By Reza Aslan Every time I hear about how Sen. Barack Obama is going to “re-brand” America’s image in the Middle East, I can’t help but think about Jimmy Carter’s toast. When the idealistic Democrat came to Iran in 1977 to ring in the new year with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the country’s much-despised despot, throngs of young, hopeful Iranians lined the streets to welcome the new American president. After eight years of the Nixon and Ford administrations’ blind support for the shah’s brutal regime, Iranians thrilled to Carter’s promise to re-brand America’s image abroad by focusing on human rights. That call even let many moderate, middle-class Iranians dare to hope that they might ward off the popular revolution everyone knew was coming. But at that historic New Year’s dinner, Carter surprised everyone. In a shocking display of ignorance about the precarious political situation in Iran, he toasted the shah for transforming the country into “an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.” With those words, Carter unwittingly lit the match of revolution.
In the dossier entitled To understand Islam, Henri de La Hougue, professor of the Catholic institute of Paris gives some useful advice for Christians and Muslims who wish to establish a dialogue. The image of Muslims depicted in the media and in our imaginary concepts, favours stereotypes about their way of living and believing. In the same way, many Muslims carry false ideas about Christians and their beliefs. The professor insists in the advantages of dialogue to reach inter-religion understanding.
The EU unveiled a blue card plan on Tuesday, aimed to attract skilled, professional immigrants to member countries. Modeled somewhat after green cards in the United States, the blue card calls for the admission of 20 million Asian, African, and Latin American workers within the next twenty years. The immigrant-friendly proposal seeks to re-build Europe’s image as open to immigrants, their potential for economic and professional prosperity, while building up a base of diverse, highly skilled workers in member countries.
A UK group launched an ad campaign on Monday aimed at countering negative stereotypes about Muslims in the wake of the July 7, 2005 suicide bombings in London. Islam-is-Peace bought advertising for London buses and Underground trains showing Muslims in a range of professions, including a policewoman and the chef Michael Barry, with the slogan Proud to be a British Muslim. The group formed after four UK radical Muslims blew themselves up, killing themselves and 52 commuters on three London Underground trains and a bus.
In many European countries plans to build new mosques have become a political issue. Intellectuals are taking sides and politicians are using the issue to boost their own image while citizens look skeptically at the plans of Muslim organizations to construct imposing religious buildings to demonstrate their newly found self-confidence. Michael Kaczmarek reports.
The State Department is turning to Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, to help burnish the country’s image in the Muslim world – despite Ellison’s outspoken criticism of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. “I plan to talk to people in the State Department and anywhere I can to help try to improve America’s image in the Muslim world, make friends for our country,” Ellison, a freshman Minnesota Democrat, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I want to help win friends for our country and to isolate true enemies.” In articles which included translations into Arabic and other languages, Ellison has been profiled by the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, which is distributed in foreign countries. He has meetings scheduled at the end of the month with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and with Karen Hughes, the State Department’s undersecretary for public diplomacy; Ellison spoke with Hughes by phone a few weeks ago. A spokeswoman for Hughes, Rena Pederson, said that Hughes has talked to Ellison about being a “sounding board.” “She does believe Muslim Americans can be a bridge to reach out to the rest of the world,” said Pederson. “She has talked to Congressman Ellison, because public diplomacy is not Democratic or Republican – but American. We have a mandate to provide a balance of views.” Ellison, who has called for an immediate withdrawal of military forces from Iraq, said he didn’t find it difficult to reconcile his criticism of the administration’s foreign policy with his promotion of American values. “Look, you know, administrations come and go,” he said. “But the basic core message of this country – which is tolerance, human rights, opportunity – does not change, regardless of who happens to be the president.” “And just because sometimes administration policies don’t clearly reflect that – as in the Iraq war – doesn’t mean it’s not still a core value of the American people,” Ellison added. Ellison’s outreach with the State Department was first reported by McClatchy News Service. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an Islamic civil rights group, said that anything that can help the U.S. image in Muslim countries should be tried. “I think Keith Ellison is in a unique position to demonstrate the true nature of religious diversity in the United States to the Muslim world,” Hooper said. “I don’t think the State Department will ask him to endorse foreign policy – it will be a more generic, pro-American endeavor.”
The Muslim community of Spain and Andalusia is in halfway of a paradox. The so called garage Mosques portrait an image of clandestinely but at the same time every time that a temple construction project is submitted immediately the neighbours start to protest and the political forces erected obstacles.. However every Friday the 250.000 Muslims of Andalusia are in need of a proper place to pray. The garage-Mosques have to be considered as emergency solutions as most of them lack basic health conditions such as bathrooms and this should also be a good reason to fast-forward the building problems as sometimes a Mosque takes 20 years to be operative. Another problem is the dependency of foreign founds and therefore the obligation to follow a certain Muslim doctrine with all the perils that this may enclose.
The newspaper headlines here have been astonishing. “So Far So Good,” read one banner headline; “Alliance of Faiths,” read another. And splashed across the front page of most papers Thursday was a picture of a smiling Pope Benedict XVI waving a Turkish flag. With gentle gestures and well-timed words, Benedict managed to charm the Turkish people and transformed his image from a crusty old anti-Turkish Islamaphobe to a politically savvy statesman in a matter of days.
Concerned about Islam’s image problem in much of the Western world, some Muslims in Germany have come up with a solution — The Islamobile. But the mobile information station also raises new questions. The Islamobile stands next to the local Catholic church. The stand is “a mobile multimedia information point in the form of a semi-trailer,” according to the information leaflet.
According to a new opinion poll, 83% of the Spaniards think of Muslims as “fanatics” and 58% of them believe that there is a “natural conflict” between being a practising Muslim and living in, and adapting to, a modern society. Spain is the only Western country where the perception of Muslims has gone into “free fall” over the last year: only 29% of Spaniards now have a positive image of Islam and Muslims, as opposed to 46% in 2005. Even more surprising is that 41% think that the overwhelming majority of Muslims who live in Spain (more than one million, including nearly 800.000 Morrocans) support extremists groups, whereas only 12% of Spanish Muslims think that Al Qaida radicals enjoy support within the Muslim community. The distorted image of the Muslims in Spain contrasts with the positive image of the Spaniards among the Muslims: 83% of the Spaniards believe that Muslims in Spain do not respect their wives, while 82% of these Muslims think that the Spanish treat their wives well.