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Ten theses on security in the 21st century

openSecurity has closed as a section of oD—temporarily, it is to be hoped—because its funding has expired. Here, some of the themes emerging from these three fertile years of publishing are distilled. Below are some emblematic pieces—with signals to the series of which they were part.

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Protecting the state over against the citizen doesn't make anyone feel safer.

How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations

This Saturday, Americans for Informed Democracy sponsored an influential conference on The Future of US-Muslim World Relations. Speakers from around the globe highlighted the event, which was attended by young leaders from across the United States. To continue the debate, two of them share their thoughts on whether it is possible to avoid the 'clash of civilisations'. What’s your view?

Recognizing Pluralism, Avoiding Anachronism
Sabahat Adil

Adil

On Saturday, over 250 people gathered for a Young Global Leaders Summit on “The Future of U.S.-Muslim World Relations. Participants heard from individuals currently working for greater cooperation among members of the international community.

Even in such a milieu of open conversation and dialogue, much of the language I heard among participants seemed to revolve around an assumption regarding the inevitability of a clash of civilizations, which, in contemporary terms, often refers to an inherent conflict between “Islam” and the “West.” To propose that the affiliates of a particular faith, or even the faith itself, stand antagonistically against an ideology is an anachronistic way of thinking.

Conversations regarding an apparent apocalyptic conflict between those who abide by the Islamic faith and those characteristics that define the West often ignore the wide array of opinions on both sides and the changing nature of the globe. It is important to deconstruct the idea that Islam exists as a monolithic entity. With the growing Muslim population in the United States, many of them second- and third-generation children of immigrants, the issue is complicated even further. Quite a few of these Americans have not been out of the United States: these young Muslims are Westerners in the common sense of the word.

There is much more to the conversation of civilizational understanding than the edifice of mere dichotomies. While Samuel Huntington’s notions are useful at neatly categorizing and framing issues, they serve all too well to belittle the humanity of individuals in today’s pluralistic societies. Only when we recognize the importance of acknowledging the uniqueness of historical circumstance, taking care to articulate ourselves constructively, will fruitful dialogue begin to take course in societies.

Sabahat Adil is a contributer to AIDemocracy. She is also a student at the University of Chicago.
Understanding Differences and Basic Human Needs
Leah Maloney

Leah Maloney

The clash of civilizations can be avoided by altering how ethnic, religious, and political groups view each other. The supposedly inavoidable clash between groups will not be due to inherent cultural differences, but will be caused by the exploitation of those differences to serve political purposes. In the Cold War, few people in the Soviet Union believed in the theories of Marx, however both sides of the Iron Curtain were made to feel as though communism and capitalism comprised two distinct civilizations that could not possibly interact. This type of invented alienation can be avoided through education, highlighting the similarities between groups while acknowledging their unique cultural perspectives.

In an attempt to prevent the clash of civilizations some argue individuals have few differences. This reasoning fails to recognize and respect the significant distinctions. People are impacted greatly by their environment; the food, land, weather, clothing, religion, and politics of a group change the framework through which people receive information. These differences are important to acknowledge so that true understanding can be reached and the approach to issues can be altered to best serve societies.

Conversely, if only differences are highlighted there is no ground on which to seek mutually beneficial solutions. Among citizens of the world there is a common desire for food, shelter, and a life without violence. These bonds are stronger than details of culture. The clash of civilizations can be avoided by finding the balance between understanding differences that result from circumstances and beliefs while also realizing that these differences do not necessarily imply a clash.

Leah Maloney is Senior Political Analyst at AIDemocracy. She is also Editor-in-Chief of Boston College's 'Uncommon Sense'.

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Paradise Now

A Review by Jane Kinninmont

paradise now

"Paradise Now", the controversial Oscar-nominated film is an insightful and, at times, surprising portrait of two Palestinian suicide bombers. But does its political message go far enough, asks Jane Kinninmont.

Pulled From The Rubble

An interview with Margaret Loescher

pulledrubble

The August 2003 UN truck bomb in Baghdad was one of the worst attacks in the organisation’s history. How do you react when you find out your father is one of the wounded, and the only survivor from the most devastated part of the building? Suddenly politics becomes personal. How do you even begin to rebuild your life after such an event? You make the acclaimed documentary film “Pulled from the Rubble” telling your family’s story. Margaret Loescher talks to Maryam Maruf about the decisions of a filmmaker, the failure of American foreign policy, barbeques, and her dad, Gil.

openDemocracy: What led to you making Pulled from the Rubble?

Margaret Loescher: I had been making documentary films for about five years and I was just about to go to America to shoot a film about the poet William Carlos Williams (who was a relative of mine), when my father went to Baghdad with his colleague Arthur Helton, was severely injured in a suicide bomb attack and almost lost his life.

I initially picked up my camera for two reasons. The first was that I was amazed at his rehabilitation, as were most of the medical people involved and the rest of my family and friends. He was making an incredible recovery helped by his very positive outlook, and I wanted to record some of those moments. I didn’t know at that point whether the film would be for a wider public. I thought it might just be a record for the family.

The second reason I picked up the camera and started filming was because that’s what I do, and I was trying to return to some kind of normality; to recover something of what life was like before the bomb.

openDemocracy: How did your family react when you said you wanted to make the film?

