Our gracious host invited me to write something from a western perspective. I am far better at discourse than at grandstanding. I decided to write something that might get the ball rolling for a discussion. Here are a few thoughts that might get us started.
I am going to be honest and say that I am somewhat sceptical about my reception and involvement here. I am a fairly conservative American. I voted for George Bush, although I do not agree with some of his course, I do agree with his overall goals and objectives.
I know there is nothing simple about what is going on in the Middle East. You cannot boil it all down to oil, religion, bigotry, economics, a lack of understanding, or even simple hatred. All of these have their roles in the situation but it goes beyond the easy explanation. Perhaps that is why the solution seems so elusive.
There are some questions that I have for those who are Muslim, I am not, and admittedly, I do not have much experience in discussing issues with Muslims. You see we have many perceptions that may be accurate or they may be founded in myth. I do know that there are many factions of the Muslim faith and that it is almost as dangerous to generalise about all Muslims, as it would be to generalise about all Christians or all Americans.
One of our perceptions is that women are denied some basic human rights in many of the Muslim countries. Those who support Osama Bin Laden are great proponents of maintaining the heavy restrictions upon women dictated by Muslim tradition.
Another of our perceptions are along this same line of reasoning, where those who are non-believers are not treated very well; homosexuals are violently persecuted and, Jews are on guard for good reason. There is virtually no tolerance for anything even close to diversity in countries that are ruled by governments that controlled by Muslim clerics.
We also perceive that these countries resist modernity and freedom. We believe that the freedoms in our country are considered a threat to those who hate us the most in the Middle East. We know that freedom is part of the modern world, and the desire to live free is a powerful force that must be combated by those who fear it as a threat.
We further believe that the youth in many of these countries are brought up to hate Americans. As long as this continues, there will be a perpetual antagonism between America and Muslims in the Middle East.
We do understand that the vast majority of Muslims are not supporters of Bin Laden and what he represents, and that there are some moderates within that religion. However, we never hear from them. Their voice is mute. It must be demonstrated to us that there is a voice out there that wants to be heard; a voice of moderation and consideration; a voice that welcomes discussion and an exchange of ideas. Perhaps this forum will be one of them. I have my doubts. I know that an honest exchange of ideas can quickly turn into belligerent arguments.