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Responding to Muslim-Christian issues

Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, October 1, 2003

I have lived in the United Arab Emirates for the past six years and I have discovered the Arabs stereotype Americans as much as we stereotype them. I get so angry when my friends claim that Americans are close-minded, arrogant, and convinced that our way is the best way – because normally, these claims are unjustified. But in his Sept. 29 letter, Dan Martin justified them.

How can Martin say that Western secular democracy is superior to Islamic rule? How dare he call the Muslims “the uncivilized world”? Martin should take a trip to the United Arab Emirates someday. The country is ruled by a benevolent monarch. The laws are based on the Shariah, the Islamic law. It is not democracy, and it is not secular but it works. The United Arab Emirates have one of the lowest crime rates in the world because the Islamic government can set severe sentences for criminals. I feel safer walking down the streets there at midnight than I do walking around the mall at noon in Peoria.

Yes, the United Arab Emirates government is oppressing the rights of its people to bear arms and do drugs and have a fair trial. But its people don’t seem to care. All these objections we have to Islamic law and monarchy are based on our Western ideals. And the Western ideals are the best – for the West. For the Arabs, it’s a totally different story.

I do agree with Martin that intellectual discussions like the academic convocation will never solve the conflicts between civilizations in the world. Like Samuel Huntington says, there are certain fundamental differences among civilizations, differences that you can never eliminate because they are based on different cultures, different beliefs and different lifestyles. For example, I will never understand why the Muslims do not eat pork. A Palestinian guy told me once that it is because you are what you eat, and pigs are the only animals who do not care if their mate sleeps with other pigs, so Muslims do not eat pig because it would make them unfaithful in marriage. To me, this is the silliest thing I have ever heard. But to my Palestinian friend, it is a basic truth. Civilizational differences – it is why we cannot understand why Hindu women throw themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres, or why the Maasai tribes of Tanzania cut their women so that they feel no pleasure during sex. It is why the Palestinians cannot understand how the Israelis could have any claim to a land the British took from Palestine in 1948.

The way to solving conflicts among civilizations does not lie in intellectual discussions – but neither does it lie in Martin’s solution: to make everyone a secular democracy. Instead we should follow Huntington’s advice in his article, “The Clash of Civilizations.” Recognize that the world is becoming increasingly divided along civilizational borders. Realize that because we are outside the Muslim civilization, we will never be able to properly solve problems within that civilization. Leave the Arabs alone – let them figure out their own problems, develop their own political systems, change their own minds about what they believe. Turn our time and resources inward – solve the problems in our own civilization, while reaffirming and strengthening those ideals that define us. Keep saying that western ways are the best but realize that this only applies to people with western ways.

Then what should you end up with? Well, relations among people of different civilizations will probably become like they are in the United Arab Emirates. Over there, we westerners are outside our borders. We are in a different civilization. And so instead of protesting the law forbidding anyone to eat in public during Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting), instead of lobbying to give Arab women the right to remove their head scarf, we simply adapt to the differences and live in spite of them. There may not be unity between Arabs and westerners in the United Arab Emirates, there may not be understanding, but there is peace.

Katy KemnetzfreshmanLewis HallSept. 30