The Muslim world's negative perception of America has been a consistent challenge for the US foreign policy since the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and Iraq in March 2003. The 2004 reports of instances of abuse and torture of prisoners in Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay have simply magnified this negative image.
What does this negative image imply for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the continued occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, and the future of nuclear standoff with Iran?
The expanding pool of potential Muslim recruits for terrorism against the United States is now a major long-term threat to US security and prosperity and has created serious financial and security problems for the US all over the world. Recent polls and studies show that the majority of Muslims believe that Americans are indifferent to their suffering, whether in Iraq or Palestine. They believe that the United States has equated Islam with terrorism and that the war on terror is a cover for the war on Islam.
What are the causes of anti-Americanism in the world in general and in the Muslim world in particular? Is the negative perception of the United States, and subsequent negative relationship with Muslim populace, due to specific US policies or the nature of Islamic culture? To what extent have the inconsistencies of US objectives and priorities in taking the war on terror to Iraq contributed to the deterioration of her relationship with the Arab world and larger Muslim population beyond the Middle East?
Under what circumstances and with what conditions will the United States, as a world hegemon and the strongest supporter of Israel in the Middle East, be able to win the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world, especially in the Middle East? Is it possible for the United States to establish positive relationships with the Islamic world, maintain strong support for the security and prosperity of Israel, and secure her political and economic interests in the Middle East?
Are there ways to prosecute the global war on terror and to improve the security of the United States and the world without making the Muslim world more insecure and besieged? Is the tension between the United States and the Muslim world due to a clash of civilization or lack of civilizational understanding and dialogue?
The 2005 Sagan National Colloquium at Ohio Wesleyan University has invited distinguished policy and academic experts, prominent politicians involved with the Middle East, and Muslim scholars to reflect upon the above issues in order to further our understanding of relationships with the Muslims and our perception of Islam.
Dealing with various aspects of this broad topic, these experts will approach these issues from opposing points of view and help us to have a better foundation for establishing a peaceful dialogue between the people and leaders of the two worlds.
The colloquium offers 20 public lectures, 3 panel discussions, two performances, and 5 films, starting on Monday, September 12, 2005 and ending on Tuesday, November 15, 2005. For full information about events, speakers, and times, please visit snc.owu.edu. Also see schedule
Ali Akbar Mahdi is Professor at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in Ohio Wesleyan University.