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par Andrew LEVINE
Western peoples have long viewed the Muslim world through an “orientalist” filter –imagining a backward, exotic and vaguely sinister “other”. But, until recently, they were seldom preoccupied with what they imagined. There was scholarly interest, of course ; and artists and entertainers sometimes employed Muslim themes. But, with the partial exception of the Ottoman Empire, the peoples, cultures and religion of the Muslim world were, for the most part, invisible to the Western eye.
Indeed, it was not until the nineteenth century, as the French and British empires expanded into Muslim regions and as advances in transport and communications brought distant parts of the world closer together, that, for the first time in centuries, Westerners became mindful of the Muslim East. Throughout the twentieth century, awareness increased as economic, strategic and geo-political factors made the Muslim world increasingly important to Western elites. Even so, the Muslim “other” remained largely out of view.
This began to change when significant numbers of Muslims came to live in Western countries. Like other immigrants, Muslims came mainly for economic reasons and to escape political repression. And like other immigrants, they suffered discrimination. But Muslims were no worse off than other immigrants from parts of the world of which Western peoples knew little and cared less ; and their religion seldom aroused much animosity. It had been different, no doubt, when Christianity and Islam still contended for adherents and territories, and it was certainly different at the time of the Crusades. But that was long ago.