Margaret Loescher: Well my family is always incredibly supportive of what I want to do. I did have continuous conversations with my family and sometimes quite heated ones about the film and about what I was filming. Their main concern was that the film had become my way of dealing with what had happened and that maybe I was distancing myself from certain situations that were happening, and getting behind the camera rather than just being there as me. But at every point, at every stage of the filmmaking process when I was making decisions about editing it, about who would see it, about whether it was filmed for us or for a public, I would always discuss those issues with them.

I think that now they are very proud of the film and proud that I’ve made it. They do find it difficult to watch because it reminds them of a time that was really hard.

openDemocracy: So how did you balance your professional interest in film with your personal motivation of what you wanted to record?

Margaret Loescher: I was filming in order to have a record, but at the same time, being a film maker, I had confidence in the material and a sense of “this would make a good film”.

There were situations where I had to make a judgment about whether or not to film, but there were no situations where I thought “I want to stop, I don’t want to do this”.

There’s one scene in the film which is very upsetting. It’s where Claire, my sister, is reading the statement that was written by one of the paramedics who helped to rescue my father from the rubble. And she’s reading it to my parents. And I decided at that point to film. I had already read the statement, it was initially given to me and I had handed it on to them. So it was the first time they had seen it.

To this day I’m not entirely sure about filming that scene. I pulled the camera down half way through the scene. It’s a very personal moment and the film is full of these kinds of moments, and they work and they give an integrity because of my connection to the family.

openDemocracy: There’s also a lot of humour in the film.

Margaret Loescher: Throughout this whole experience, my family has been incredible at being positive, keeping happy and being a strong unit. It occurred to me the other day that there’s actually three barbeques in the film, which seems quite peculiar for a film about a terrorist attack.

That’s an example of how watching the film triggers my memory and I remember also all sorts of different levels that aren’t in the film. It’s a bit like photographs of certain moments from your childhood, do you remember those moments because of the photograph or do you remember them because you actually remember them? That is something that I often think about when I take photographs and make films: how much of my experience is controlled or formed by these records that I’m keeping?

openDemocracy: How difficult was the editing process? Did you already have a narrative in mind, or was it something that came as you pieced the film together?

Margaret Loescher: I basically separated the making of the film into two parts when I was shooting it. I had initially decided that I wanted to make a film about the UN bomb; both from my father’s perspective and the perspective of the other survivors. I wanted to make quite a political film about the controversy that was surrounding the UN bomb, the things that the UN could have done to protect themselves and didn’t. The issues concerning the miscommunication between the UN headquarters in Baghdad where they felt a kind of daily threat and were beginning to realise that the safety that the blue flag presented no longer existed in that part of the world; and the feeling in New York and Geneva, that people were completely ignorant of the fact that there was a risk of such an attack.

I wanted to make a film about that. Now I’m not a hard-nosed journalistic type so when I tried to do that it didn’t work very well. I went with a cinematographer to Geneva and to New York and we interviewed lots of UN employees. I really wanted to edit those and make them into some kind of film. At the same time as that, I was filming at home, which was much more intimate and personal. When I came to editing the interviews with the UN staff, I realised that for the most part, they wouldn’t make the most interesting film. What I really needed to do was tell was my own story, my father’s story, my family’s story. And that’s how I arrived at the narrative.

I worked very closely with the editor Barbara Zosel, and I couldn’t have done it without her. Partly because she’s a great editor, but also because it was very difficult to separate myself from the material and to be objective.

openDemocracy: Do you see it as a political film?

Margaret Loescher: Yes, although there are only two direct political statements made in the film. It is a subtly political film. Individual stories are very important as they’re able to make statements that more wily, and more traditional approaches to politics aren’t able to.

I went to New York with my cinematographer and we met with one of the US army paramedics, Ralph Embro, who had helped rescue my father. We had a very interesting meeting with him, which is in the film, in which he describes my father’s rescue. And then when I leave there, the film narration (which is done by me) reflects very briefly on that meeting. I basically say that meeting Ralph had “strengthened an unlikely connection” with the US military. I didn’t believe in or support the war in Iraq, and yet here I was meeting a man who had made it his career and his life to support the American government and work for the military. I had mixed feelings about meeting him as in any other situation I wouldn’t really have had any connection to him, but because he saved my dad’s life, I did.

The second political statement is made very eloquently by Ann, my mother. We are meeting with one of the survivors, Salim Lone, who was UN staff. He came to visit us at our home in Oxford. Salim is complaining about how the UN just wasn’t really prepared for such an attack, though maybe the staff members feared an attack like the one that happened. And my mother says something along the lines of “Don’t you think that the UN was being used and was placed in a situation that was obviously very dangerous, and was encouraged to invite people like Gil and Arthur, as a means of saying the war is over in Iraq, and the occupying forces have made this a peaceful country?”

openDemocracy: Are there any people in particular that you want to see the film?

Margaret Loescher: I don’t see it as a sort of film that will change American foreign policy, and I don’t get these urges where I think “I wish George Bush would see Pulled from the Rubble”. It’s the kind of film that people will watch and interpret in their own way. It is about survival, about pulling through. I think it’s just important for everybody to see it.

It doesn’t demand a particular audience. But there are certain groups that I think the film would benefit. It’ll speak to people who’ve perhaps experienced things similar to this, about surviving something horrific as a family. People have come to me and said “it makes me think about my relationship with my father and my family”.

openDemocracy: What do you feel you learnt the most from making the film?

