West Misjudged, Mistreated Islam: Swiss Expert
“Rising Islamophobia is the result of the West’s shallow dealing with and misunderstanding of Islam,” said Hottinger.
By Tamer Abul Einein, IOL Correspondent
GENEVA, June 26, 2005 (IslamOnline.net) – The West has misjudged Islam and done it injustice, largely because of shallow knowledge of the Muslim faith driven from the distorted writings of early Orientalists, a prominent Swiss expert has said.
“Rising Islamophobia is the result of the West’s shallow dealing with and misunderstanding of Islam,” Arnold Hottinger, who spent 50 years in the Middle East reporting for the leading Neue Zurcher Zeitung newspaper, told a day-long seminar organized by the Paulus Akademie.
Hottinger, a fluent speaker of Arabic, faulted the West for portraying Muslims as the terrifying neighbor for long centuries.
"Early Orientlists and churchmen only portrayed Islam as a religion of violence and wars" he told his attentive audience.
“This image found its way into textbooks, turning the Muslim world to a terrifying neighbor, which is a major injustice to Islam.”
Hottinger has authored a number of books about the Muslim world in addition to writing many articles and giving lectures.
The Swiss expert said Islam is a melting pot for people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, a fact, he said, that is hard for the West to conceive.
“No textbook in the West explains how Islam rapidly grew in Asia, which is home to the majority of Muslims worldwide,” Hottinger said.
“When the Muslim immigrants came to Europe, a negative image of Islam was already deeply-rooted.”
The Swiss expert also shed light on Europe's bad history of imperialism and colonialism in Arab and Muslim countries.
He cited Europe’s role in the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, causing many ethnic and border conflicts still raving in several Arab and Muslim countries.
When the First World War (1914-18) broke out, the Ottoman Empire broke neutrality and fought on the side of the Central Powers.
The Ottomans were eventually defeated by the Allies in the Balkans, Thrace, Syria, Palestine and Iraq and its territories were colonized by the victors.
EU & Turkey
On Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, Hottinger said refusal to allow the admission of Muslim but secular Turkey would be a “big mistake”.
He cautioned that such a position would have major consequences as it would prove the view of "Muslim extremists" that the West is not willing to make any rapprochement with Islam and Muslims.
“It will also prove that Europe is a Christians-only continent and will cast doubts on efforts to bridge the gaps between the two sides.”
Last December, the European Union agreed to open membership talks with Turkey to join the 25-nation bloc.
The Swiss expert warned that a possible "no" will also have more negative consequences on Turkey’s domestic front.
“The Turkish Army would see the concessions made to join the EU fruitless, which would cause relapse on democratic reforms in the country.”
Hottinger opined that any attempt to strip Turkey of its Islamic identity is doomed, saying even Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the secular republic in Turkey failed to do this.
“In the first democratic elections according to western standards, the Turkish people elected Islamists,” he said.
Further highlighting his point, Hottinger cited failed attempts by the communist rule to strip Muslims in Central Asian republics of their Islamic identity.
“During my visits to Central Asian republics after gaining independence following the collapse of the Communist rule, every body I met was keen on reaffirming his Islamic identity,” he recalled.