Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Living with Terrorism

Le Monde's Editor-in-Chief Jean-Marie Colombani does a talking points analysis of the War on Terror. In fact, says Colombiani, it's not a war and to call it such is dangerous. It is an attempt at subversion and it is resisted by supporting moderate imams and intellectuals in the Muslim world and correcting our "pedagogy of modernism" at home.

Colombiani's arguments show that among our worst enemies are reactionaries such as Bush, the Religious Right and individuals such as General Boykin who are playing the game of radical Islam.

Living with Terrorism

We’ve known it since 9-11. The London and Sharm al-Sheikh bombings, on the heels of Madrid, Bali, Casablanca, are only the confirmation that we live in extraordinary and profoundly destabilizing times in a complex age, which will test the ability of our societies to survive. I’m going to attempt an analysis through a few bullet-points.

1. Islamic terrorism is here to stay
It is dangerous to entertain any illusion concerning this fact. One of them is to imagine that France is sheltered from the terrorists who have struck in England and in Egypt. The French authorities do not entertain such an illusion, and they are correct.

Because is no form of diplomacy which by its nature is able to protect a “Western” country from an offensive led in the name of resisting the "West". Because it is really is a struggle led by small groups of Islamist terrorists against democracies and what they represent: moral freedom, materialism, equal status for women, and the resolute separation of the spiritual and the temporal. They have one objective: to kill the largest numbers of civilians possible in the West—Americans or Europeans-- where they live or where they vacation en masse. The killing could also be carried out to punish or destabilize regimes in the Arab world whom they accuse of impiety or pro-Western attitudes. But it is always the same enemy: the West and enlightenment. Enlightenment is a threat to the kind society which they want to create and impose in the Arab-Muslim world: a dictatorial, interfering system founded on the refusal to separate Mosque and State, tradition instead of reform and The Rule instead of life.

2. Islamic terrorism may not be reduced to a single cause.
Behind the actions of autonomous cells of young Sunni Moslem men, a terrorist generation which strikes at us today, there is a odd mixture of feelings making for a dangerous cocktail. The West is perceived as dangerous because it seduces and it attracts; detestable because it causes jealousy. It is considered illegitimate and humiliating by these young people, who are brought up on scripture claiming that Sunni Islam is the highest and most complete form of monotheism.

How does one explain the backwardness observed in the Arab-Muslim world if it is the repository of the most recent and most perfect among revealed religious? The terrorism that besets us today cannot be explained without an examination of the relationship between Islam and modernity and between the Muslim world and the West. Here and there around the world, the globalization of the Western way of life provokes frustration, marginalization, alienation and competing feelings of seduction and rejection when it collides with other cultures. They imagine that this globalization is first and foremost a globalization of values perceived as a destabilizing enterprise meant to target their religiosity. Their targets are all symbolic places representing contemporary cosmopolitanism.

3. Islamist Terrorism may not be reduced to regional conflicts taking place in the Arab Muslim world from Kashmir to Palestine and from Afghanistan to Iraq.
The Sunnis involved in radical Islam have selective outrage: the martyrdom of Shi’ites or Kurds in Iraq never caused them to shed a tear. They only remembered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when they wanted to use it to justify the attacks of 9-11. But it is true that these conflicts do lead to paranoia, conspiracy theory and persecution complex among those whom they wish to recruit as terrorists. But terrorism may not be reduced to these conflicts alone. Their hatred for the West and for democracy will persist even after the Gaza evacuation. But it has eaten its fill. Each step towards resolving these conflicts is in itself an important step for those who desire peace and those who are fighting terrorism in engaging public opinion. As eminently desirable as it is, especially in the Middle East, each step is only a small part of the response.

