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It would be easy—too easy perhaps—just to question the motives of Avaaz.org and on that basis dismiss their presentation/petition drive entitled: "Stop the Clash of Civilizations” (see avaaz.org/en/stop_the_clash) That is due to the incongruity of an organization which proclaims its purpose as “taking action for a more just and peaceful world and a vision of globalization with a human face,” and yet has dedicated inordinate attention and a rather childish (see avaaz.org/en/videosads.php) YouTube video, to getting World Bank Chairman Paul Wolfowitz to resign. Their other major campaign has been to place billboards in Jerusalem promising "travel deals” to Syria and Saudi Arabia preconditioned on “real peace talks.” While we know how much Israelis love to save money and how truly enticing “celebrat[ing] Shavuot in Syria” must be for “just $390* price for one room, double bed - depends on negotiating the Saudi Initiative,” this proposition is as unrealistic and offensive as asking Palestinians to forgo their history, concerns and demands in exchange for increased job opportunities.

The presentation itself, which has attracted over 100,000 signatories, is a perfect example of fatuous moral relativism. It seeks to reduce complex realities merely to a matter of “perception” and is, therefore, apologizing for the most reactionary, oppressive and terrorist movements within Islam. Despite the confusion of “friend/enemy” and “liberated/exploited,” the fact remains that when Islamists declare war on everyone—Christians, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, secularists and fellow Muslims—recognition of their self-definition as an enemy and not a friend is a purely objective conclusion. How can anyone not call them what they are? What they call themselves? It need not (although it should) involve a values judgment, but it does require listening to what these people are actually saying. This is a perennial failing of the Western academe and media, who much prefer the convenient reassurance of mischaracterization and self-imposed ignorance. This is best summed up with the phrase: “they can’t possibly mean that, what they are really saying is…” even when, for example, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri’s broadcasts (see video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7664209432789370243&hl=en) come complete with scrolling English translation provided courtesy of al-Qaida's media unit, as-Sahab, thus leaving no room for doubt as to the true, unobstructed or manipulated meanings of his words.

As a case in point, prior to his "brave" resistance, that is, escape under cover of burka, Pakistani cleric Maulana Abdulaziz of the Lal Masjid or Red Mosque gave a candid interview to Asharq al-Awsat. In it he stated that “dialogue” is not about compromise, but in what ways the Pakistani government will implement his definition of Shariaa; that women have an equal right and responsibility as men “to be ready for jihad… know[ing] how to use automatic weapons” and being able to “use chemical weapons”; and that his followers are prepared to use any and all means to affect “a quick change in society” since past revolutions have also been “characterized by violence.” Judging by these responses are we then to say he is a “moderate” because of his dedication to negotiations, feminism and ideally, the non-violent capitulation to his every wish and whim?

The main theme remains in the abstract valid: this is not a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam; it is a clash between the West and Muslims (civilization) against Islamism (barbarism). Blurring that distinction is disingenuous and has dangerous implications. For instance, Islamists or as they refer to themselves, jihadis, do not speak for all Muslims, but this presentation by equating Usama bin Ladin with President Bush makes them the de facto “leaders.” It also exculpates their crimes by juxtaposing 9/11 with Coalition bombing in Iraq and retroactively justifies the Madrid Bombings due to the Spanish government’s “lies.”

Among the best parts, though, are the “facts.” It is indisputable that “65% of Egyptians want democracy” but this should nevertheless be rejected by serious individuals, because the Ikhwan or Muslim Brotherhood, whom they overwhelmingly would vote for, is far from democratic. That is, unless we are to accept President Bush's ridiculous definition of democracy in toto as free elections. (Admittedly, the picture shown is of a Kifaya rally, but a coalition of short-sighted liberals, leftists, nationalists and opportunistic Islamists is hardly any better than Islamists alone and will eventually produce the same results anyway). Another “fact” is the curious listing of “Egypt, Lebanon and Indonesia” as places where Muslims are demanding change. Again while unquestionably true—although, Syria’s designs on Lebanon are not motivated by Islamism—the presentation neglects to mention that change in these cases is not necessarily for the better; as these governments are all allied with the West against Islamism, and those demanding “change” loudest are jihadis doing so with terror as well as the ballot box. It was surprising that Avaaz did not see fit to include Pakistan where this is likewise the current state of affairs.

