tears, shedding light | We
the Middle in Middle East
Professor of political science
of us who have touched and been touched by humanity of more than one culture,
eruption of political conflict that divides the two worlds is a particularly
painful experience. As a bridge between the two cultures, amidst a world
of conflict and violence, I have always seen a moral duty to humanize
both cultures. And as an educator, I have sought to explain the underlying
political causes and the social context of the conflict.
was no humanity or apparent explanation in the act of criminals that took
more than 5,000 innocent lives Sept. 11. They saw their victims as faceless
enemies. They denied them their humanity. As
such, this was a crime against our common humanity.
outpouring of grief and condemnation that followed in the aftermath of
the terror confirms this reality. Not only the heinous act itself must
be condemned but also the political culture that sanctions it. Finding
justification for such acts, no matter how deeply felt or how politically
"just" the cause, is a part of the problem, not the solution. The killing
of more than 5,000 civilians in order to make a political statement is
wrong, regardless. Desperation and hatred cannot be a moral foundation
upon which to build a just and humane political order.
the emotional avalanche of outrage, anger, shock, grief, hurt, sadness
and fear unleashed by the tragedy of Sept. 11 subsides and the nation
begins to heal, it is time to put this politically motivated crime in
a broader context of the social and political forces that produced it.
It is also important to go beyond the event and reflect on its broader
meanings and ramifications.
were illusions that foreign policy was something that happened to foreigners
out there, and the capital gains tax cut was more important than understanding
and engaging the world, Sept. 11 shattered such illusions. It has become
abundantly clear that the United States is no longer an island of safety
and security amidst a world of poverty, repression and violence.
also revealed that due to the magnitude and projection of American power,
what is "their problem" can become "our problem." In no other time in
history is America's fate as a nation so closely linked to the fate of
the rest of the world. Globalization and living together in the global
village are our common destiny. We cannot go back to our isolated sanctuaries.
explosions, like volcanoes, reveal the contradictions of the old order
when they erupt. Buried in the rubble of the World Trade Center and at
the Pentagon is the old paradigm of thinking about the world. The survival
of our interdependent, fragile and vulnerable world requires a new way
of political thinking and a new agenda on all sides.
history reveals that wars and conflicts are also opportunities for renewal.
Heir to a relatively short history and free of "the burden of the past,"
Americans have been particularly adept at using national conflicts as
opportunities to redefine their society and initiate new policies. This
ability has been the key to American vitality as the major global power.
war of the new millennium," epitomized by the Sept. 11 tragedy, represents
another turning point in American history and an opportunity for renewal.
It is high time to reassess America's foreign policy toward the Middle
East and the Muslim world and to address the "root causes" of terrorism.
It is also paramount for the Middle East and the Muslim world, instead
of blaming all of their problems on the West, to look at their own demons
and engage in critical self-reflection.
is important to bring to justice the masterminds and perpetrators of the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, we must also be clear that Osama bin Laden
and his Al-Qa'eda organization are a branch of a tree. We can cut the
branch, but the tree will grow new branches if the status quo persists.
The long-term solution to terrorism does not lie in military response
or preparing ourselves for chemical and biological warfare, but rather
in rendering arid the social soil from which the tree of terrorism sprouts.
The real battlefield is winning hearts and minds. To do that we must understand
the roots of anger in the Arab and the Muslim world and examine the arsenal
of grievances that feed this anger.
of anti-American sentiments we witness in the Middle East and the Muslim
world is a post-World War II phenomenon. Unlike Great Britain, France
and Russia, which were the main colonial powers in the region, America
lacks a history of colonial dominance. There was a great deal of goodwill
toward Americans and admiration for American democracy in the region.
But when U.S. military, economic and political involvement in the region
intensified and U.S. policies on many issues were at odds with nationalist
aspirations of the people, anti-Americanism began to grow.
inception of the state of Israel in 1948, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
has been a major radicalizing issue pervading the regional political landscape.
