Dr Nader Hashemi (right), Bilal Rabee Al Budoor, assistant undersecretary for Cultural Affairs, UAE Ministry of Culture and Dalia Mogahed, executive director, Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies, USA at the conference. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Dubai: As the Arab spring re-energises the Palestinian issue, experts at a regional conference promoting inter-cultural dialogue in Abu Dhabi underscored the fact that unless and until the issue is resolved in a just manner, relations between Muslims and the West will remain tense.

"Resolving the question of Palestine is central to reducing tensions between Islam and the West," Dr Nader Hashemi, assistant professor of Middle East and Islamic Affairs, University of Denver, told the conference being held on the theme ‘Islam and the West: A civilised dialogue'. The conclave is being co-organised by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research and the School of Policy and International Affairs at the University of Maine.

Dr Hashemi said the tendency to view the Israel-Palestine conflict by those on either side of the Islam-West divide from the perspective of their own historical experience had not been helpful in finding solutions. The fact that the conflict remains unresolved 60 years after it began perpetuated tension between the Western and Islamic worlds as both fall back on views about basic principles of justice rooted in transformative historical experiences that have shaped Western and Muslim identities, he said.

Broken Triangle theory

Dr Hashemi based his views on The Broken Triangle theory. "In 1965 Erskine B. Childers, an Irish national and UN civil servant authored an obscure essay in the Journal of International Affairs titled ‘Palestine: The Broken Triangle'. In this work he sought to explain the Israel-Palestine conflict by drawing upon the metaphor of a "broken triangle" where the three points of the triangle represented three different civilisational traditions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The origins of the conflict in historic Palestine, Childers argued, was internally a Western problem rooted in historic Christian anti-Semitism thus affecting one side of the triangle [the Christian-Jewish side]. A solution to this problem resulted in the creation of a Jewish state in the heart of the Arab-Islamic world thus leading to new conflict between Jews and Arabs [the second side of the triangle]. Due to strong Western and Christian support for Israel, tension and conflict between the Christian West and the Muslim world over the Israel-Palestine conflict has resulted and proliferated over time [the third side of the triangle]," he said.

Dalia Mogahed, executive director, Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies, said the centre's studies had established that countries in the Middle East and North Africa region were more engaged in and aware of the issues of Muslim-West relations than communities in Asian and sub-Saharan African countries.

"Middle East and North Africa [Mena] people place the highest importance on Muslim-West relations, and have shown the greatest degree of change in attitudes since Obama took office. However, in 2010, Obama's approval rating fell in this region. Building on our finding that showing respect for Islam was an important component of improving Muslim-West relations, we found that this meant not only Westerners' refraining from desecrating religious symbols, but also demonstrating fairness in Western government policies."

Mogahed stressed that there was growing awareness that it was politics and not religious differences that had roused Muslim anger toward the US.