Dialogue with America Via Universal Service

Category: World Affairs Topics: Bill Clinton, Mohammad Khatami, United Nations Views: 890

The United Nations General Assembly has decided to celebrate the year 2001 as the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations. In June 1997, President Bill Clinton announced a national dialogue program called "One America in the 21st Century: The President's Initiative on Race" in order to prepare Americans to live as one community based on opportunities for all and responsibilities from all. The confluence of these two initiatives creates a communicative environment in which American Muslims can lead an American-Islamic dialogue.

The U.N. decision to celebrate dialogue among civilizations follows a call for the same by Iranian President Mohammed Khatami. In a September 1998 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, President Khatami urged "a dialogue among civilizations and cultures instead of a clash between them."

The concept of inter-civilizational clash is not a new proposition. In a 1993 article and the 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington described Islamic and Asian civilizations as being intrinsically opaque and posing a threat to the West. Huntington postulated a potential virulent clash between Islam and the West.

Many scholars have criticized Huntington for his simplistic analysis, and his refusal to listen to the voices that oppose the West and to see their claims as legitimate efforts to expand rather than contract the freedoms of the Western societies. Indeed, Huntington ignored the moral imperatives of Islam that make it a peaceful way of life and ignored the complexity, cultural diversity and socioeconomic dynamics of the Muslim world.

As President Khatami emphasized, Islam and the West could learn and benefit from each other through sincere dialogue and constructive engagement at all levels. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan echoed President Khatami’s call. At a June 30, 1999 address, at the Centre for Islamic Studies at Oxford University, Annan said, "Civilizations no longer exist as separate entities in the way they once did … Today's dialogue must be a peaceful one…"

Indeed, dialogue is a mode of communication in which each participant group or individual has an equal chance to speak and be heard. In dialogue, two or more sides seek to reach understanding. Dialogue encourages openness to change in attitude and behavior. Dialogue is not a debate, nor a clash. Yet, dialogue exposes wrongly held assumptions for reflection and correction. Dialogue prompts participants to listen to each other and build on common grounds.

As far as potential for dialogue between Islam and American society is concerned, justice, freedom, and cultural diversity are among the many values that provide the common platforms for that interaction. Based on these values, a dialogue with America can benefit Muslims by exposing anti-Islamic/anti-Muslim hate speech and stereotyping in American media, organizations and politics. Such dialogue can help prompt Americans to reflect on their assumptions about Islam and Muslims in America.

On the other hand, this dialogue can also benefit multiracial America as it seeks to bridge the ethnic and racial divides that are a legacy of American history. Understanding of the way Islam erased racism from the heart of Muslims 14 centuries ago might help America heal its racial wounds, bridge the divides along color lines and develop an ethics of true human diversity. Muslim Americans come from almost all backgrounds. Integration of Muslim voices thus can enrich the U.S. president’s vision of "One America" in the 21st century.

Unfortunately, Muslim voices in the government-sponsored dialogues are conspicuous by their absence. Some Muslim Americans have participated in these dialogues on an individual basis in the universities. The President’s Initiative on Race advisory board’s report commends the "best practices" of 300 community organizations including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and its outpost the World of Difference Institute.

It is obvious that the officials running the show for the Race initiative did not invite the Muslim organizations for the dialogues out of ignorance or prejudice. But it is also true that the Muslim organizations didn’t make their "initiatives" general (universal) and vocal enough to warrant invitations. Muslim organizations are still in their childhood, serving Muslims only, not Americans in general.

Since Muslims are now part of the American landscape, and since Muslim organizations are mushrooming across America, they must usher their fellow-Americans into a systematic and serious dialogue. Muslims must create organizations that incorporate the universal values of freedom and justice for all and extend their service to all Americans.

Since actions speak louder than words, let Muslims lead their dialogue with America via frameworks of universal social service, education, and business, and through forums of media work, study and research. Let Muslims contribute to fostering the idea of kinship of humanity, sanctity of life, freedom, justice, and happiness for all, as envisioned in the Holy book of Islam and the Constitution of the United States.

Mohammad A. Auwal is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Los Angeles and is a regular columnist for iviews.com

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Bill Clinton, Mohammad Khatami, United Nations
Views: 890

Related Suggestions

The opinions expressed herein, through this post or comments, contain positions and viewpoints that are not necessarily those of IslamiCity. These are offered as a means for IslamiCity to stimulate dialogue and discussion in our continuing mission of being an educational organization. The IslamiCity site may occasionally contain copyrighted material the use of which may not always have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. IslamiCity is making such material available in its effort to advance understanding of humanitarian, education, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and such (and all) material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.