Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Notes: Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke, "How to lose the war on terror, Part 3: An exchange of narratives, June 3, 2006.

The Western media's use of experts to decipher meanings preceded the Oslo Accords by 20 years, when news broadcasts regularly reported on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by featuring Israeli officials appearing alongside Middle East experts: "So tell us, Professor, what do the Palestinians think?" It was only after Oslo that Palestinians were allowed to speak in their own voices - or that we were allowed to listen.

In the wake of September 11, Western news outlets reverted to these pre-Oslo traditions, featuring expert commentators filtering Islamist views for an audience whose opinions on Islam have been shaped by ... expert commentators. The global communications revolution has proved singularly unable to reverse this practice, in part because broadcast corporations have proved vulnerable to political and economic pressures - Hezbollah's Al-Manar television is barred from broadcasting in the United States and Europe because it is "a terrorist entity", and no satellite company is willing to take on Al-Jazeera's English-language service. [This failure is, in Canada, one of the accomplishments of the Canadian branch of the Israel Lobby. -jlt]


Particularly since September 11, the US and its allies have approached Islam not to understand it, or speak with it, or listen to it, but to interpret it. Such interpretation is not "liberating" but, as the Western thinker Susan Sontag would have it, "reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling". It is meant to poison our sensibilities.


Our goal was not to end violence, but to circumscribe it within well-defined limits - an end-point we believed essential to our goal of persuading Western leaders to differentiate between those who perpetrated September 11 and those who condemned it, between those who depend for their legitimacy on the support of their people and those who don't. Our purpose was, then, recognizably selfish: to the degree that the West held Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat e-Islami and other moderate Islamists responsible for September 11 (the Islamist "Gironde", in our formula) was the degree to which Islamists would conclude that the West held Islam collectively responsible for September 11 - and the degree to which violence would be visited on the innocent.


Our colleague John Alderdice - one of the first of Northern Ireland's "Unionists" to express a willingness to talk with Sinn Fein, and a key official in the negotiations of the Good Friday Agreements - recounted his own experience of moving a conflict from the sphere of violence to the sphere of talking. One of the first conditions for doing so, he noted, is that both sides must have confidence that they will not be weakened by a dialogue. Usually, a participant who refuses to participate does so because he fears his own weakness. Alderdice was puzzled, therefore, by Western intransigence in recognizing the need for an exchange with the leaders of political Islam: "We in the West have tens of thousands of troops in the Middle East, dozens of ships on the high seas, and control of the world's financial markets," he said. "So what exactly are we afraid of?"


...the increasing interest in our exchanges was not kindled from altruistic motives, but from looming failure - the widening war in Iraq, the spreading violence in the region, the feckless implementation of the West's program of promoting democracy, as well as the increasingly strident voices in Islam demanding an airing of their grievances.

...these fears were repeated, sometimes word for word, by the leaders of political Islam, whose desire for dialogue was fueled by "the widening war in Iraq, the spreading violence in the region, the indifferent implementation of the West's program of democracy, and the increasingly loud voice of our people that they be allowed to air their grievances".

[Lengthy section reveals how attitudes that empty political Islam of its content and credibility result in not just a refusal but an inability to listen. -jlt]
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