Margaret Loescher: That’s an interesting question. Because this is my first feature documentary, for a first feature documentary it’s done very well at international festivals and been picked up by lots of people. I’m doing Q&As after the screening, and interviews, so I’ve definitely learnt the whole experience of how to get a film seen, what happens once it starts being seen and talked about. From that perspective professionally, I’ve learnt a lot about how to make a film.

More personal lessons, I suppose I surprised myself that I could pick up a camera in those situations and film. I’ve learnt that I can do that. In those situations the camera becomes another part of your body, and it’s just something that you do very naturally.

openDemocracy: What are your future projects?

Margaret Loescher: Well I want to make another film with my father. He’s hoping to go back to the field and visit some refugee camps in Africa and East Asia. I’m going to accompany him on one of those trips and make a film about his return to the field but also about protracted refugee situations.

After Pulled from the Rubble does the festival circuit (it’s going to Greece, Madrid, Silverdocs and Human Rights Watch in the US, and It’s all true in Brazil) I’d really like to take it on a tour of universities and hospitals. I’d really like to show it in hospitals, maybe in Orthopedic centres to people who’ve lost limbs. But obviously I need to find some way of funding that.

Pulled from the Rubble had its British premiere, organised by openDemocracy, at the British Library on Human Rights Day 10 December 2004. It’s now screening at the International Human Rights Watch Film Festival, London on 23 March at 20.45 ICA Cinema, and 24 March at 21.00 Ritzy, Brixton (Closing Night). Maggie will be present for post-screening discussions.

This article was originally published on Open Democracy.

What Is a Moderate Muslim?

Two right-wing think tanks, Britain’s Politeia and the Washington-based Center for Security Policy, organised a day-long conference in London this week. Rarely enough one gets to see some real neo-cons this side of the Atlantic, and I certainly didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity. I went away full of fresh ideas and sufficiently agitated to write my column for Madrid11.net, but one question kept bugging me.

The Power of Resentment: a response to Karin Von Hippel

Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton responds to Karin von Hippel, arguing that terrorists are not protestors for the poor.

If the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security in Madrid to be held on 8-11 March 2005 is to make any headway in addressing perhaps the most serious security issue in the world today then it should not, in my view, start from the premises assumed by Karin von Hippel in her openDemocracy article “Five steps for defeating terrorism”.

Karin von Hippel looks for the causes of terrorism in the condition of those who perpetrate it, and lights on such factors as poverty, deprivation, and injustice: “It is hardly surprising that many (ordinary Saudis or Algerians or Egyptians) direct their anger at the United States which often supports their authoritarian and non-representative leaders…If Europe and North America can do more to make good on commitments already made to eliminate poverty, to end civil conflicts, and to promote social inclusion and democratisation where this is required the popularity of terrorists…could begin to wane significantly.” Although the intention is not exactly to blame the United States for the terrorist attacks on it, the implication is that the US is, nevertheless, part of the cause, and that a radical change of US policy towards the “third world” – particularly the middle east – will be part of the solution.

If you look at the actual condition of terrorists down the ages, however, you will not easily find the common factor that Karin von Hippel is looking for. Some terrorists have been poor and attempting to find a way out of poverty; some have suffered deprivation of one form or another, or been victims of injustice. But by no means all, and by no means the worst.

The Jacobins were for the most part privileged members of the rising élite, impatient for power but also eager to punish. The Russian anarchists of the 19th century were not badly off from the point of view of material and social privileges, and their grievances were more the work of the imagination than the result of either observation of, or sympathy towards, the ordinary people of Russia. This point is brought home not merely by Dostoevsky, Turgenev and others, but also by Anna Geifmann in her detailed study of the origins of Russian terrorism, Thou Shalt Kill: Revolutionary Terrorism in Russia, 1894-1917 (1995).

The point holds for many modern terrorists. Even the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which purports to represent the “oppressed” Catholics of Northern Ireland, is very far from recruiting from those whose oppressed condition it loudly advertises. Membership is a privilege, and the IRA is now one of the most profitable businesses in the province. There is no evidence that Osama bin Laden’s entourage is any different, and the suggestion that his kind of terrorism arises as a protest against poverty or injustice is laughable.

The impulse to hate

Yes

A synopsis by Sally Potter

yes

What happens between the chef and the angry kitchen boy? Watch a special film clip from “Yes”, a film about a difficult love affair between an American woman and a Lebanese man. Written immediately after 9/11 and performed entirely in verse, it is the fifth feature film from one of Britain’s most acclaimed directors, Sally Potter.

An Interview with Jason Burke

Madrid11: How do you think we are doing in the ‘war on terrorism’?

Burke: It’s difficult to give any kind of assessment – it depends on what the criteria are for winning and losing.

There’s a pessimistic way of looking at it – that if our aim is to be free from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism, or even to diminish that threat substantially, then we haven’t done particularly well. I don’t think the threat level is much lower or higher than it was four or five years ago, which is essentially a low level threat with a potentially high level destructive capacity.

There has been a significant increase in the radicalization, leading to the mobilization of people across Islamic countries. There’s no doubt that the current period is one of febrile political activity unrivalled since the early 70s perhaps.

However, there’s also a more positive view, and one that I’m increasingly coming around to, namely that we simply have not seen the massive broad uprising of the Islamic peoples that Bin Laden wanted to provoke with 9/11.