4. Iraq was not and is not the answer to terrorism.
The US military intervention into that country, as the Europeans predicted, has only exacerbated the rancor of the Islamists militants: it is playing the role of “recruiting sergeant” for terrorism, as the Chatham House report says. The war reinforces the hatred for the United States Iraq felt by a good many in the Arab-Muslim world and evidently serves as a pretext. Even worse, in a world of instantaneous global reach of the visual image, the responsibility for each car bombing in Baghdad is not blamed on this or that group of insurgents: it is blamed on the US occupation and is considered as an extra proof of the “war” waged by the West on the Muslim world. Hundreds of millions of television viewers blame the United States for the daily carnage in Iraq. We can reject the validity of their reasoning, but it is the predominant perception and cannot be ignored.

From this point of view, it is vain on the part of Tony Blair to deny the evidence: the link between the London bombings and the British involvement with George Bush is a strong possibility. But it would be dangerous to draw the conclusion that the only exit is retreat. Although it is true that the Americans and the British invaded Iraq for the wrong reasons, they now have the obligation of assisting the birth of a future democratic Iraq. It is a task which will require long, patient and painful efforts.

5. Westerners don’t have all the answers.
Of course, the West must get more involved in regional conflict resolution, better integrate their Muslim populations and distance themselves from regimes considered longtime friends that are obstacles to reform in the Arab-Muslim world.

But the West doesn’t hold all the answers. The struggle against Islamist extremism must be waged within the Arab-Muslim world, and it is outside the reach of the United States and Europe. It is a struggle of progressives vs. autocratic and dictatorial regimes; it’s a battle of reforming imams versus fundamentalists, of pragmatism versus purity. These changes are slow, because they are decisive.

6. The fight against Islamist terrorism is not a war.
It’s not WWIII or WWIV. It’s unfortunate as well as dangerous to use these expressions. A war ends when one of the belligerents surrenders or by negotiation. But this is not applicable to Islamist terrorism. This struggle requires multiple, multiform and diplomatic (resolving regional crises) as well as police work (infiltration and surveillance of the terror networks) but above an all ideological response (supporting moderates in Saudi Arabia and in Pakistan). The people who want to adopt the al-Qaeda label work in autonomous cells and do not obey a central authority. Al Qaeda is less of an organization than a label. This label designates a struggle against democracy and all forms of liberty.

7. The focus of their hatred is on Europe, perhaps more than the United States.
This reality was suggested by the events September 11, even if certain sectors of opinion had and still have difficulty allying themselves with the United States in this struggle. The hatred germinates in Europe. The first al-Qaeda militants, veterans of the war against the Russians in Afghanistan in the early 80s, have passed the standard to a new generation. Researcher Olivier Roy calls them disenfranchised nomads, victims of globalization. They come from the ranks of immigrants to Europe. It is not in the Maghreb or in Pakistan but in Europe that they rediscover Islam, forging a naive and ultra-radical vision. They become, in their absurd dialect, “good Muslims” which translates into “good fighters”. It is in Europe that they intend to deepen the fissures which isolate Europe’s Muslim communities. Islamophobia is the objective of the terrorists. If it develops they will have realized their ambition in creating a clash of civilizations and placing the The Old Continent in their sights.

8. Our “models” are in question, right here and now.
In many regards we are facing endogenous terrorism. Born in our cities, narratives abound of young men who waiver between the most complete integration and irreparable marginalization. We must realize that this internal struggle within the Muslim world—the struggle between a modernity that subverts and the usage which radicals intend to make of tradition (i.e., the takeover of Muslim society by the Sunni radicals)—is taking place in our European cities and recruits our young people. Both the British model—remaining at arm’s length from communities--or the French model–- interventionist--are attempts at integration but we continue to have our heads in the sand. We must question the pedagogy of modernity, which by all evidence is insufficient or unsatisfactory. When our educational system produces so many marginalized, what is it that we need to do to counter the influence of those who claim that integration is a waste of time and that “truth” may be found elsewhere?

What everyone must realize, in any case, is that there is no salvation outside of modernity and the vivification of our republican ideals.

