Western people who do not hold any prejudices against Islam should not be ignored. What I am referring to is politicians and decision-makers who manipulate international policies and global perceptions. The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran led the US to reconsider its policies vis-à-vis Islam. The strategists focusing on Middle Eastern affairs hold that if the US wants to remain influential in the Middle East, it has to engage with Islam and Muslims. This is a realistic view, because a religion cannot be repressed as a whole, and if there are serious problems deep down, they cannot be eliminated by covering them up.
There is something that researchers do not adequately consider: The growing interest in Islam cannot be solely explained by spiritual needs and other relevant factors. The types of opposition standing against the exhaustion of economic and human resources and regimes supported by the West are among the other reasons.
Opposing Islam as a civilization or religion is not part of the foundational philosophy of the US. The founding fathers actually escaped religious and sectarian bigotry in Europe; for this reason, they paid particular attention to religious freedom and freedom of conscience. This is a major difference between the approach of the US and Europe to Islam. In its approach towards Islam, the US should not serve as the inheritor of the conventional prejudices of Europe. If it claims to protect global peace and stability, the US holds the responsibility for extending support to Islam, like it did to other religions and faiths. To this end, it has to respect the religious beliefs of Muslims, as well as their requests and demands for the establishment of a political system that would guarantee their survival.
The impact of such an approach in the Islamic world would be greater than predicted. Attainment of global peace depends on the establishment of a global order based on justice and dialogue with Islam in the world.
But some strong lobbies, influenced by the historical prejudices of Europe, as well as considerations over long- or short-term interests, are sabotaging this approach that would serve global and regional peace. It is obvious that NATO’s move from Cold War zones towards the Islamic world, developing the perception of a new threat since the 1990s, weakened the bridges of confidence and trust between these two worlds. NATO’s intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo served to address these longstanding prejudices. However, intervention in Afghanistan and the methods it employed while dealing with a dictator in Libya raised suspicions against NATO again; there is still no clear answer to the question of what NATO has been looking for in Afghanistan and Muslim lands.
The Western world remains silent on the repressive measures employed by the regimes in Islamic countries against Islamic movements. The speech delivered by US House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich in the mid-1990s at a meeting attended by military and intelligence officers gave initial signals of this. In his speech, Gingrich noted that the West needed a coherent strategy to deal with the Islamic movements; he listed the targets to be dealt with as follows: “The strategy I am referring to may involve changing the regime in Iran by force in the long term. In addition, Washington has decided to save Algeria and support the preservation of the secular regimes in Turkey and Egypt.”
It should be noted that there is a difference between the past and the present, but the West is not aware of this. Even regular people in the Muslim world are aware of the link between these regimes and international powers and better understand why Islam stands against this world of hypocrites. And some day the Western people will realize this. When this happens, stronger bridges will be built between the two worlds.