As it seems, and despite the fact there has been a fair amount of radicalisation, the vast majority of the 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide have remained largely impervious to Bin Laden’s and others’ call to arms.

Madrid11: In the places where someone like Bin Laden would hope to radicalize people, have you got a sense of the majority of people rejecting him on some level?

Burke: There’s all kinds of cultural identity factors that are in play, and it’s difficult to discern what is pro-Bin Laden and what is anti-American, for example. Equally, it’s difficult to say what stems from a frustrated desire to be more Western and what stems from a powerful desire to reject the West.

In broader terms, there is a significant reaction against violence in countries which come to suffer from it. Saudi Arabia, despite all the various grievances that continue in the country, doesn’t produce, or at least foment, Islamic radicalism. In places like Jordan and Iraq, you’ve seen a strong backlash against violence.

I did a very interesting talk show recently about Iraq, Al-Qaeda, and the death of Zarqawi. It was very noticeable that all the calls we got from Iraq or from the core countries in the Middle East were anti-Zarqawi.

All the callers that said ‘he’s a hero, he will be replaced’, came from Tanzania, or London, or Luton or Malaysia. And I think it is probably true that those who are subjected to daily violence, to the reality of violence, react against it, while those who are able to distance themselves, and to see it in conceptual and symbolic terms, don’t react against it in the same way.

Madrid11: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, who writes many pieces from Iraq, has argued that people are tired of being pigeonholed into either supporting America or Saddam/Bin Laden. Are people looking for a third way?

Burke: That’s exactly what my latest book is about: that third voice, which gets drowned out. Ninety per cent of the Muslim population are moderate. They don’t like the Americans, and they don’t like the militants either.

When I was in Najaf, I was speaking to an old man in the middle of a destroyed city. His house had been destroyed around him by the Americans and the Mehdi army. He said, ‘I wish they’d both go away. They’re both strangers who came here to fight, I wish they’d just do it somewhere else’.

Unfortunately, this kind of view is very rarely heard or listened to.

Madrid11: Do you think this is a result of the polarizing language that is used in the war on terror?

Burke: Yes, and it is painfully obvious. ‘With us or against us’, for example, is not just what Bush has been saying, but also Bin Laden. Bin Laden said that it was ‘time for all Muslims to define themselves’, which is essentially ‘you’re with us or you’re against us’.

One of the great tragedies is that, as a result, taking a position that is pro-American has come to be seen as being synonymous with being a traitor to one’s culture and one’s identity.

That’s the result of the grotesque strategic errors that have been made in the ‘war on terror’– and those prosecuting it are beginning to become aware of that.

Madrid11: You have argued that the Western view of Islam is fundamentally flawed. What does radical Islam mean to you?

Burke: There is a real problem with vocabulary. We talk of ‘the Islamic world’ in a way that privileges one part of a person’s identity over all others. It is as ridiculous as saying the Christian world, or the old (age) world, or the women’s world – all these are components of the very complex structure that is any one person’s identity, which is a very dynamic and evolving entity.

Being Muslim is an element of an identity which is extremely diverse. There are people who see themselves as Muslims, and there are people who see Islam as a cultural heritage. In the case of Arab language speakers, it is often also viewed as a linguistic heritage, a historic heritage.

There are others who see Islam in purely religious terms. But when you start talking about it in religious terms, you then also have to distinguish between the different ways in which it manifests itself in the day to day business of living.

There are differences within ‘the Islamic world’ that are far greater that the differences between ‘the Islamic world’ and the rest. When I sat in a café in southern Thailand – the Muslim part of Thailand – I realized that your average Thai Muslim has far more in common with your average Thai Buddhist than he does with your average Saudi. For a start, they share a language.

Conversely, all over ‘the Islamic world’, wherever I’ve been, I’ve had conversations about football – conversations I would be entirely incapable of having in the United States.

Madrid11: Can you give us an assessment of the state of play in Afghanistan?

Burke: It’s a very complex situation. I’ve been going there for 10 years, and even given the current problems, it’s a far better place than it was under the Taleban. It now has the opportunities to progress towards stability and prosperity that it simply didn’t have in the year 2000, and I’m relatively confident that – eventually – we will see something more or less stable, if not prosperous.

Kabul itself has been transformed. I was very impressed by the amount of Afghan commercial activity. Much of the North and the West are stable – it’s not Sweden, but it’s not bad. The major warlords are not fighting each other any more. There is crime, but it’s not rampant. It’s extremely poor, and there’s a drug problem but – by and large – a belt from Jalalabad round to Herat in the north of the country, including Kabul, is ok.

I was very impressed to see one area in the north of the capital, Jadayi Maiwand, which was completely, to have been raised and rebuilt. It’s now a kind of shopping area, literally unrecognisable.

It’s always worth looking at the regional picture, and – by and large – the regional powers are keeping their noses clean. The Central Asian former Soviet republics are keeping out of things, and Iran is certainly not involved to the extent it was six or seven years ago.

Pakistan is more difficult to judge. It’s hard to say whether the Pakistani state is involved at a senior and strategic level, or whether there are simply interests in Pakistan that are uncontrollable.

Madrid11: One of your most recent columns highlighted how dazzling the technological advances have been.

Burke: It’s astonishing, even mobile phones are working. Six or seven years ago, there were about a dozen satellite phones and about half a dozen lines that went to Pakistan, and that was it for communication with the outside world. It was a black hole. There were no flights, certainly none that you would want to use. Now, Afghanistan is really being drawn into the global economy, with all the advantages and disadvantages that that brings.