9. The epicenter is Pakistan.
As research by Bernard-Henry Lévy on the assassination of US journalist Daniel Pearl has shown and as we witness every day in reports, Pakistan is a roiling caldron and a sort of huge factory producing fighters for holy war. Despite efforts by General-President Musharraf, Pakistan is the place from which the most radical ideology emanates, where the worst of the Salafist organizations rule the streets and where nuclear weapons are produced. This is one of the many contradictions of the Bush government’s war on Iraq when it should have focused its attention on Pakistan.

10. Resist regression, and ever-present risk
Nothing could be worse in the War on Terror then to renounce our values by placing restrictions on personal freedom, canceling habeas corpus, torturing or prisonment without due process.

In an article in the journal Commentaire (Summer 2005), Pierre Hassner writes: The dialectic of terrorism and counterterrorism on the worldwide scale, beginning with September 11 and President Bush’s War on Terror, risks being written as the catastrophic version of what we call the dialectic of the bourgeois and the barbarian. If modernity was an immense undertaking to bourgeois-ify the barbarian, then it may produce the opposite reaction of barbar-ifying the bourgeois in his response to terrorism.

Let us be on our guard to resist the temptation roll back our freedoms.


Blogger raf* said...

close to brilliant...

2:25 PM  
Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Ah. So glad you agree! You know, former French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said the same thing in November 2001.

7:48 PM  
Blogger raf* said...

we all did ... since the mid-90s ... alas, memyfriends&i aren't politicians.

am loathe (and itching at the same time) to tackle politics/history in my blog - any opinion on the matter?

12:58 PM  
Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

That's where it's at! My only suggestion would be to stick to one topic area where you might have that +special+ insight.

9:29 AM  
Blogger programmer craig said...

Seems like there's a lot of contradictory claims in there.

"They come from the ranks of European immigrants"

"The epicenter is Pakistan"


"The US military intervention into that country, as the Europeans predicted, has only exacerbated the rancor of the Islamists militants"

"The focus of their hatred is on Europe, perhaps more than the United States"

for instance. I don't think there's one statement in that summary that is not directly contradicted by another!

Also, a lot of simplistic statements in there, like:

"A war ends when one of the belligerents surrenders or by negotiation"

I must have missed the surrender and/or diplomacy that removed Saddam Hussein from power. Wars frequently end when one of the combatants no longer have the means or the will to fight. Germany in WWII, for instance. Or the Roman Empire, which is probably the prime example.

I'm not going to try to dissect this essay any further, because frankly, it's all over the place. You can call it "close to brillant: if you like, but that's a very low standard for "brilliance" in my opinion!!

You'd almsot think this person had some solutions, instead of a list of reasons why the world is doomed!

2:00 PM  
Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Craig, we are speaking of the modern era. The war in Iraq is not over because no one has surrendered (e.g. Rheims) and negotiations (e.g. Versailles) are impossible.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Craig, you "cherry picked" and ignored many of the implications of Mr. Colombani's editorial. Your smug dismissal is evidence that there are some gaps in your learning.

5:38 PM  
Blogger programmer craig said...

Nur, I responded to a generalization about what the author believes "ends a war" - there was nothing in his statement that indicated he was speaking of "the modern era" - and even if there was, he would STILL be wrong.

As far as the cherry picking, I could quote the entire essay to illsutrate all the contradictions if you like.

I'm sorry, but that was a very poorly written essay. He should have picked the position he wanted to support, and then built his case. Instead, he chaotically made points, and then debunked his own arguments, asserted as fact things that are, on their face, untrue - like his assumptions about the nature of war, etc. It looks to me like an essay a 14 year old would write. I didn't really want to attack the author rather than what he had written, but after you've decided that to call me ignorant and uneducated, what the hell :)

Incidentally, I agree with some of the arguments that author makes. It's unfortunate that I he offers his own counter-arguments to everything he says where I am in agreement with him.

3:23 PM  
Blogger programmer craig said...

Here is an essay on this subject that I'd call "pretty close to brilliant" :

I don't agree with many of the conclusions, or the baseline assumptions either, but I ahave a very difficult time finding holes in her relentless logic.

3:55 PM  

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