Diplomat Calls For Bridge Building Between Islam & West

Former British Ambassador addresses Chiswick Churches for Justice and Peace

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Sir Alan Munro, a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Chiswick resident, addressed an audience of over 150 last week at Christ Church Turnham Green on Islam and the Western Response, an event organised by Chiswick Churches for Justice and Peace.

In a masterly and lively lecture we were taken from the very beginnings of Islam in the early 7th century, through its historical encounters with Christianity and the West, to the present.

Islam today has 1,300 million adherents worldwide. There are approximately 1.5 million Muslims currently in the UK. Muslims and Christians have often viewed each other with a mixture of prejudice and apprehension. Recent events have seen some sections of the media encourage that view in talk of the Crusades: multiculturalism should be treated with suspicion as a threat.

The Basis for Misunderstanding and Intolerance

Terrorism does not typify the Muslim identity, in which Islam offers a coherent faith and a discipline for living. Islam is a deeply moral and pious faith: there is little or no latitude for discretion. The community is of more importance than the individual. In this it is set against what is seen as an impious western society.
The West is understood to be hostile to Islam. Events in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya are seen as an attempt by the West to eradicate the last Islamic outposts in Europe.

Fundamentalist Islam is viewed with misgiving, but fundamentalism was a word first used to describe a strict adherence to Protestant Christian belief in the literal interpretation of scripture. Islam saw a puritanical revival in the 1920’s and recent events have led teachers of narrow scholarship to create a new strain of Puritanism, or fundamentalism. The ill-conceived invasion of Iraq has served to feed the frustration of the disenfranchised and economically disadvantaged youth as militants began to exploit the religion for political ends.

What of the Future?

Sir Alan’s message was that it is possible to coexist and co-operate in the modern British community. Terrorism has no broad constituency. We must search for common ground. The modern Muslim community has a major part to play. Bridge building is vital to both communities e.g. interfaith contact with a local mosque. The Palestinian question is the largest single obstacle to peaceful coexistence between Islam and the Christian West.

May 25, 2007