Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Hijacking the place of worship


By Ghassan Rubeiz Christian Science Monitor, Commentary September 21, 2004

Washington - The 9/11 Commission Report currentlytopping bestseller lists is good on intelligencereform. And it may be an excellent administrativedesign for a new strategy to fight terrorism.
But the report fails at analyzing the basicpolitical problem of the Middle East: failinggovernance. That is a state securityvulnerability that is a primal cause ofterrorism. There is no country in the Middle Eastthat adequately delivers services to its people,and all of those countries face major threats totheir existence or stability.
Because of this, US security is linked with thesecurity of the Middle East, especially since9/11. That's why the 9/11 Commission Report is animportant document for those in the Middle Eastas well as in the US.
Let us consider the relevance to terrorism of the"state of the state" in the Middle East.
It helps to point out that the current form ofterrorism in the Middle East can be seen as anon-conventional, criminal, and misguidedguerrilla war of political liberation. And whileterrorists use inhumane and dramatic tactics toproduce the maximum impact of damage and publicattention, terrorists are not the only source ofterror in the region.
Believe it or not, terrorists are not the mostdangerous menace in the larger scheme of things.In fact, terrorists are a byproduct of a possiblyeven greater source of menace: the terror of thestate.
Increasingly, the Middle East is becomingungovernable. The people are enraged but cannotexpress their feelings openly. They face thethreat of punishment from their governments thathave massive technologies of terror: intelligencenetworks, expanding numbers of prison cells,paranoid censorship, medieval torture, zones ofsecurity, walls of security and capitalpunishment for "treason, or apostasy."
Arab terrorists originally organized to fighttheir own political regimes, but, to anappreciable extent, they failed. Terroristsinitially fought in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon,Algeria and elsewhere, but the armies of"security" punished them fiercely.
State terror in the Middle East is all-inclusive;it is directed at acquisition of power and itsmaintenance. It has silenced poets, peaceactivists, reformers, university students,writers, poets, visionaries, human rightsactivists, feminists, religious critics,sociologists, union leaders, and others. Stateterror has liquidated or co-opted all agents ofpositive social change.
What the Middle East state has failed to silenceeffectively is the politician who pretends to bereligious or who has abused religion . They areinternally political and externally religious.All religions have their bigots, not only Islam.The Imams who support terrorism have disqualifiedthemselves from being "Islamic," but they remainmembers of the Muslim community. The Imams whosupport "blasting the infidels" cannot beconsidered Islamic because the Koran considersChristianity and Judaism as people of the (Holy)Book. The massive Arab anger about the West inthe Muslim world is largely about the US foreignpolicy, and not a religious response. Theterrorists have found religious infrastructure asa haven for political organization that is immunefrom state retribution.
The terrorists are politicians that havediscovered the mosque as a refuge to organizefollowers; they have covered their fascistideology with sectarian language; they havepainted the enemy as an adversary of faith; theyhave recruited from among the young, a group thatis passionate for absolute ideology and revealedtruth. The terrorists have hijacked the place ofworship and imprisoned the faithful in despair.
By labeling the terrorists "Islamic," the 9/11Commission Report has unintentionally served thepurpose of these underground organizers ofviolence. For it is the terrorist leaders thatcleverly and unjustifiably defined Islam to servetheir political purpose. But many Islamicauthorities have not accepted theirinterpretation of Islam. After 9/11 the Councilon American Islamic Relations condemned terrorismpublicly on repeated occasions. The (Egyptian)Azhar authorities have done the same. Naturallythere are exceptions to this trend, but againhere, there are parallels in Christianity(historically and currently) and other religions,where clerics rationalize hatred, criminalaction, and demonization on pseudo-religiousgrounds.
The Islamic label that is assigned to terroristsin the Report may also encourage the politicallymotivated US fundamentalist groups to furthersharpen their own merciless media attacks onIslam and Muslims. The 13th Annual Arab-US PolicyMakers Conference that was held in Washingtonearlier this month highlighted the the bias of USsectarian media against Islam. (To be fair, Arabmedia on the "Christian West and Jews" is alsoequally regrettable.) Reverend Jerry Falwell andPat Robertson, for example, use the media toexpress their hostility to Islam. Such clericalmedia stars portray Islam as a religion ofviolence on a regular basis on TV and radio. (Formore evidence consult Grace Halsell's bookForcing God's Hands) While mentioning therelevance of dialogue with moderate groups in theMuslim and Arab world, the 9/11 Report fails torecommend any serious measures for controllingmedia attacks on Islam in the US.
The Report, unintentionally, may reinforce themyth that there is a "good Islam and a badIslam," and that the Commission will support"good" Islam. Non-Muslims should not redefineIslam for Muslims. There is "good" Muslim and"bad" Muslim behavior, and there is "good"Christian and "bad" Christian behavior. But we donot speak of "bad" Islam or "bad" Christianity.There are Muslims who abide by their doctrine ofpeace and those who do not. Muslims differ intheir practice of Islam just as Christians orJews do. We do not condemn Islam for the behaviorof some Muslim just as we do not condemnChristianity for behavior of some Christians.
Terrorism will not subside without a radical,comprehensive plan for reform that is negotiatedregionally and internationally. Is the MiddleEast ready for a new rule-of-law social order?The report could have speculated more candidly onthis central and thorny question.
There is no easy answer to the politicalrebuilding of failing or ailing states, saysProfessor Francis Fukayama, in his latest book,"State-Building: Governance and World Order inthe 21st Century." The United Nations DevelopmentProgram's Arab Human Development Reports is agood start for pointing out deficiencies (infreedom, women's rights, and education) but thisdocument has no political teeth and is too politeabout state terror.
To deal with terrorism, the US must reevaluateits foreign policy to respond creatively andseriously to the problem of autocracy in theregion. The report recommends vague measures ofreform but has no plans to support them. Forexample, supporting the peace process earnestlyin the Middle East would open up new fertilegrounds for dialogue with Arabs and the widerMuslim world. And a new economic plan ofindustrialization, debt relief, and fair tradefor the region would facilitate future Americanpartnership with this region.
In conclusion, Arab state terror is rivaled byterrorism, but the latter is a response to theformer. It is regional suffering that needs to bebetter explained in the 9/11 Report. Buildingdemocracy is a long road. Building a middle classthrough industrialization is a prerequisite for democracy-building. Middle East politics should be the background for future US policy on security and US-Arab relations, not "Islamic terrorism."


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