A US-Islamic forum seeking to find common ground between the United States and the Muslim world has opened in Qatar with Muslim anger against the West at boiling point.
Karen Hughes, the United States' top image-maker abroad and a close adviser to George Bush, the US president, addressed the gathering in Doha on Saturday amid fury over the publication in the European press of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and the broadcast of new images of US prisoner abuse in Iraq.
Hughes reiterated US concern about the threat posed by Iran to regional stability and the need for Palestinian election winner Hamas to recognise Israel while urging regional leaders to deepen democracy in their own countries and to work more closely with the US to combat terrorism.
"We must do for terror what was done to slavery and make it an international pariah," she said.
"If we truly desire to reach a better understanding of each other, if we truly want our dialogue to produce results, we have to stop demonising each other and replace hate with hope," Hughes said.
She said that although many US newspapers chose not to reprint the prophet cartoons recognising "they are deeply offensive, even blasphemous to the precious convictions of our Muslim friends", nothing justified violent protests, which claimed the lives of at least 11 people in Libya on Friday.
"As we discuss these often difficult issues, we must not allow the extremes to define us," said Hughes as she urged governments and journalists alike to speak out against anti-Semitic and anti-Christian sentiments and to seek greater freedom of expression in the region.
"We must do for terror what was done to slavery and make it an international pariah"
US Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
"The challenge for leaders in this region is to listen to their people's call for greater freedom, allow them to form political parties, let them gather and speak more freely, give them access to newsprint so they can run their own papers."
The Doha gathering was opened by Shaikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al Thani, Qatar's foreign minister.
"We must try very hard to avoid provocation and ensure the respect of all beliefs and religious sanctities," he said in a reference to the cartoons row.
Earlier, Abdullah al-Rumaihi, the Qatari assistant foreign minister, said this year's gathering might go further than previous ones by discussing the establishment of a "council for Islamic-US relations".
Despite the fact that the cartoons controversy started in Europe, not in the US, "one of the biggest challenges in international policy today is the growing tension between the United States and Islamic societies", al-Rumaihi said.
Participants in the three-day gathering include Amina Wadud, a professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University who earned the wrath of some religious leaders last year when she took on the role traditionally performed by a male imam and led an Islamic prayer service in New York.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary-general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Benazir Bhutto, the ex-Pakistani prime minister, and the leaders of Muslim minorities in several Western countries are among the 700 people from 38 nations expected to attend the forum's fourth edition.