For decades, the Islamic World has been suffering from stereotypes, manipulation, distortion and disinformation. This situation has been worsening after the dramatic events of 9/11 and the spread of terrorism all over the world. What did the Muslims do throughout to correct the misconceptions and the stereotypes? What did they do to counter “Islamophobia” and to provide and alternative to the prevailing discourse? What about the Arab media, are they addressing the Western audience with a different discourse that presents the true image of Islam and its teachings? Do they know the Western audience? How do they address it? What about Arab satellite channels, have they considered opening a dialogue with the viewers in the West? What are their contributions toward a dialogue of civilizations, cultures and religions? What did the Muslims do to bridge the gap?
How does the West look at the Muslims? And how do Muslims look at the West? What are the real intentions from both sides? Is it cohabitation, understanding and dialogue or is it conflict, misunderstanding and confrontation? Unfortunately, there are stereotypes, misunderstanding, and misconceptions from both sides. What roles do the media play in all of this? Do they foster misunderstanding and confrontation by misinformation, disinformation and stereotypes, or do they help each side understand and comprehend the other?
In our humble opinion, there is still a failure of dialogue between the two sides. But, what are the causes of the failure of this dialogue? Are there any solutions to it?
The issue of the dialogue between Islam and the West and how Arab media have failed to address the western audience professionally and efficiently has been discussed for decades, but still many things have to be done to bridge the gap. The media system in the Muslim world suffers from a crisis of credibility, professionalism, and, most importantly, freedom. The media system in the Muslim world has no identity, no strategy and no straightforward objectives to address the Western audience and to refute all kinds of stereotypes and negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims. Unfortunately, this alarming situation has negatively affected the dialogue between Islam and the West. Muslims have to invest in the media and cultural industries to present their side of the story and to provide the Western audience with alternative views about themselves and their religion.
The relationship between the West and the Muslim world is a critical dynamic in today’s world. The elements creating tension, doubt and misunderstanding are numerous and varied, as are those who would exploit them. Yet, there is nothing inevitable about this state of affairs. All religions of the world uphold the value of peace. History of mankind has shown it is quite possible to live with a diversity of cultures and religions and that societies can be enriched rather than threatened as a result. Today, peace and stability are critical for the economic growth and opportunity necessary to meet human needs in a sustainable fashion on a global scale. Dialogue is a must for the welfare of all, rich and poor, West and East. The key to success is the respect of the other’s culture, religion, traditions, beliefs and opinion. Dialogue as the exchange of ideas oriented towards action involves communication among individuals and groups, public and private, religious and secular. Such exchangesmay include face-to-face encounters or an exchange of views at a distance. They engage a variety of participants,including religious leaders, scholars, academics, intellectuals, elected officials, civil servants,representatives of non-governmental organizations,members of the professions of law and medicine,the business community and other citizens.Over time, dialogue within and across these groups hasthe potential to increase knowledge and understanding,build relationships, establish trust, tolerance, harmony, love, peace and foster collaboration.But it can also lead to nothing – to mere talk, hate, vengeance, or, evenworse, to exchanges of accusations and counter-accusations that make relations worse.
Dialogue does not take place in a power vacuum. Dialoguebetween the West and the Muslim world is conditioned bymilitary, political and economic asymmetries. The materialpredominance of the West too often tends to shape thedialogue agenda. The implication, stated or unstated, isthat the Muslim world should become “more like us”. Anydialogue – including Muslim-West dialogue – will ofteninvolve efforts to change the other, consciously or not.People with strong ethical convictions, religious or secularin inspiration, try to build a world more in line withthose convictions.But efforts to transform the world, however peaceful, nevertake place on a completely level-playing field. Any analysisof dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims must takeinto consideration power asymmetries and how they shapeagendas and frame issues. For instance, manydialogue efforts pose the question whether Islam issuitable and can accommodate democracy. The question whether andhow democracy measures up to the ideals of Islam rarelyframes the debate. What are the perceptions of thestate of West-Muslim relations in global public opinion andin the global media? In an era of globalization and instantcommunications, public opinion polls followed closely byelites in politics, business and civil society reproducewidespread views of the Western and Muslim “other” andtheir interrelationship.Television, radio, newspapers, magazines and the Internetdepict topics related to Islam and the West with varyingfrequency and with both positive and negative evaluations.The dialogue between Islam and the West should address the following major issues: International politics,citizenship and integration,religion, ethics and ideology, education and intercultural understanding, and economic and social development.Karen Armstrong once said “There is no point in dialogue if we are not prepared to change our minds, alter our preconceptions and transcend an orthodoxy that we have long ceased to examine critically”.
Mohamed Kiratis a professor of public relations and Mass Communication at the department of MassCommunication, Qatar University.