A Harvard Law School visiting scholar speaking on U.S.-Islamic affairs told a Gainesville State College audience Wednesday that he sees more "hope" from the U.S. side in improving relations.
"I don’t see a major change in the Muslim world in the near future," said Hassan Abbas, a Pakistani native and Muslim, writing off real progress to such factors as "nationalistic tendencies" and entrenched religious extremism.
Abbas said the U.S. needs to support democratic reforms and interfaith dialogue in the region.
The U.S. "needs to be reaching out to the Muslim community, not thinking of every Muslim as a potential terrorist," he added.
Also, instead of building up military budgets of various states in the region, the U.S. needs to invest in other things, such as education systems, that can bring about long-term improvements, he said.
Abbas was speaking as part of Gainesville State’s Colloquium Series. He spoke Tuesday afternoon at the college’s Oconee County campus.
He is considered one of the leading experts on South Asia and the terrorist organizations that are based in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region.
Abbas served in the administrations of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan.
He has spent the past year at the Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School, where he has worked on an upcoming book, "Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army and America’s War on Terror."
In Wednesday’s presentation, Abbas gave a general overview of the global Muslim picture.
He noted that 6-8 million Muslims live in North America and that 25 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are Arabs.
The Western World and Muslims have different perspectives of each other.
The perception in the Muslim world is that the U.S. is in Iraq because of oil, dictators in the region are thriving because the U.S. has given them its support, and that the war on terror is actually a "war on Islam."
The U.S., on the other hand, believes that Muslims have shown "incapacity" to govern themselves, it’s not responsible for longstanding conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and that support for Israel is based on having the region’s only democratic state.
"These are two different worldviews," Abbas said.
He said there needs to be an understanding of history, for one thing.
For example, Iran used to be one of the West’s staunchest allies. That was before 1979, the time of the Islamic Revolution and the pro-Western Shah was deposed in favor of Ayatollah Khomeini.
And then, Abbas said, the religious extremists ushered into Afghanistan as "freedom fighters" against the invading Soviets would go on to form the Taliban and the terrorist group al-Qaida.
Abbas also spoke of getting to meet Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his recent visit to the U.S. Abbas was with other American scholars as part of a meeting that lasted two to three hours.
Ahmadinejad talked about how statements he has made, including the denial of the Holocaust and destroying Israel, have been the result of "incorrect translations."
"He is an enigma, and my skepticism remains there," Abbas said of the Iranian leader.
Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, is not popular in Iran.
Iranians believe "he has failed to deliver on election promises and is going to be defeated" in upcoming elections, Abbas said.