Because the U.S. government and, to a lesser extent, the European Union,
support Israel, and the sympathy of the overwhelming majority of the people
in the Arab countries and the Muslim world is with the Palestinians, this
emotionally charged conflict is not a mere regional conflict. It is transnational
in scope. Therefore, its political reverberations are felt around the
the salience of the issue in the Muslim world is such that both Saddam
Hussein and bin Laden, who were not particularly known as the champions
of the Palestinian cause, in order to mobilize public opinion in their
favor during their respective military conflicts with the United States,
suddenly transformed into staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause.
As a polarizing issue that feeds radical politics in general and Islamic
extremism in particular, a just resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict will have a moderating political impact.
A more balanced
U.S. policy on this conflict would also quell some of the anti-American
sentiment in the region. It remains to be seen how the Bush administration's
support for a Palestinian state will unfold politically. However, if the
scenario of the Persian Gulf War of 1991 repeats itself, whereby U.S.
need for an Arab and Muslim coalition to achieve its war objectives led
to several promises that remained unfulfilled once the war was over, then
another opportunity to end this imbroglio will be lost.
to the United Nations, the U.S.-led economic sanctions against Iraq since
1991 have led to the death of more than half a million Iraqi children
and civilians. The sanctions have not led to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein;
they have led to the suffering of innocent Iraqis.
allies favor lifting the sanctions, the Clinton and Bush administrations
have opposed this. While
the United States and Great Britain quickly bombard Iraq when she violates
U.N. resolutions, the repeated violations of U.N. resolutions by the Israeli
state go unpunished. Many in the Arab world regard this as a double standard
in U.S. policy. This imbalance in U.S. policy further accentuates the
feelings of humiliated national pride, desperation and anger that many
support of some of the authoritarian regimes whose rule is marked by political
corruption and repression is another major source of discontent. Saudi
and Egyptian nationals figured prominently among the perpetrators of the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Both of these countries are ruled by governments
that are among the closest allies of the United States in the Arab world,
and U.S. military and financial support is crucial to their survival.
Frustration with unresponsive political systems and a lack of opportunity
for meaningful political participation and expression of dissent pushes
many angry youth into the arms of Muslim extremists.
U.S. troop deployment in Saudi Arabia, a country that hosts the holy shrines
of Islam, thus regarded as a sacred space, violates the religious sensitivity
of many devout Muslims. In the last decade, as U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia
have been targeted by terrorists several times, some scholars and policy
makers have questioned the wisdom of maintaining a U.S. armada at the
annual cost of more than $30 billion, in order to safeguard the flow of
oil, much of which goes to Western Europe. If maintaining the security
of the Saudi regime is the objective, enlisting regional powers' support
in a collective security pact to ensure Saudi security is an alternative
In the post-Cold
War era, much has been written about the "clash of civilizations," and
"the Islamic threat," exhorting a call to arms against Muslims. In the
last decade, from Bosnia to Kosovo to Chechnya, Muslims have been the
target of genocide, ethnic cleansing and hate crimes. Given the reality
of global demography, the projections are that 1.3 billion Muslims are
going to become the majority faith globally in the next 30 years.
the overwhelming Muslim population also resides in the Third World, where
poverty and powerlessness are pervasive, it would be prudent to include
this marginalized and persecuted people in the Judeo-Christian dialogue
and engage them culturally and politically. A constructive interfaith
dialogue, encouraging American regional allies to democratize their political
systems and replacing the old policy of occupation and dominance in Palestine
with a win-win strategy, where all parties can live in dignity, will go
a long way to reduce tensions and build trust and goodwill, thus paving
the way for genuine peace.
limitations to military solutions, especially when they are responses
to symptoms that are at their roots social and economic problems. The
French experience in Algeria, the Israeli experience in Palestine, the
British experience in Ireland and the Indian experience in Kashmir all
indicate that there are no long-term military solutions to politically
motivated terrorism. Conflicts that feed terrorism ultimately have to
be negotiated and solved peacefully.
