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On February 16, 2010, The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem hosted a seminar featuring Prof. Bernard Lewis, a world expert in the field of Middle Eastern studies and Islam entitled “Radical Islam: Israel and the West.”

The exclusive seminar was moderated by Prof. Robert S. Wistrich, the Center’s director and a world expert on anti-Semitism.

Muslims and the West

Prof. Lewis began by explaining that “this is the first time in 1,000 years that the Muslim world is in charge of their own affairs.” In this post-Communist era, “the Russians can’t play a role, and the Americans don’t want to play a role.” This change has created a painful new awareness in the Muslim world and has raised questions regarding why Muslim countries have fallen behind the West. There seems to be two very different answers to this question.

The first approach claims that Western Imperialism is to blame. The supporters of this view place the blame squarely on the United States and Israel (“the ‘illegitimate offspring’ of the United States”), who they see as the face of Western Imperialism today. They believe that modernization is a betrayal of their Islamic heritage and the only solution is to return to authentic Islam, no matter the sacrifice. This is what radical Islam is claiming to be doing.

The second approach claims that the Muslim world has no one to blame but themselves for their current state of affairs. In other words, the Muslim countries haven’t fallen behind the West as a result of Western Imperialism but as a result of their own actions – it is a “self-inflicted condition.” Supporters of this view agree that the solution lies in the modernization of Muslim countries – no finger pointing, just hard work to make it happen.

Prof. Lewis summed it up as follows: “It is important to realize that the greatest tragedy of the Middle East is a result of reforms introduced in the Middle East by Arab and Muslim rulers, not Europeans in the 19th and 20th Centuries.”

Europe and Islam

Prof. Lewis also discussed the concern that Muslims may take over Europe. He pointed out that it is hard to address this issue because there aren’t any reliable statistics regarding the number of Muslims in Europe. However, one indication that this concern may be well-founded is a rise in the number of Muslim names being given to children, and in some European countries these names are now the most popular.

Historically, it is important to remember that the Muslims made two previous attempts to conquer Europe – the first was in the 7th Century and the second in the 19th Century. The third attempt, which we are witnessing today, seems to have a much better chance at success. This current conquest is being waged in the form of peaceful migration rather than military aggression. As such, it is that much harder for Europe to defend itself.

What (the Muslims) are saying in Europe is that they want the same rights that the Muslims granted Christians and Jews in the classic Muslim state. These seem to be very legitimate claims and they imply that Muslims in Europe aren’t looking to take over Europe, they just want to ensure their basic rights as citizens. “The only question remaining for us to answer regarding the future of Europe,” quipped Prof. Lewis, “is will it be an Islamized Europe or a European Islam?”

Iran

When asked about the current situation in Iran, Prof. Lewis was very optimistic. “The regime is extremely unpopular, there is a great desire for change and the prospect in Iran is encouraging.”

He explained that “the revolution has reached the Napoleon stage” and as such “we shouldn’t give Iran the gift of Patriotism.” We must be very careful not to slip into the trap of strengthening the resolve of the Iranian radicals by questioning their rights to Nuclear weapons, giving them a reason to unite their people from within.

Radical & Moderate Islam

One development that does concern Prof. Lewis is the growth of radical Islam in several Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia is the most extreme example (“Wahhabism is the official religion of Saudi Arabia at the present time.”) and Turkey is also showing signs of a change in ideology (“What is happening in Turkey is alarming as it appears to be the first successful attempt to undo the Kemalist Revolution.”).

The good news, however, is that not all Muslims or Arabs are extremists or Jihadists, and we must support and strengthen these moderates. Prof. Lewis pointed out that authentic Islam is not about violence (“Sharia law states not to harm non-combatants and that suicide in all forms is forbidden”.) and that moderates (i.e. “those who don’t make the headlines”) are more than willing to accept the modern world and the West.

This article was compiled by the staff of The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Center (www.sicsa.huji.ac.il) is dedicated to an independent, non-political approach to the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge necessary for understanding the multi-faceted phenomenon of anti-Semitism.

They Have asked me to post this article as a guest post–I happily agreed.

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