The present-day hatred and antipathy between the Western countries, populated largely by Christians, and the Muslim world have known historical roots that go back beyond the Crusades and even the Inquisition when believers of different faiths became the victims of Christian bigotry. The suffering of Muslims did not end with the end of the era of Western imperialism that lasted over two hundred years, during the course of which they, along with other subjugated people, were made to bear insufferable conditions and indignities. The ensuring wave of neo-imperialism usurped the rich resources of their countries. And to this sense of deprivation of Muslims were added outrage and humiliation when, as the rest of the world was getting freedom, Britain, enjoying the backing of other Western nations, prepared a sordid plan to uproot the people of Palestine from their land they had inhabited for as long as two millenniums and turned a blind eye to their carnage at the hands of Jewish settlers. Al-Qaeda leadership specifically cited these two wrongs - the usurpation of resources and the Palestinian sufferings - and the failure of the international community to redress them as justification for armed action against the US, the leader of Western world. A committed, militant segment of the Muslim world joined the outfit and adopted the self-defeating course of violence. Instead of concentrating on removing the root causes of enmity and bitterness Washington, unfortunately, took to aggressively brutal response, burying all hope of creating a climate of understanding and goodwill; rather, its moves to wreak vengeance fired a large number of supporters of a peaceful settlement of contentious issues into taking up arms. Old prejudices die hard. And the tit-for-tat attitude was hardly a helpful reaction. The military aggression was backed by fear psychosis. The Western and US media, in particular, relentlessly imagined an impending terrorist attack in their countries by militant Islamic elements. In that atmosphere of anger and revulsion some sections of the media did not resist the temptation of maligning, at times without regard to any subtlety, and casting baseless aspersions not only on the teachings of Islam but also on the impeccably upright personality of the Prophet (PBUH). As a consequence, opinion polls in the Muslim world reflect the rising graph of public hatred towards the US. Notwithstanding the right reasons of the present moment in history - the pervasive spirit of globalisation evident in the working of the Internet, outsourcing of services, free flow of goods, frequent interaction between different communities of the world - when the feelings of antipathy among interacting states and peoples would be against the interests of everyone and harmonious coordination should be the order of the day, the Saudi initiative aimed at creating interfaith peace and understanding is, alas, hard to materialise, at least in the foreseeable future. The three meetings so far held, at Makkah, Madrid and UN headquarters at New York, to find a way of achieving the goal have only brought a string of pious expressions. Although the initiative is too new to show results, hardly any definite, practical approach to realising its targets - end of religious violence, intolerance and discrimination and the rule of understanding and mutual respect - appears to be on the cards at this stage. Unless a serious programme of action is set afoot in the shortest possible time to address the raison d'tre of interfaith tensions - the historical animosity that has stood reinforced since 9/11 - the world, already in the throes of galling fear and insecurity, might find itself in a worse condition. Mere words uttered at peace conferences would not help just as the Bush administration's superficial plan of "winning the hearts and minds of the people" had failed. If actions do not support words but contradict them, it can only provoke derision. Sweet words spoken while committing poisonous deeds cut deeper wounds. Though during one phase of the US administration's fight against terrorism when hatred of US policies was the daily fare of pollsters, President Bush had picked up an 'expert' and charged her with "winning the hearts and minds" of the people in the Muslim world, she failed to create waves. The slogan, then assuming the status of a buzzword, simply died away with a whimper. Does any reader have recollection of who she was, what she achieved and where she has disappeared? Her failure obviously was due to the lack of sincerity of purpose. Drumming up support through words only would not work. Besides, at the same time the American armed forces were ruthlessly killing Iraqis, combatants or non-combatants, men, women and children, and bombing wedding parties in Afghanistan. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and Bagram were spilling out tales of torture and humiliation of Muslim prisoners held without charge, with the administration officials proclaiming that even those who were to be finally tried by their military courts and found innocent of charges levied against them would not be set at liberty since they were, after all, "dangerous" terrorists. With the gruesome details of these happenings hitting the headlines, the notion that the 'heart-winning' lady would create any impact was simply too outlandish to conceive. The idea was doomed to fail. Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, speaking at the UN meeting of last week called "Culture of Peace" in which 80 nations participated, expressed the opinion, "religion should not be used as instruments to cause misery." The statement is unexceptionable per se, but ought to be viewed in the light of what is happening on the ground and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's equally pertinent remark, "Islamophobia has emerged a new term for an old and terrible form of prejudice." As the militants try to match the invaders' atrocities through suicide tactics, the scenario becomes confusing and it seems hard to single out the culprit. One would inevitably settle for the stronger party take the initiative to change the climate by redressing the grievances of the weaker party. All eyes are on the perceptive US President-elect Barack Obama to see what moves he makes to reverse the tide of enmity and hatred. He should not feel discouraged with initial rebuffs. The well-timed and well-intentioned Saudi initiative would take time to show results. The effort should be that it does not take as much time as the animosity has taken to build up. Genuine and sincere regard for a difference of opinion in religious matters patiently cultivated holds the key. E-mail: