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Islam - A Second Discussion

     The state of Israel is a historical accident. Its recognition by Truman occurred at a time when the Islamic lobby scarcely existed ; U.S. foreign policy is largely dictated by domestic policies and by powerful lobbies. Truman was no expert in international affairs. When the question of Israel came up, he sought the advice of a Jewish friend with whom he had been in business in the haberdashery which failed. He followed his friend's advice and recognized Israel, to the dismay of State Department and the British Foreign Office experts, who saw the long-term consequences. Jews, who had coexisted for centuries with Muslims in many Arab countries, were forced to leave. the Sephardim who went to Israel are resentful of the Ashkenazi ruling class. The Arabs hate Israel and resent its backer, the United States. Muslims feel solidarity with the Arabs, for whom the world generally has sympathy. The explosions at the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, which echoed in Washington, are part of a struggle for which no end is in sight.
     It is against this background that the Islamic world is trying to unite, as was demonstrated this week in the Second International Islamic Unity Conference, held in Washington's Omni Shoreham Hotel. It was a colorful affair, since most of the participants wore their native dresses and spoke their native tongues. The dominant theme was the umma, the unity of the faithful, which some suggested even the United States would one day join. A mufti intonated a prayer in Arabic. George Washington University Professor of Islamic Studies Sayyed Hossein Nasr struck a dignified note with an appeal for American Muslims to study the great tradition of Islam. Presumably he had the American Jewish intelligentsia as a model. The other speakers had axes to grind. The grand mufti of Kosova [sic] denounced the Serbs in fiery Albanian. Sheykh Nadir Kachlaev, head of Russian Muslems, spoke in the name of the Muslims of nineteen former Soviet republics. The speech by Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, Riaz Hassan Khokhar, was one long diatribe against India over Kashmir; not a word about Pakistan's support for the disgraceful Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Nor was it mentioned in the speech by Tuty Alawiyah, State Minister for Women's Affairs of Indonesia, since her theme was the role of women in Islamic societies.
     What did all this display of unity add up to? More than the unity of Christendom, but less than the umma ideal. There was no discussion of Islamic terrorism, even though it was a major concern in Washington. Perhaps the most important aspect was the determination to impress on Washington the importance of the Islamic world and its backing for the growing Islamic community in the United States.

Ronald Hilton - 08/08/98

More on Islam - A Second Discussion

     The memo on the Second International Conference on Islamic Unity described the attempt to confront the world with a united umma, in disregard of conflicts, e.g. with Iraq and in Algeria, and unsavory manifestations like the Taliban and terrorist bombings. This memo describes the less dramatic struggle over modernization. Cairo is the intellectual center of conservative school, operating through the High Council for Islamic Affairs and Al Azhar University. There have been parallels in the Catholic World since Erasmus and in Protestantism over the inerrant truth of the Bible, which has split Southern Baptists badly. Al Azhar University has been losing students because of the failure to introduce modern courses. The fight goes on in universities throughout the Islamic World. As with the Catholic Church, the United States is the focal point of the modernization movement, headed by the Indiana-based Islamic Society of North America. There is a parallel in the Jewish faith, Tel Aviv versus Jerusalem, with America as the stronghold of secular Jews. Simply in terms of power politics these struggles are important. I imagine that in all cases CIIS members support the liberalizing tendencies.

Ronald Hilton - 08/09/98