Fischer proposes an ‘Islamic way’ in the struggle for the Mideast’s transition to the modern world

Where can the de-escalation of local conflicts begin? First of all in the Middle East. The crisis there is not only the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but the overall instability and friction points in a number of states, most of which were set up only recently. However, the Arab-Israeli conflict is the question here. We are fortunate that the model for the existence of two states, Israel and Palestine, which will coexist peacefully, is acceptable to the majority of the Arab world, as was apparent in the recent Saudi initiative which also gave silent approval to a proposal for a gradual renewal and modernization. What role will Iraq play in this strategy? An important one. Saddam Hussein is a dangerous man. However, the policy of isolation has been effective. Saddam has to allow the return of the UN inspectors to his country. The major question, however, is whether a war with Iraq would be the most appropriate way to introduce a new order in the Middle East from the outside, or whether it would be better to achieve a peaceful settlement between Israelis and Palestinians as a way of solving other problems. Such a move would create stability in the area without the risk of future destabilization. It would also create conditions for mutual support. As far as I am concerned, the criterion is: No instability in the region, no exclusively foreign intervention which has neo-colonialism implications. But aren’t we further than ever from such a peace? No. The core situation is still difficult, but we have moved ahead, as the Saudi initiative showed. If the initiative had existed prior to the Camp David talks two years ago, they would not have failed. We would now be starting on quite a different basis, even on the question of Iraq. The tragedy is that problems in adjusting to the modern age are creating feelings of inferiority, connected to a continually mounting economic pressure and exacerbated by an enormous population growth. If someone really wants to remove these feelings, which can turn into hate, then there has to be an «Islamic way» of making the transition to the modern age. An editorial in a Pakistani newspaper said that today’s jihad was not in hijacking planes but in making them. Would an attack on Iraq destroy these efforts? I have not yet heard an answer to the most important question, which is whether the analyses of the dangers justify our taking a much greater risk, assuming responsibility for peace and stability in the region for years, even decades, by means of an attack from the outside. If there is no support at a local level, the risks increase with geometrical precision. The US has the capability – irrespective of the question of international legality – to act alone. No one can stop it from removing Saddam Hussein from power. However, then there are questions such as those that stopped the current president’s father from moving into Baghdad, or what would become of the alliance, and above all, what is to follow? To date, the only thing I have heard on this is «a very powerful question.» That is no answer. In practice it means that we accept a new order in the Middle East – but a hostile and uncooperative one – without the support of moderate neighboring states. Would this solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Would it be acceptable to the Arabs? Does the majority in the US want to keep dealing with the issue? US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would say that he had heard this kind of skepticism before the invasion of Afghanistan. Not from me. I was of the opinion we should go in. I am not a dove, but a realist. What is the alternative to Saddam? There is no proof that Saddam and Al Qaeda are connected. Saddam is not an Islamist. He is a terrible dictator, but his spiritual roots are in the Baath party, a nationalist Arab movement… If we are to deal with this issue, we would need to have a different kind of threat, which I do not see. Saddam is a danger which we have so far been able to handle… The network which sent its members to train in Afghanistan can be isolated, according to reports from secret services. It is beginning to fray at the edges; this is in the nature of every network. However, Al Qaeda and Bin Laden are at its center. The geographical region over which this crisis has developed stretches from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. We Europeans are immediate neighbors. It is a question of our own security. After the attack, some voices were raised claiming that whoever tried to seek the reasons for such an abhorrent act was basically trying to justify those who committed it.