At the presentation’s core is, however, a pernicious falsehood: that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the primary “root cause” of all evil. This has never been the case and certainly isn’t now. In the Islamists own words al-Aqsa ranks beneath the “liberation” of Arabia and Iraq in priority as articulated in the World Islamic Front Statement Urging Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders” of 23 February 1998, which bore the signatures of bin Ladin, Zawahiri and three others. In recent years, Hamas has made it painfully clear to those who will listen that their goal is not an independent Palestinian State - far from it; they can only conceive of Palestine as part of a Middle Eastern and then global caliphate. It has pointedly and not without some justice been said‎ that the Hamas takeover of Gaza is symbolic of “the end of Palestine, the bitter end.”

By recognizing that Islamists are our common enemy (again, taking them at their word and deed), we can stand in solidarity with moderate and reformist Muslims who have always been on the front lines against these forces and who increasingly find their position untenable. In a review of Dr. Sari Nusseibeh’s Once Upon a Country, Leon Wieseltier captures the moderates’ predicament, of which Nussibeh can be taken as representative. He is at once threatened by Islamists for his outspokenness in favor of reconciliation with the West and dismissed by Westerners so detached from reality that they embrace the very Islamists seeking his, and ultimately their own, destruction. They are frightened by the terms and clarity with which he writes as Nusseibeh has nothing but:

contempt for Hamas… It is ‘a political-religious movement systematically throwing shackles on the mind.’ He deplores ‘the cult of violence, the myth of the martyr and the delusions of actually ‘punishing’ the Israelis.’ He insists that the Hamas charter ‘sounds as if it came straight from the pages of Der Stürmer.’ These sterling opinions are proof not only of Nusseibeh’s extraordinary intelligence, but also of his extraordinary courage. And while he imperils himself with his attempts to persuade his brethren to accept a two-state solution and to reject Hamas, the fearless progressives at The New York Review of Books promote a one-state solution and dare to wonder whether the ascendancy of Hamas is ‘the last chance for peace.’

There are growing numbers of courageous individuals like him from
Irshad Manji
to the tortured Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury to the imprisoned Egyptian blogger Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman. Unfortunately, they often have to spend as much time fighting their enemies as those who should be taken for granted as friends. Instead, “friends” like Avaaz dedicate themselves with peculiar regularity to denouncing only one side in this conflict, the West, giving the lie to where they actually stand. Their counterpoint is an organization like Terrorism Has No Religion, which is hopefully doing some good by way of advertising in the region on a mission: “to expose the fallacy of the distorted and politicized Islamic teachings used by ungodly extremists to sanctify and justify terrorism.” There is no equivocation or rationalization there, and presumably no subjectivity either.

Jason Guberman-Pfeffer

Sacred Heart University

Jason Guberman-Pfeffer is in his third year in the Thomas More Honors Program at Sacred Heart University (Fairfield, CT.). He is majoring in political science in the Department of Government and Politics and pursuing minors in Middle East Studies and History. Jason is currently a 2007-2008 Intercollegiate Studies Institute Honors Fellow and a Civil Rights Fellow for HAMSA (The Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance). He can be reached at jasondgp(at)gmail.com

Original content is Copyright by the author 2007. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000409.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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I am not sure that Sari Nusseibeh’s bona fides as a moderate are all that impressive. Testimonials to the infamous Um Nidal aside, Ephriam Karsh had quite a bit to say about his encounters with Nusseeibeh, described in an Op-Ed Karsh wrote not too long ago in the NY Sun: A Palestinian Two Step: http://www.nysun.com/article/53631

Lynne T, Monday, August 27th

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