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Ending violence means urging dialogue

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“Terror” -whatever that means – is a word I don’t use because I don’t think it’s necessarily helpful to understanding what we’re dealing with. I prefer to use such words as political insurgency - an incipient political insurgency - because an insurgency is basically about psychology and politics and that’s what we have been trying to understand, and that’s what we have to deal with.

But there are two things that are very important to understand. One is that in dealing with the situation we have now, the West often muddles together things that are so completely different. They group Hamas and Hizb Allah and put them in the same box and say all of this is “Islamist terrorism.” These groups couldn’t be more poles apart. The other thing is we often talk about anger and hostility, but there is also a feeling in the West that it is just anger and hostility to the West and that, if only things settle down in Iraq and if Muslims are more educated and get a little bit more money, it will all go away and things will become stable again.

I think that is to miss the point. There is anger, and there is this hostility, but there is also beneath that a substantive critique of Western policies, of Western economic structures, of our financial system, of our trade policy, of our development policy, of our foreign policies and also an alternative view of how a society should be. In other words, the challenge that they are not necessarily universal values. So I think we should just not regard this as a froth of anger that will be dissipated, if only a little more money and investment is poured into the [affected places]. I think the anger may diminish, but there beneath this, a substantive and real critique needs to be addressed by the West and not denied by them.

Muslims everywhere - and the polls underline this very clearly - reflect the same values: They do not hate our values, but they do hate our policies. Polls show very clearly that Muslims support elections, they want popular participation in government. They want effective and good governance and they want reform. And these are the same values as European and American societies. Muslim values expressed in the polls represent no threat to our [Western] societies. Perhaps they will look for a society that is underpinned with ethical values not only in a personal sphere but in an institutional sphere, and in a sphere of governance in order to avoid what they see as some of the weaknesses of a secular liberal democracy. But that is not a challenge or an existential threat to our societies.

We need to find the most effective way to break a cycle of violence and we need to address it in a number of ways. Every society has to protect its citizens, that is the duty of a government. But it is also important to look at it more widely and to understand possibly that by labelling groups like Hamas and Hizb Allah and others that clearly are wanting to participate ... to try to deny them political space, to isolate and demonize them and disempower their discourse is the wrong way to go about it.

What I think we see is a division in views amongst these groups. I think we have on the one hand groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hizb Allah who are trying to build a Muslim society, and to get a stake in society and in power, by working through the electoral process, by trying to work or to try to contrive the reforms that will allow them, if you like, from the bottom up, popular Islamism. You see that very clearly taking place in Egypt, where there is a process of drawing on a popular desire to see elections, changes and reforms - and trying to mobilise that popular support in order to get a stake in power, whereby they can bring about the changes that conform with what their constituencies are looking to.

On the other hand, I think there is a different trend which sees the project of decolonisation after the last European war as incomplete and having failed. Amongst some of this trend, you get the sense that you have to break the system in order to make the system; you’ve actually got to bring down the structures in order to start again. It’s a challenge between those who believe you can work through the system to bring change and those who believe you’ve got to break it and start from the beginning. But accommodation ultimately will fail because the West won’t allow groups like Hamas, Hizb Allah and others to participate fully in the electoral process. So they are looking to another way of doing that, in which they are challenging, if you like, completing the process of decolonisation. They believe you have to pull the structure down and start again.

This is the dilemma we are facing. I think what we saw in Egypt is both trends taking place at the same time. On the one hand, you have the Muslim Brotherhood and the other groups working politically, challenging for power through the electoral process, and we see the bombs that took place in Sharm al-Shaikh - we don’t yet know the full motivation - which may represent the other trend, which says, you’ve got to collapse the system before you can really rebuild a fair and just society.

And I think there is a big difference between the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hizb Allah, and al-Qaida or al-Qaida related-groups, that are more global in their actions. The former may be seen on the one hand through the optic of using resistance or violence, in support of their objectives, but these groups all favour elections, they look for reform, they’re looking for constitutional change in their society. That is an important difference between these groups and some of the other Salafi, Takfiri, extreme radical groups who are looking for polarisation.

As for groups that use suicide bombings, I don’t want to imply that that is a condoning of these tactics, but what we are looking at is [a need to talk] to those groups that have sometimes used political violence, but these are groups that should also be seen, on the other hand, [as groups] who do support elections, who do support positive reform and change, and who reflect significant Muslim constituencies. They have a real legitimacy. They clearly have many people who support their activities and vote for them and express their support. So they do have a real legitimacy, which the West must not sweep under the carpet and pretend it’s not there.

With the other groups [such as al-Qaida], there is no indication of whether they have a clear legitimacy. Maybe some arguments that they make have some resonance, perhaps or not within the whole of Muslim societies, but some sectors of it. There’s no formal way of judging the degree to which there is legitimacy for their views, as opposed to some ephemeral resonance that some arguments have within Muslim society, so there is a big difference, I believe. The other difference is, if they’re looking for polarisation and radicalisation, then I’ll doubt if they want to talk to anyone.

Compiled from Mr. Alastair Crooke’s interview with Humayun Chaudhry of Aljazeera.net published on August 8. 2005.

Alastair Crooke is a former official with Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency who has spent many years in the Arab and Muslim world and engaged in dialogue with Hamas and Hizb Allah, as well as facing paramilitary forces and drug cartels in Latin America and militias in Africa. Now retired and leading his own non-profit organisation, Conflicts Forum, Mr. Crooke hopes to foster a broader dialogue between the Muslim world and the West.

[Aljazeera] Interview: Fostering Muslim-West dialogue [August 8. 2005]

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