Vienna meet to examine Islam's global course

Conference of scholars, leaders to focus on outburst of Muslim anger

VIENNA (Austria): Recent displays of Muslim anger — from the seething housing projects outside Paris to the biggest Arab groundswell against Al-Qaeda — will likely sharpen the focus of a three-day gathering of political figures, scholars and researchers which began here on Monday.

Muslim leaders, including Iraq's President and an Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate, have been asked to share their visions on Islam's global roles and responsibilities.

The streets have sent their own powerful messages, with recent riots across France fanned by Muslim frustration and marches in Jordan against terrorism.

Contact with moderates

The conference, hosted by Austria's Foreign Ministry, also suggests more European Union contacts with moderate Muslim forces, as well as efforts by Austria to reshape its image in the Islamic world after raising the strongest objections to Turkey's bid to join the E.U. Austria takes over the six-month E.U. presidency on January 1.

``This conference ... really highlights not only the problems but also ways how to live together and to coexist and to find the right avenues for mutual understanding and coexistence,'' said Ralph Scheide, director for West Asia and Africa in Austria's Foreign Ministry. The expected speakers include two leaders brought to power by U.S.-led military campaigns: Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. They were asked to talk on Islam's ability to interact with different faiths and ideologies in a world of melting borders and interwoven interests. But they also could draw attention to a dark side of globalisation: the international networks of Islamic radicals that feed militancies in Iraq and Afghanistan and create a growing list of places hit by terrorism — most recently the triple bombings in Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday that claimed at least 57 lives.

Also expected at the conference was Iranian human rights attorney Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, and Mohammad Khatami, the former President of Iran. Mr. Khatami, who ended eight years in office in June, brought a period of liberalising reforms in Iran, encouraged greater contacts with the West and challenged the absolute authority of Iran's ruling clerics.

Increasing interaction

His successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is backed by the theocracy, and critics fear he could roll back many of Mr. Khatami's social initiatives and take a harder line in negotiations with the West over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Last month, Mr. Ahmadinejad provoked international outrage after calling for Israel to be ``wiped off the map.''

Iran was even caught off guard by criticism from stalwart ally Russia — another example of the old order being reshaped by new rules. ``In a globalised world, there are increasing points of contact between cultures and civilisations,'' said Austria's Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik.

The French riots have forced European Governments to look hard at complaints from Muslim immigrants about being denied opportunities and rights.

France imposed a state of emergency on Wednesday that empowers regions to impose curfews and conduct house searches. — AP

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