Diplomacy and dialogue cut off in post-9/11 era (TORONTO STAR OP-ED) HAROON SIDDIQUI 01/27/05)
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Whether one agrees with him or not, Kepel offers an interesting
perspective. Haroon Siddiqui writes Sundays and Thursdays.
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