"Political Islam and the West" Conference in Cyprus Attracts 600 Participants

By Mirbagheri, Farid | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 3, 1998 | Go to article overview

"Political Islam and the West" Conference in Cyprus Attracts 600 Participants


Mirbagheri, Farid, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


"Political Islam and the West" Conference in Cyprus Attracts 600 Participants

A conference on "Political Islam and the West" attracted some 600 participants in Cyprus Oct. 30 and 31. More than 30 speakers delivered their papers in eight tightly-arranged sessions at the Nicosia Hilton organized by the newly established Center for World Dialogue.

In her opening speech, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto spoke of the need for mutual respect between the developing Islamic countries and the West. Civilizational dialogue was the message of the following speaker, Prof. John Esposito from the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

Speaking on "Islam and Modernity" Judith Miller, who has spent 20 years reporting on the region for The New York Times, blamed the governments of Islamic nations for the problems facing their peoples. She contrasted those problems with successes of the Israeli economy. U.S. aid to Israel, she said, was too marginal to have any significant impact on the overall shape of the country's economy. Therefore, the roots of Israel's success must be sought in the internal management of the economy and not external influences.

Her speech drew many searching questions from the audience. While accepting, to a degree, the successful management of the Israeli economy, some asked about the role of the Jewish lobby in the U.S. in helping Israel to obtain almost anything it needed from Capitol Hill and even from the White House. Others referred to the role of Binyamin Netanyahu's policies in creating the current impasse in the Middle East peace process. A few had difficulty with the fact that Israel, in their view, seems to be the only state in the world which is based on a strict "fundamentalist" tenet: that the only qualification required for residency (leading to citizenship) is being of Jewish descent. This, questioners felt, should also be mentioned when referring to the concept and practice of "fundamentalism" in all religions.

Not surprisingly, the session contrasting the roles of women in Islam and the West stirred so much interest that it was extended and a separate room allocated for it to continue beyond its prescribed time. Mrs Taleghani, a prominent social and political figure in Iran, and Professor Riffat Hassan from the University of Louisville in Kentucky spoke passionately on the misperceived role of women in Islam in many parts of the world including Islamic countries themselves. Both cited Biblical and Qur'anic verses that, in their views, accepted engagement of women in all areas of human activity.

Speakers on "Islam, Oil and Politics" included Prof. Oystein Noreng and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani. The former suggested a correlation between the decline of oil revenues in Middle Eastern countries and the rise of "fundamentalism." The absence of democratic institutions to accommodate opposition views leads to religion being used as a political force, he said.

The latter spoke of the need for mutual understanding between Tehran and Washington. The U.S., he said, had to realize that Iran will again become increasingly important in the global oil market after the turn of the century. At the same time, he continued, Iran had to realize that to regain its proper place in the world oil market, it requires American assistance.

INTERNATIONAL ASPECTS

Professor Anatoli Gromyko, son of longtime Soviet Foreign Minister Andre Gromyko, and Graham Fuller of the RAND Corporation were among speakers on the international aspects of political Islam. Both emphasized the need for better and deeper understanding of the demands of Islamic states. Moreover, the view that the Islamic world was monolithic in its politics or in its interpretation of Islam, they said, was erroneous and naive. As expected, this session aroused much interest and involved some analysis of current international issues.

Fuller stated that the United States had no problem with Islam or even Islamic fundamentalism as such. …

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