There is a very low level of optimism about relations between Islam and the Western world, according to a poll and a new report issued by the World Economic Forum. In mid-2007, about a thousand respondents in 21 countries were surveyed about their impressions of understanding, respect, and dialog between Islam and the West, and whether things feel like they're getting worse or better. Not surprisingly, most respondents were not optimistic.
But what did surprise me was that people in the United States, Canada, Israel, and the Muslim countries all said they felt more interaction would be beneficial, while people in Europe said they did not want greater contact.
This seems to line up with the findings of the recent Bouchard-Taylor Commission on "Reasonable Accomodation" of minorities in Quebec. The people who are the most exercised about immigrants, especially religious minorities (read: Muslims) are the French, especially the rural French, who fear losing their traditional culture and language. The immigrants themselves objected to the very term: "We want to be accepted, not accommodated," they said over and over again at the many public hearings. And - again, it's no surprise - acceptance is greatest in the areas with the most contact between cultures and religions, such as cities like Montreal, Toronto, and New York.
But rather than belabor a point that's been made here before, I simple want to say that this is an area where blogging can do a great deal: to illuminate language, culture, stories of personal experience, of displacement and change, to create greater curiosity and less fear of the unknown. I intend to try to do more of that here in the coming months, and I'd like to especially invite readers from diverse backgrounds, countries, and cultures to make yourselves known and become part of the discussion here. You will find a warm welcome and respect, and interest in what you have to say, and I'll be asking some specific questions from time to time to try to get the conversation moving.
For starters, it would be great to hear from readers: how many of you consider yourselves "ethnic" in some way? Were you or your parents born in a different country from where you are now living? Did you grow up speaking a language other than English in the home, or did you study another language intentionally? Is it important to you to maintain or discover your own cultural roots?
(I don't mean at all to exclude English-speakers and North Americans from answering these questions - if you don't know it already, I, for one, feel like an "ethnic American" for the first time in my life, since I now live in a foreign country - French-speaking Quebec. I've also been married for nearly thirty years to a Syrian-Armenian American, which has broadened and changed my whole perspective on personal identity.)
So - welcome to new commenters and familiar ones who may not have talked about this aspect of your life before: it would be great to hear from you. Let's do our bit for opening at least this channel of exchange and dialog, and reversing that negativity.