Islam and the West: Clashing Beliefs or Common Values?

Mark your calendar! On Monday, April 4th, 2011 from 5 – 8 pm, the International Beliefs and Values Institute (IBAVI) and the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement will be presenting “Islam and the West Clashing Beliefs or Common Values?” in the Francis Auditorium at Mary Baldwin College (Staunton, Virginia, USA).  I am humbled to be part of the panel discussion after the screening of “Crossing Borders”, along with Nihad Awad (Executive Director and co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Dr. David Owusu-Ansah, Professor of African Studies at James Madison University and Arnd Wächter, Director of the film “Crossing Borders.”

Many thanks to Nusayba Hammad, Mary Baldwin College class of 2013, for writing up this excellent description of the event:

“Islam and the West: Clashing Beliefs or Common Values?” seeks to deconstruct both the Middle East’s and America’s conceptions of the “Other” by finding common ground to stand on. Samuel Huntington’s theory of the clash of civilizations has dominated our perceptions of the other side of the world, but we must ask ourselves, is it with good reason? Crossing Borders uses the shared experiences of four American and four Moroccan students to bridge the supposedly vast gap between the Muslim world and the West. During their journey through Morocco, these students find that they are not so different after all.

In this age of globalization, understanding the commonalities and differences between Islam and the West is crucial. World politics, and especially the United States’ role in the Middle East, are proving to be increasingly portrayed as “us (the West) versus them (the Middle East/Islam).” But is it fair to pit Islam and the West against each other, implying that they are incapable of coexistence? Delving into the archives of American history, we find this not to be the case. For instance, Morocco was the first nation to recognize the newly formed United States of America, and the two countries have had bilateral relations ever since. The first Muslims to arrive to America did so in the 17th century, against their will and on slave ships from Africa. There are accounts of Muslims serving in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and today, there are over 10 million Muslims in the U.S. Islam is not detached and separate from America, and Muslims are not outsiders but an integral part of our society and nation.

History therefore begs a question: Is the perceived conflict between Islam and the West one that can be traced back to irreconcilable differences found in the essence of each, or is it simply the result of the way in which world politics have played out in the last century?

Crossing Borders will be introduced by Arnd Wächter, the film’s director. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Nihad Awad, Dr. David Owusu-Ansah, and Missy Gluckmann. Each will share his or her perspective on the issues presented in the film, framed by unique experiences and expertise in the field.