It is also
high time for the Arabs and the Muslim world to stop blaming everyone
but themselves for the extant problems of the region. Much critical self-reflection
is in order. Many Arab nationalist leaders from Saddam Hussein in Iraq
to Mu'amar Qaddaffi in Libya are tyrants. Hence, the Islamic nativist
alternatives to pro-Western secular regimes have not proven to be the
shining examples of democratic governance and equality. At the end of
the day, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, the promise of an Islamic
utopia as represented by the example of the Taliban's government has led
to a nightmare reign of virtue and terror. The worst manifestation of
repressive Taliban policies is the inhuman and oppressive treatment of
women in Afghanistan. This is particularly notable in a society in which
until 20 years ago women were active participants in social life and constituted
more than 40 percent of the workforce in public service.
destruction of the economic infrastructure during the Soviet occupation
and the ensuing civil and ethnic conflict in the last 20 years led to
the rise of the Taliban and their peculiar, twisted interpretation of
Wahabbi Islam as their ideological creed. In addition to massive poverty,
the fact that Afghan civil society has been decimated, the educated middle
class has fled the country, and out of a population of 26 million, six
million people are refugees further explains why the Taliban regime and
bin Laden have found a home in Afghanistan. Such dire social conditions
are not conducive to enlightened religiosity, tolerance and intellectual
pluralism. The real victims of the Taliban's policies are ultimately the
suffering Afghan people. After two decades of resistance against the Soviet
occupation and the civil war, they are embroiled in and will bear the
devastating consequences of yet another war, not of their own making.
States and her NATO allies fought two wars in the last six years against
the "Christian" Serbs and in defense of "Muslim" Bosnians and Kosovars
in the former Yugoslavia. Unlike bin Laden's view, this is not a world
divided between "crusaders and the Jews" on one hand, and Muslims on the
other; or between the army of believers and the army of non-believers.
Bin Laden and his supporters not only hijack ed planes and killed innocent
civilians, but they have also hijacked Islam.
other religion, Islam provides a spiritual refuge for the faithful. The
Islamic culture is not all about "Jihad" (the holy war), as we have come
to know through our selective perceptions, through the prism of conflict
and through the sound bites; there is another dimension to the culture
that is imbued with a profound humanitarian tradition. Islam does not
have a tradition of anti-Semitism. It recognizes Christians and Jews as
"the people of the book," thus recognizing the Bible and the Torah, and
considers Moses and Jesus as prophets of God. The post-1948 conflict with
the state of Israel is a political conflict, not a religious one. Those
who use Islam to legitimize their message of hate have betrayed the essence
of its teachings. Bin Laden wants to depict his campaign as one of Islam
verses the West. In that polarized world, he has many potential recruits.
The Bush administration wisely has chosen the opposite strategy, trying
to put a wedge between bin Laden and his Al-Qa'eda organization and Islam
and the Muslim world.
of a Muslim imam for the first time in addressing the nation during the
day of mourning and remembrance in New York Cathedral on Sept. 14, followed
by his visit to a mosque in Washington, D.C., and his admonition to those
citizens who took out their anger against innocent Muslims and Arabs in
the U.S. are all good initiatives to bring us together in these difficult
the statements by Christian and Jewish leaders denouncing attacks on mosques
and Muslims were also heartening to see. Internationally, the gathering
of foreign ministers from the 56-member organization of the Islamic conference
in Qatar on Oct. 10, denouncing the terrorist attacks against the United
States in the strongest terms, was a major blow to bin Laden and his supporters
and a victory for the global community.
impact of the Sept. 11 tragedy has already proven to be significant. The
United States is in the process of forging relationships with countries
with which previous relations were restrained or non-existent, including
China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Iran, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan,
to name a few. The realization of vulnerability has made the United States
reach out to other countries and build new alliances and foster a new
spirit of cooperation. Both the United States and Great Britain have declared
their support for a Palestinian state and pledged to play a more active
role in resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. These are positive
and hopeful signs that if followed by substantial policy initiatives have
the potential to change our world, thus making it a safer global village
that we use this tragedy to build a more humane social order. Let our
tragedy be also our moment of triumph. We can find compassion amidst our
anger and rage. Our past is an indication of who we were, not what we
Dorraj is a professor of political science at TCU. He has published extensively
on the politics and culture of the Middle East and North Africa. E-mail
him at firstname.lastname@example.org.