as congenital terrorists.

As he spoke at a conference in Kuala Lumpur, thousands protested outside at cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Friday's demonstration was the biggest in Malaysia's capital for years.
'Demonionization widespread'

Badawi said the West should treat Islam the way it wants Islam to treat the West and vice versa - they should accept one another as equals.

Addressing an international conference intended to promote dialogue between Western and Islamic thinkers, Abdullah said Islam and the West should stop demonizing each other, and try to curb extremism and promote moderation.

Malaysia is currently the head of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

He said mere talk and being nice to one another were not enough, and mutual respect should replace hegemony.

"They think Osama bin Laden speaks for the religion and its followers," he said.

"The demonisation of Islam and the vilification of Muslims, there is no denying, is widespread within mainstream Western society." However, Muslims for their part had to avoid "sweeping denunciation of Christians, Jews and the West", he added.

The BBC's Jonathan Kent in Kuala Lumpur says that if a firebrand or a radical had made this speech it might more easily be dismissed as rhetoric, but Mr. Abdullah has been avidly calling for Muslims worldwide to embrace education, science, technology and development, while rejecting extremism.

While Western diplomats at the meeting were unwilling to accept a link between Western military intervention and Islamic radicalism, he says, it remains one widely believed across the Muslim world.

The satirical cartoons include an image portraying Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. Islamic tradition explicitly prohibits any depiction of Allah and the Prophet. The cartoons were first published by a Danish newspaper in September, but have since been reprinted in several other European publications.

On Thursday Feb 9, 2006, Badawi shut indefinitely a Borneo-based paper, the Sarawak Tribune, for reprinting the cartoons. He described their publication as "insensitive and irresponsible". The paper had apologized for what it called an editorial oversight. The Premier had also declared possession of the cartoons illegal.

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