Still, there are two major problems. The first is drugs, and the second is what’s happening in the south. Both are avoidable. The drugs issue is a very simple one. Opium is a great crop, people are poor. Anything else is completely superfluous. As the Afghans say, ‘it’s not our problem, it’s yours!’ And you can see where they’re coming from.

The South is a problem which is entirely self made. The Americans have made a hard job immeasurably harder through a series of strategic miscalculations that are based on a warped understanding of the threat and the situation.

The South was left for five years pretty much without security, any real military presence or development. And – surprise, surprise – the Taleban are back! To me, that isn’t rocket science – there was a vacuum that was left in the South, almost deliberately.

I was in Kandahar in 2003, and people were saying, explicitly, that they don’t really want the Taleban back, but that if they can offer security and some modicum of governance, then they will come back.

Madrid11: The recent British deployment is a a positive step then?

Burke: It’s great – but it’s four years too late. Plus, despite the fact that it has received a lot of attention back here, it’s five thousand men in a province with a million inhabitants and the size of England. If we’d been there four years ago, it would have been a lot different.

Madrid11: Why have Western forces managed to achieve such relative success in Afghanistan, and failed so badly in Iraq?

Burke: Afghanistan was easier, in many ways. You had a country that was desperately tired, that was totally worn out, that had nothing, and that didn’t like the Taleban at all. The Iraqis didn’t like Saddam either, but there was a significant minority who benefited substantially from his regime. That did not exist in Afghanistan.

I was surprised to see the depth of pro-coalition feeling when I got to Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001. They also pursued an intelligent and coherent political strategy very early on – there was a Karzai, who, despite his flaws, was a very useful figure who has done a lot to give a sense of purpose to Afghanistan.

It was just less complex – the populations are similar, 20-25 million - but eighty per cent of the population had never had any electricity at all. Clearly, if you give them a ten watt light bulb, they’re going to be overjoyed. The Iraqis were used to a far higher degree of provision of basic services, and therefore the expectations were far higher.

The Iraqis are also far more politicized. The political organisations in Iraq are far more coherent, and Iraq is a strategic environment which is far more heated in terms of the regional picture, than Afghanistan.

There was no army to demobilise, there was no major looting, there was no need to “de-Talebanise” the government, because there wasn’t a government. In the end, the series of errors made in Iraq were decisions that didn’t need to be taken in Afghanistan.

Jason Burke is the prize-winning Chief Reporter for the Observer. He has covered the Middle East and Southwest Asia for a decade. He is the author of two new books,On The Road To Kandahar and Al-Qaeda

Jason Burke: Afghanistan 'much easier than Iraq'

In an exclusive interview with Madrid11.net, the Observer's Jason Burke, author of the recently released book On The Road To Kandahar, speaks about the 'war on terror', radical Islam, and why he is optimistic about the situation in Afghanistan.

How do you think we are doing in the ‘war on terrorism’?

Burke: It’s difficult to give any kind of assessment – it depends on what the criteria are for winning and losing.

There’s a pessimistic way of looking at it – that if our aim is to be free from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism, or even to diminish that threat substantially, then we haven’t done particularly well. I don’t think the threat level is much lower or higher than it was four or five years ago, which is essentially a low level threat with a potentially high level destructive capacity.

There has been a significant increase in the radicalization, leading to the mobilization of people across Islamic countries. There’s no doubt that the current period is one of febrile political activity unrivalled since the early 70s perhaps.

However, there’s also a more positive view, and one that I’m increasingly coming around to, namely that we simply have not seen the massive broad uprising of the Islamic peoples that Bin Laden wanted to provoke with 9/11.

As it seems, and despite the fact there has been a fair amount of radicalisation, the vast majority of the 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide have remained largely impervious to Bin Laden’s and others’ call to arms.

In the places where someone like Bin Laden would hope to radicalize people, have you got a sense whether people are rejecting him?

Burke: There’s all kinds of cultural identity factors that are in play, and it’s difficult to discern what is pro-Bin Laden and what is anti-American, for example. Equally, it’s difficult to say what stems from a frustrated desire to be more Western and what stems from a powerful desire to reject the West.

In broader terms, there is a significant reaction against violence in countries which come to suffer from it. Saudi Arabia, despite all the various grievances that continue in the country, doesn’t produce, or at least foment, Islamic radicalism. In places like Jordan and Iraq, you’ve seen a strong backlash against violence.

I did a very interesting talk show recently about Iraq, Al-Qaeda, and the death of Zarqawi. It was very noticeable that all the calls we got from Iraq or from the core countries in the Middle East were anti-Zarqawi.

All the callers that said ‘he’s a hero, he will be replaced’, came from Tanzania, or London, or Luton or Malaysia. And I think it is probably true that those who are subjected to daily violence, to the reality of violence, react against it, while those who are able to distance themselves, and to see it in conceptual and symbolic terms, don’t react against it in the same way.

Are people tired of being pigeonholed into either supporting America or Saddam/Bin Laden?

Burke: That’s exactly what my latest book is about: that third voice, which gets drowned out. Ninety per cent of the Muslim population are moderate. They don’t like the Americans, and they don’t like the militants either.

