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Diplomacy and dialogue cut off in post-9/11 era (TORONTO STAR OP-ED) HAROON SIDDIQUI 01/27/05)Source: http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1106779810295&call_pageid=968256290204&col=968350116795 TORONTO STAR TORONTO STAR Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
One key rationale proffered by American neo-cons for toppling Saddam Hussein was that the road to peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict lay through Baghdad. Given the raging insurgency in Iraq, they face the exact opposite proposition: the road to peace and stability in Baghdad and beyond may have to run through Jerusalem.

So argues Gilles Kepel, French expert on Islam, whose study of Muslims predates 9/11.

In Muslim Extremism (1993), he traced the movement that led to the assassination of Anwar Sadat. In Jihad, The Trail of Political Islam (2002), he showed how jihadists failed even in their homelands. In his latest book, The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West, his nuanced views fall between those who insist the problem is with Islam and those who say it isn´t.

Kepel was in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto last week. I interviewed him prior to his talk at the University of Toronto.

He says the hard-liners who drove the agenda of George W. Bush´s first term share some of the goals, and traits, of their worst enemies.

They want to get rid of Arab autocracies, by force if necessary, as does Osama bin Laden ó they to establish democracy and he to impose Islamic states.

They disliked the Oslo peace accord, and so did the radical Arabs. When the latter saw little progress for Palestinians, they settled on suicide bombings as "a practical answer to the crushing superiority of the Israeli military arsenal," Kepel writes.

The neo-cons, along with hardline Israelis, saw Oslo as posing a risk to the security of Israel, so long as the balance of power in the region was left unchanged. Hence their advocacy of military interventions against Iraq, Syria and Iran.

Ideologues on both sides have thus been fuelling each other, says Kepel.

Samuel Huntington´s Clash of Civilizations is a bestseller in its Arabic edition. "Bin Laden reads it, and says, ´Yeah, there can be no peace between Islam and the impiety of the West.´"

But while bin Laden has failed to mobilize Muslims, Bush is losing the war on terrorism.

Why? Because he is not winning the greater war of the age, the jihad for Muslim minds.

That needs diplomacy and dialogue. Yet the post-9/11 era has stultified debate.

Criticism of Bush is called anti-Americanism. Criticism of Israeli policies is equated with anti-Semitism. Criticism of Muslim militancy is branded Islamophobia.

It´s never been more important than now to "guarantee freedom of expression," so that frank discussion can take place.

North America and Europe should be mobilizing the millions of their Muslim citizens to help us avoid the clash of civilizations, Kepel says.

Does he see anything positive?

Sunday´s election in Iraq may herald a new chapter: an American- assisted rise to power of the suppressed Kurdish minority and the Shiite majority.

That could change the region´s dynamic, even diluting the power of the conservative mullahs in neighbouring Shiite Iran.

But winning over the Sunnis in Iraq, as also the larger Muslim world, will depend on solving the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Kepel also sees hope in Bush´s choice of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state. The president may be ready to "do politics, not war."

That´s conjecture on Kepel´s part. Nobody really knows how Bush´s second term will unfold.

I also think the professor overstates the potential role of European Muslims, given their second-class status, especially in France. It´s ironic that he wants to recruit them without conceding them equality of citizenship.

Whether one agrees with him or not, Kepel offers an interesting perspective. Haroon Siddiqui writes Sundays and Thursdays. hsiddiq@thestar.ca (Copyright 1996-2005. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. 01/27/05)


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