My emphasis will be on science and religion in Christianity and Islam, on the history as well as the present-day situation, and on the Muslim world and the West. I will start with the present day, to try to establish the political context which has probably brought about an Oxford Round Table on this subject. It will have little to do with science. That will follow.
Islam and Muslim countries facing the West--jihad, clash of civilizations, the role of religion, Israel & Palestine, etc.
So much is driven by western foreign policy and is given an Islamic gloss after the fact. Huntington 1996 (of "clash of civilizations" fame) says otherwise; but Kinzer (2003, 2007), Lewis (2002), Meddeb (2003), Ramadan (2003), Sen (2006) and many others suppport this. Re. the Middle East especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it is widely agreed that muslim anger and creation of the terrorist form of jihad is driven by the colonial history and by western, especially US, foreign policy (Albright 2006, Ali 2002, Armstrong 2001b, Khalidi 2005, 2006, Neumann 2005, Said 1995, 2002). Rightly or wrongly, resentment is still great of the western-backed establishment of Israel on top of 700,000 Palestinian Arabs who had to leave their land. The typical western attitude is that it was sad, for both the Jews during and after the Second World War and for the dispossessed Palestinians, but that it's in the past and everyone ought to just get on with it. Probably that is close to my attitude because it is difficult to see any other way out. But the problem is that it isn't really in the past. The Palestinian population has grown since 1948 to more than 4 million Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, mostly living in squalor and without any real political control of their lives. Four million Palestinians today from 700,000 in 1948 seems like a lot but in fact if one takes the 2006 rate of population increase of 3.71% per year and applies it over the 60 years since 1948, there should be twice that many Palestinians today. Of course many have given up and migrated, mostly to western countries. Edward Said's family was a case in point. As Palestinian Christians they illustrate the reality that there were many Christian as well as Muslim Palestinians dispossessed by the creation of Israel, and also the reality that non-muslims have migrated in disproportionate numbers so that an indirect effect has been to reduce the Christian (and Jewish outside of Israel) presence in the Middle East. Western foreign policy has caused that.
Thus the consequences remain after 60 years and especially for Muslims it is difficult to say "It's the past, let's forget the wounds, let the anger go, and just get on with it". I can understand that too. Perhaps a real Palestinian state, contiguous and functional and with all the rights of a nation (Oz 1994; Khalidi 1997, 2008; Quigley 2005) , would change things, but with Israel blocking that and the US backing Israel "right or wrong", it is hard to see it on the horizon. The Muslim world is very aware of how things still are and why they don't change--so the anger remains. In the West, especially in the US, there is little awareness of this history and these causes of Muslim resentment and anger. After 9/11 any American who said maybe we should investigate why these young men would carry out such a murderous and suicidal act, which was clearly against the precepts of their religion on several grounds, was shouted down. Rudy Giuliani the then mayor of New York was typical, saying that there could be no reason for such a heinous act, so even talking about there being one was unpatriotic and treasonous. It's odd - the British dealt for many years with IRA terrorist bombings without resorting to such silly logic, and in the end they reached a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland. The US often seems naive, not working in its own long-term best interests, or even of Israel's. It is interesting that it is much easier to discuss Middle East issues including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Israel, including recognizing even if disagreeing with Palestinian viewpoints, than it is in the US. Read the newspaper Haaretz online for example, or read books by the Israeli authors Kimmerling (2003a, 2003b) and Oz (1994, 2006). In the preface to his 1994 book Amos Oz remarks that " ... Israel is the only homeland of the Israelis ... [but] I regard Palestine as the legitimate and rightful homeland of the Palestinians. As it seems that Israelis and Palestinians cannot share their homeland, it must be divided between them. . these pages were written by an Israeli who fought for his country and who loves it, even during. times when he was unable to like it. . I have often felt that my country will survive and prosper only if it does right." Ironically these views are similar to those of Palestinian-ancestry New York-born Rashid Khalidi (2008), the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, who has been called a terrorist by some in the US pro-Israel lobby (and by John McCain's presidential campaign). In the US, criticism of Israel (or of the US itself), even if implied, is politically incorrect and fiercely attacked. Just think of the abuse that former US President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Jimmy Carter took for his very even-handed 2007 book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid", or that Michelle Obama took when she said (in a speech in Wisconsin Feb 8 2008) "For the first time in my adult lifetime I am proud of my country", or that Mearsheimer and Walt took for their 2008 book "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. The issue here is not whether they were right or wrong, but rather that some things can't be said.
It should be remembered that Jews and Muslims have traditionally co-existed rather well, in fact much better than Jews and Christian Europeans. The Crusaders plundered both Jews and eastern orthodox Christians as they traveled to the Holy Land to do the same to Muslims (Armstrong 2001a). In the Islamic empire Jews were protected "Peoples of the Book" and many rose to high positions. Islamic Spain is only one example (Lane-Poole 2001, Lowney 2005). After the Christian "Reconquista" and the start of the Inquisition, most Spanish Jews fled to Muslim countries, for example to the Ottoman Empire, for safety. Some went to tolerant European countries like Holland, but there were few such places in western Europe. It is certainly arguable that present-day Muslim anger with Jews mostly has to do with Israel and the Palestinians, and not to do with Jews per se. Similarly Muslim anger with the Christian West mostly has to do with Western foreign policy and its effects on them. The historical evidence strongly suggests that this is so.
In fact most Palestinians (and most Muslims world-wide) are fairly secular in their approach to politics and nationalism. See Esposito and Megahed (2008). The Islamic rhetoric is usually a superficial "add-on", similar to the American religious right's rhetoric (and too often the rhetoric of the political leaders chasing their votes) which cloaks the issues that really drive most Americans.
Lord Arthur Balfour of. the 1917 Balfour declaration said, regarding the rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, that "Zionism is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit the ancient land." When cautioned "Let us not ... tell the Moslem what he ought to think", Balfour replied "I am quite unable to see why heaven or any other power should object to our telling the Moslem what he ought to think." Around the end of the Second World War, after the extent of the Holocaust became obvious to everybody, Ibn Saud argued to President Franklin Roosevelt that "Amends should be made by the criminal, not by the innocent bystander. What injury have the Arabs done to the Jews of Europe? It is the Christian Germans who stole their homes and lives." President Truman is said to have remarked that there were many Jews but few Arabs among his constituents.
The point I am making here is that we are in a political world where most of the worldwide Muslim Ummah, and probably every Muslim in the Middle East, is aware of the relevant history of Islam and of the West's reaction to it, and more …