When I was in Najaf, I was speaking to an old man in the middle of a destroyed city. His house had been destroyed around him by the Americans and the Mehdi army. He said, ‘I wish they’d both go away. They’re both strangers who came here to fight, I wish they’d just do it somewhere else’.

Unfortunately, this kind of view is very rarely heard or listened to.

Do you think this is a result of the polarizing language that is used in the 'war on terror'?

Burke: Yes, absolutely. ‘With us or against us’, for example, is not just what Bush has been saying, but also Bin Laden. Bin Laden said that it was ‘time for all Muslims to define themselves’, which is essentially ‘you’re with us or you’re against us’.

One of the great tragedies is that, as a result, taking a position that is pro-American has come to be seen as being synonymous with being a traitor to one’s culture and one’s identity.

That’s the result of the grotesque strategic errors that have been made in the ‘war on terror’– and those prosecuting it are beginning to become aware of that.

You have argued that the Western view of Islam is fundamentally flawed. What does radical Islam mean to you?

Burke: There is a real problem with vocabulary. We talk of ‘the Islamic world’ in a way that privileges one part of a person’s identity over all others. It is as ridiculous as saying the Christian world, or the old (age) world, or the women’s world – all these are components of the very complex structure that is any one person’s identity, which is a very dynamic and evolving entity.

Being Muslim is an element of an identity which is extremely diverse. There are people who see themselves as Muslims, and there are people who see Islam as a cultural heritage. In the case of Arab language speakers, it is often also viewed as a linguistic heritage, a historic heritage.

There are others who see Islam in purely religious terms. But when you start talking about it in religious terms, you then also have to distinguish between the different ways in which it manifests itself in the day to day business of living.

There are differences within ‘the Islamic world’ that are far greater that the differences between ‘the Islamic world’ and the rest. When I sat in a café in southern Thailand – the Muslim part of Thailand – I realized that your average Thai Muslim has far more in common with your average Thai Buddhist than he does with your average Saudi. For a start, they share a language.

Conversely, all over ‘the Islamic world’, wherever I’ve been, I’ve had conversations about football – conversations I would be entirely incapable of having in the United States.

Can you give us an assessment of the state of play in Afghanistan?

Burke: It’s a very complex situation. I’ve been going there for 10 years, and even given the current problems, it’s a far better place than it was under the Taleban. It now has the opportunities to progress towards stability and prosperity that it simply didn’t have in the year 2000, and I’m relatively confident that – eventually – we will see something more or less stable, if not prosperous.

Kabul itself has been transformed. I was very impressed by the amount of Afghan commercial activity. Much of the North and the West are stable – it’s not Sweden, but it’s not bad. The major warlords are not fighting each other any more. There is crime, but it’s not rampant. It’s extremely poor, and there’s a drug problem but – by and large – a belt from Jalalabad round to Herat in the north of the country, including Kabul, is ok.

Still, though, there are problems...

Burke: There are two major problems. The first is drugs, and the second is what’s happening in the south. Both are avoidable. The drugs issue is a very simple one. Opium is a great crop, people are poor. Anything else is completely superfluous. As the Afghans say, ‘it’s not our problem, it’s yours!’ And you can see where they’re coming from.

The South is a problem which is entirely self made. The Americans have made a hard job immeasurably harder through a series of strategic miscalculations that are based on a warped understanding of the threat and the situation.

The South was left for five years pretty much without security, any real military presence or development. And – surprise, surprise – the Taleban are back! To me, that isn’t rocket science – there was a vacuum that was left in the South, almost deliberately.

I was in Kandahar in 2003, and people were saying, explicitly, that they don’t really want the Taleban back, but that if they can offer security and some modicum of governance, then they will come back.

The recent British deployment is a a positive step then?

Burke: It’s great – but it’s four years too late. Plus, despite the fact that it has received a lot of attention back here, it’s five thousand men in a province with a million inhabitants and the size of England. If we’d been there four years ago, it would have been a lot different.

Why have Western forces managed to achieve such relative success in Afghanistan, and failed so badly in Iraq?

Burke: Afghanistan was easier, in many ways. You had a country that was desperately tired, that was totally worn out, that had nothing, and that didn’t like the Taleban at all. The Iraqis didn’t like Saddam either, but there was a significant minority who benefited substantially from his regime. That did not exist in Afghanistan.

I was surprised to see the depth of pro-coalition feeling when I got to Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001. They also pursued an intelligent and coherent political strategy very early on – there was a Karzai, who, despite his flaws, was a very useful figure who has done a lot to give a sense of purpose to Afghanistan.

It was just less complex – the populations are similar, 20-25 million - but eighty per cent of the population had never had any electricity at all. Clearly, if you give them a ten watt light bulb, they’re going to be overjoyed. The Iraqis were used to a far higher degree of provision of basic services, and therefore the expectations were far higher.

The Iraqis are also far more politicized. The political organisations in Iraq are far more coherent, and Iraq is a strategic environment which is far more heated in terms of the regional picture, than Afghanistan.

There was no army to demobilise, there was no major looting, there was no need to “de-Talebanise” the government, because there wasn’t a government. In the end, the series of errors made in Iraq were decisions that didn’t need to be taken in Afghanistan.

Jason Burke is the prize-winning Chief Reporter for the Observer. He has covered the Middle East and Southwest Asia for a decade. He is the author of two new books,On The Road To Kandahar and Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam

Questions by Jon Bright

Is Religion the Problem?

