OPINION

The West and Islam

There is no question that any initiative that promotes contact between different civilizations, any initiative that tries to promote mutual understanding between different religions and the elimination of extremism, is a step in the right direction. Similarly, the meeting between European foreign ministers and those of the Islamic Conference countries who are meeting for a two-day conference in Istanbul is worth praise. The fact that Turkey is trying to glean political gains from it does not change this fact. The threat is an actual and intense one. The September 11 terrorist attacks have left an indelible mark on international relations. The global equilibrium and parameters have changed. For their part, Al Qaeda terrorists have kept no secret of their intention to bring about a religious and cultural clash between the West and Islam. The terrorist blitz may have failed to do this, but it would be a grave mistake to underestimate its repercussions on the collective conscience of the Islamic masses. For hundreds of millions of Muslims, the United States of America is Satan, while Osama bin Laden is the hero. The mixture of mass poverty and the widespread belief that the USA is supporting Israel and, more generally, that it plans to humiliate Islam, fuels the most extreme anti-Americanism and the cause of blind retribution. Unfortunately, the government of George W. Bush has yet to recover from the shock caused by the disaster of September 11. Understandable as its indignation may be, being the administration of the sole superpower, it is largely responsible for ensuring global peace. It is obliged to approach the problem with sobriety and through the prism of long-term strategy. The Istanbul conference and other similar initiatives are, as we said, positive steps but they cannot break the vicious cycle of fanaticism and violence. In order to be effective, an anti-terrorism campaign should not be confined to military action and police investigation. It has to include political action aimed at the elimination of the causes which fuel Islamic fundamentalism. This is Washington’s great political challenge. Margaret Thatcher’s warlike tone and her rhetoric over aggressive ideologies (in her commentary in yesterday’s Herald Tribune) is the easy way. She may be telling the US administration things it wants to hear but it is actually doing a bad service to the Americans and international order. Such remarks deepen rather than bridge the existing gap and in this way play into the hands of Islamic terrorism. This is just the opposite of what we need. US President George W. Bush said this month Iraq helped make up an «axis of evil» with Iran and North Korea that threatens US interests.