Monday, June 16, 2008

Controversial Sheikh Says The West Has Moral Crises

By Lisa Munger
Photos by Ebony Williams & Jasmin Bauomy

Egyptian Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi isn’t allowed to enter the United States, but Bootcampers, including 12 Americans, held court with the Muslim cleric Monday at Qatar University in Doha.

Among his remarks in a lecture entitled, “Perspectives on Islam and Arab Society,” Qaradawi said the West has a number of moral crises that foment conflict with the Arab world.

He said a lack of values and church-going, materialism, discrimination and homosexuality disgrace the West and denigrate its position in global politics.

He did not, however, attribute the same crises to the Arab world.

“The Arab world has a scarcity of moral crises,” Qaradawi said through a translator to a group of about 50 attendees, including bootcampers. “Religious and spiritual values don’t exist in the West as they do here.”

Qaradawi said the Arab world suffers from financial corruption, falsified democracies and a lack of transparency in government.

He did not list morality among the obstacles to improving Arab-American or East-West relations.

“We have a few bad guys,” he said. “But, here, we have family values and virtues not present in the West.”

Qaradawi has drawn criticism from American officials for his support of Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets, including suicide bombings and violence against civilians. U.S. officials regard him as sympathetic to terrorist groups on the U.S. “terrorist watch list.” Because of these stances, he’s not allowed to enter the country.

He is also well-known as the originator of Qaradawi uses the website to issue fatwas, religious edicts and comment on Islam.

Reporter’s Note:

I traveled to Qatar and Egypt for Bootcamp from Lincoln, Neb., where I attend graduate school in my home state. Nebraska is what some people call a “drive-through state,” meaning just that – you drive through it on your way to somewhere else - no one ever really stops. It’s also a conservative state that re-elected George W. Bush in 2004 by 70 percent. Cows outnumber people 4 to 1.

Nebraska was on my mind today at Qaradawi’s lecture. How would people at home have responded to his remarks and gesticulations? How would I have written a story about his lecture in my capacity as a reporter for my local newspaper, to add proper context and foster understanding?

Qaradawi’s response to my question about the Arab world and the West, as described in the post above, left me cold. Though I may not agree, I understand how Americans might be frightened by his rhetoric, especially after the national trauma of 9/11. My suspicion is Qaradawi’s remarks today, and response to my question, would confirm some Nebraskans’ stereotypes about a Muslim cleric disallowed from entering the U.S.

This isn’t because Nebraskans, or Americans in general, are “backwards,” (as Qaradawi said some people label Arabs) – it’s because in a super-fast world of 24-hour news, lessening space on international news pages, and fewer staff reporters abroad, the nuance which once might have provided a context for understanding Qaradawi and his comments might be more likely today to produce a headline like: “Terrorist-Sympathizer Addresses Students.”

I left the lecture more pessimistic than ever about the chances for achieving greater understanding between the Arab world and the West. I told my Egyptian Bootcamp reporting partner how I felt.

She said, not everyone is like this man… I know, I said. But, where I am from, this man, his vitriol and sweeping generalizations of the West would not only anger people, it would frighten them.

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