Most of the terrorist atrocities committed in recent years claim to be inspired by religion. Terrorists frequently refer to religious texts, and use holy scriptures as a justification for the killing of innocent civilians. Indeed, some believe that religion itself has become the problem, while others argue that it merely serves as an excuse. What’s your view?

Two prominent voices lead the debate, but you should have a say too! To post a comment, go straight to the end of the page...

Religion a Force for Good
Faisal Bodi

Faisal Bodi

Religion is not the fundamental problem. Look at the 20th century, and you will see that most civilian casualties were caused by secular conflicts: from the two World Wars to, more recently, the type of ethnic cleansing in places like Rwanda. Even the Balkan wars were triggered by the rather areligious desire of a dominant but repressive Serbian component of the former Yugoslavia to maintain control over its wantaway neighbours.

We have to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate violence. Religions such as Islam and Christianity contain a concept of the just war. They recognise that in extremis, violence is a necessary response. It's certainly true of places like occupied Palestine, Chechnya and Iraq.

That's not to say that all violence for which its proponents claim a religious sanction is such. Al-Qaeda may have good cause in trying to drive foreign forces from Muslim lands, but their methods cannot be called Islamic by any stretch of the imagination.

To the contrary, religion can be a unifying and pacific force. When practiced properly it impels adherents to fulfil their rights and responsibilities. On an ethical level, the major monotheistic religions have more commonalities than differences. We only hear about things that go bad, but most believers of different faiths coexist peacefully.

Faisal Bodi is a leading commentator on Muslim affairs. In 2003 he joined al-Jazeera as a news editor and features regularly as a columnist for the London Guardian newspaper.
Not the Problem, But Problematic
Mark Juergensmeyer

Mark Juergensmeyer

Religion is not the initial problem, but the fact that religion is the medium through which these issues are expressed is problematic. What is particularly problematic about religion is that it brings new aspects to conflicts that were otherwise not part of them. It provides personal rewards – religious merit, redemption, or the promise of heavenly luxuries – to those who struggle in conflicts that otherwise have only social benefits. Even more importantly, it provides justification for violence that challenges the state’s monopoly on morally sanctioned killing. Religion, indeed, is the only other entity that can give moral sanction for violence and is therefore inherently at least potentially revolutionary.

Much of the violence in contemporary life that is perceived as terrorism is directly related to the absolutism of conflict. The demonisation of enemies allows those who regard themselves as soldiers for God to kill with moral impunity. On the contrary, they feel that their acts will give them spiritual rewards. Religion, therefore, brings more to conflict than simply a repository of symbols and the aura of divine support. It problematises a conflict through its abiding absolutism, its justification for violence, and its ultimate images of warfare that demonise opponents and cast the conflict in trans-historic terms.

Mark Juergensmeyer is professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He is the author of Terror in the Mind of God (UC Press, 2003) and contributed to the recently published The Roots of Terrorism (Routledge, 2006).

The London Bombings: One Year On

In the twelve months since the July bombings, the threat from terrorism has not subsided. MI5 recently revealed that it currently considers 1200 UK residents to be dangerous and potentially violent. This number, it said, had increased by 300 per cent since the year 2003. Though the reliability of such numbers should not be overrated, the figure illustrates the scale of the problem and the urgency with which it should be confronted. After all, it must not be forgotten that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) which, until recent years, was viewed as the most potent terrorist threat to Britain, wasn’t believed to have more than 500 active members at any given time.

Paradise Now

A Review by Jane Kinninmont

paradise now

Paradise Now, the controversial Oscar-nominated film is an insightful and, at times, surprising portrait of two Palestinian suicide bombers. But does its political message go far enough, asks Jane Kinninmont.

Yes

Yes

What happens between the chef and the angry kitchen boy? Watch a special film clip from “Yes”, a film about a difficult love affair between an American woman and a Lebanese man. Written immediately after 9/11 and performed entirely in verse, it is the fifth feature film from one of Britain’s most acclaimed directors, Sally Potter.

Yes confronts some of the greatest conflicts of our generation – religious, political and sexual. Written in the days following the attacks in New York of 11 September 2001, director Sally Potter felt an urgent need to respond to the rapid demonisation of the Arab world in the west and to the parallel wave of hatred against America. As recent events in London remind us, these issues and questions continue to reverberate.

Click here to view a special clip from Yes. To do so you need QuickTime player. You can download the Quicktime player for free here.

For more information on Yes go to Sally Potter’s active blog on her site www.yesthemovie.com.

Yes is released in the UK on 5 August. Below, Sally describes the experience of making the film.

* * *

After the events of 11 September, I asked myself: what can a filmmaker do in such an atmosphere of hate and fear? What are the stories that need to be told?

Instinctively I turned to love, verse and humour. Love, because it is ultimately a stronger force than hate. Verse, because its deep rhythms and its long tradition (from medieval sonnets to Icelandic sagas to rap) enable ideas to be expressed in lyrical ways that might otherwise be indigestible, abstract or depersonalised. And humour, because in the face of such heavy global hysteria, the need for levity becomes stronger than ever. Whereas a documentary can explore the underlying historical and political issues, a work of fiction needs to venture into emotional terrain; the experiences we have in common, whatever our differences.

I began writing an argument between two lovers (one a Lebanese man, the other an Irish-American woman) at a point where their love affair has become an explosive war-zone, with the differences in their backgrounds starting to overshadow them as individuals.

