PERHAPS the most important theme of the speeches delivered at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday was the growing divisions between the West and the Muslim world. Whatever their national perspective, Presidents Ahmadinejad, Zardari and Obama all focused on the increasingly complicated relations between the two sides. The trouble stirred up in Muslim countries by a profane video on the Internet has highlighted the sensitive nature of these ties. The Pakistani president, as expected, raised the issue at the UN forum, calling for criminalising such provocative acts by mischievous individuals. The proof that the outrage of the Muslims had been registered by the US, where the anti-Islam video originated, was provided in a statement by President Barack Obama a few hours before Mr Zardari’s UN address. Mr Obama urged the people to reject hate material, but quite rightly added that the death and destruction that such rejection led to could not be justified.
The gap has widened over time when it comes to America’s love-hate affair with a number of Muslim countries. The Muslim world’s connection with the West is jeopardised by a host of serious problems, including doubts rooted in a past that has spawned suspicions about American motives now. The countries in question have failed to evolve the necessary common language, based on the cultural and religious sensitivities of people on both sides, to address each other. Ever since 9/11 and more particularly the invasion of Iraq in 2003, these sensitivities have become more acute and have reached a point where the nightmare of a clash of civilisations may well turn out to be true if restraint and understanding are not shown at this stage. In looking after its own interests, the US has often adopted an actively aggressive path, with no consideration for the sentiments of the larger public in countries where it has either intervened militarily or interfered in domestic politics.
At the same time, the leadership in many of the Muslim countries, has failed to educate the population about the dangers of accepting the extremist narrative. In the current crisis they have been unable to convince their people that by reacting to provocative acts of individuals they are only deepening the divide. Though perceived as a powerless body, the United Nations still remains the right forum for raising issues of cultural and religious differences and for giving room to voices from all over. Without such a debate and interaction between countries, the chasm between the West and the Muslim world will only grow.