My aim was to create two characters who are contradictory, complex and sympathetic, with both strengths and weaknesses. I wanted also to draw portraits that flow against the tide of cliché, particularly the stereotypes of the enemy “over there” and the potential “enemies within” – the exiles, immigrants and asylum-seekers living in the west. For this reason, also, the man’s religion is left deliberately ambiguous.

The argument between the two lovers came out onto the page, for the most part, in iambic pentameter (ten syllables per line). Perhaps my background as a lyricist made me write this way; as if the film was a song. Or perhaps it was an instinctive attempt to let the characters speak to each other on screen about things which are hard to express in normal conversation. Either way, I tried to find a form in which the characters could speak to each other from somewhere intimate and surprising in themselves.

In the screenplay the verse is like a river running through the film as we delve into the characters’ thought-streams and back out into their speech. The actors delivered the verse best, paradoxically, when they ignored it; when they spoke concentrating on the meaning, rather than the rhymes, as if the text was just a heightened form of ordinary speech. For this reason many viewers of the film don’t really notice its rhymes or its metre.

The war in Iraq began as we began rehearsals; with Joan Allen and Simon Abkarian heading a fine, committed cast. Lines from the script became more and more pertinent, as the characters’ journey accelerated. We all felt we were working on something urgently contemporary.

During the working process we discussed the usual details of design, light and lens, or character and costume. But we also talked passionately about the deeper themes of the film: the struggle to understand each other (east and west, Christian and Muslim); the desire to respect each other’s differences and to find a way of living side by side.

As world events overtook the story we had to cancel our shoot in Beirut (the war had made us uninsurable) and Joan Allen, an American citizen, could no longer work in Cuba (thanks to a new Bush administration decree). It took some fancy footwork to overcome these problems.

That the film was made at all is testimony to the ingenuity of the producers, and the dedication and generosity of the cast, crew, and facility houses who invested in the film with their unpaid labour or deferred fees to make it possible. It was truly a labour of love. Everyone wanted to contribute to a Yes in the face of the destruction and despair of war.

This article was originally published on Open Democracy.

>Open Democracy.

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Terrorism and Delusion

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Fred Halliday

An undeserved benefactor of 9/11 and all that has followed has been the "terrorism industry" – the group of experts from universities, government and policy institutes who combine entirely legitimate and necessary comment and analysis of events with the far more dubious claim of specialist understanding derived from the study of terrorism itself.

Terrorism and Delusion

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The Onion's Layer

The problem with this form of evaluation is that terrorism (unlike, say, oil prices or infant mortality) cannot be measured on the basis of statistics alone. Quantification has little role in evaluating the development, causes or resolution of terrorist attacks.

Terrorism and Delusion

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The Belly of the Beast

In order better to understand the current condition of terrorism, these events and trends need to be placed in a broader analytic framework. In the middle east and the Muslim world, three distinct processes are occurring:

  • the incidence of "transnational terrorism" (or transnational jihadism) – such as the attacks on New York, Madrid and London, as well as on Amman and Bali
  • militant actions by Islamist or other forces within their specific countries – such as Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Algeria
  • a transnational political process, the broader, authoritarian and socially repressive (but non-violent) spread of Islamism through political and electoral activity – in countries such as Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Egypt.

The first is very much a minority activity even for jihadis, let alone Islamists. In the second case, a number of formerly violent groups have sought in recent years some accommodation with politics and the state (Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt). The prospect of a major victory in the Moroccan legislative elections of 2007 by the Party for Justice and Development indicates that this trend is spreading westwards, with significant implications for the Moroccan community in France and Spain.

Iraq - Stay on or Get Out?

Three years after the invasion of Iraq, the promise of a democratic Middle East remains unfulfilled. Rather than becoming a beacon of peace, stability and good government, Iraq is on the brink of a civil war. Some argue that the continued presence of Western forces has made the situation worse, and that the best we can now do is to ‘get out’. Others believe that we need to stay, not least in order to prevent the country from breaking up.

Stay On

Patrick Clawson



We should base our strategy for the future on the realities about Iraq's situation, not on our anger about how we got into this tight spot. The insurgents are now mostly killing Iraqi civilians, putting the lie to the claim their objection is to the U.S. presence; they want to restore Sunni minority rule. The new Iraqi forces are slowly taking over more responsiblity for security operations. The police no longer abandon their posts, and the military has light infantry units which can operate well alongside U.S. units. But more has to be done: the police are too much influenced by local warlords, and the military officers are still learning how to operate on their own, plus there is no air force yet to back up infantry units which get into trouble. Over the next few years, U.S. forces can be drawn down. As they leave, Iraq will remain a weak and fragile society with at best an imperfect democracy, but at least the vicious jihadists will be thwarted.

Rebutting Bin Laden

This weekend saw the release of Osama bin Laden’s latest audio message. The content differed little from previous ones in which he highlighted recent political developments to ‘prove’ that the West was at war with Islam, and that Muslims across the world should rise in order to defend the ‘ummah’. He cited the election victory of Hamas and the consequent withholding of funds from the Palestinian Authority by Western donors as evidence of how the West is opposed to Muslims holding power. And he postulated that the prospect of a UN force stopping the genocide in Sudan is tantamount to another ‘crusade’ with the sole purpose of colonising the Muslim world.