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An Extremely Long War! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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It would not have been easy for Barack Obama to reach Seoul, where the G20 Summit was held, without passing through Indonesia and delivering his latest speech directed to the Muslim world. [This is because] the US President emerged bruised from the recent midterm congressional elections with two options in front of him; he could either stick to his original election manifesto in the hope that this program starts to bear fruit over the next two years prior to the next presidential election, or he could introduce a new program, with new staff, allowing him to engineer a new beginning with the American public, perhaps giving him another chance and anther four years in the White House.

After assessing his options, it seems that our friend opted for the first choice. This was either because he strongly believes in this [his electoral manifesto] or because there is no other serious alternative that will give him an advantage over the Republicans who have become increasingly extreme after the “Tea Party” movement harnessed national anger, which may have been a factor in the Republican’s failure [to win the midterm elections as strongly as they were initially forecast to]. However who knows, perhaps the American public has changed completely and is now ready to give them a chance in the White House.

Obama’s speech in Indonesia represented a return to the original program. A large part of Obama’s troubles have come from his inability to achieve a result in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both cases, Iran – the designated enemy – has achieved several strategic advantages. However, the US President knows full well that this problem goes beyond these two wars and extends to other areas, and this can be seen in the recent terrorist activity in Nigeria and Yemen. Who knows what will happen in Sudan after Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have all become factories producing terrorists.

Obama’s speech in Indonesia was not that different from his earlier Cairo speech. Perhaps the only clear difference was that he did not give an accurate account of what has happened in the period of time between the two speeches. All he has discovered in that period is that the reality is much more complex than he expected, and that creating an understanding between the Western and Islamic worlds will take a long time. Obama made no secret of the fact that there is no war between the West and Islam as a great religion, but rather that this is a war against those who distort Islam and promote intolerance and extremism.

This may be true, but he declined to talk about what is going in terms of deviance and intolerance within the West itself. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union, Francis Fukuyama proclaimed “The End of History.” Although this view was not held by one philosopher [Samuel Huntington], it was an extremely popular one, with the rest of the world wondering whether they would even have a role in the next era of history. In general, the 1990s were characterized by an alarming state of Western hegemony as a result of globalization and development. Even when wars in Bosnia and Kosovo broke out, along with the Asian economic crisis; these were considered to be nothing more than minor obstacles standing in the way of the West’s triumphant march.

However, a historical dilemma soon became the reality, not only when believers became disillusioned with the progress led by the Western world, but also because skeptics quickly began to search for another enemy, this time under the name of the “Green Peril” replacing the vanquished “Red Menace.” Whilst Samuel Huntington, in his book “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”, speaks of eight rival cultures, however the implicit meaning of this (which is concluded explicitly in the book) is that this is a conflict between the Western and Islamic worlds and that this conflict cannot be divorced from its religious symbols and historical significance.

The terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 served as a trigger to bring to the surface what had for so long remained implicit and over nearly a decade a new form of warfare has crystallized, as is the case in all world wars. The West was convinced that it was witnessing a sweeping attack on Western values, whilst the Muslims believed that globalization, westernization, and Americanization were all names that meant the same thing; that Muslims would suffer in the same manner that they did under the Crusades, colonialism, imperialism, and Zionism. As soon as each crisis was confronted, a new one emerged. One example was the Danish cartoon crisis, which quickly led to attacks on embassies and a boycott of Danish goods. With such incidents, opinion has been divided between respect for religions and freedom of expression. The same thing occurred when France banned veiled students from attending its schools, and a pastor of a small American church made the whole world sit up and take notice after he insisted on calling for a Quran burning. The streets of New York were close to seeing pitched street battles after Muslims proposed the idea of building a mosque close to Ground Zero, whilst in Baghdad Al Qaeda terrorists murdered worshippers in a Roman Catholic Church, demanding the release of two women they claim were being held captive in Egyptian Coptic churches.

As is the case with all global wars, there is a division between those who want the conflict to escalate to the stage of armed confrontation, and those who advocate a form of understanding, stressing that relations cannot be limited to disputes, whilst common interests are ignored. This time, the conflict is no longer just between confrontation and understanding, because there is now a sharp ideological division within each party [the West and the Muslim world]. In the Muslim world, victims of terrorist acts far outweigh the casualties who have died as a result of the war with America and its western allies. Numerous studies show that with regards to the casualties of wars and terrorist attacks [in the Middle East], 95 percent have died at the hands of Muslims. In the West, as a result not only of restrictions on economic globalization, but because of the global economic crisis itself, there is now an unprecedented state of ideological, intellectual, and political polarization between liberals and conservatives.

This conflict is not close to ending, no matter how eloquent Obama’s speeches are, because historical facts outweigh political statements. The global economic crisis could have brought everybody closer, but Obama’s problems run deeper than the failure to eliminate Osama Bin Laden. There are major issues fanning the flames, at the forefront of which is the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue. Obama knows full well that a significant failure [in this issue] will not grant him the attentive [Muslim] audience who greeted him in Cairo, and who were absent in Jakarta. In Egypt, there was a sense that Obama was presenting a new western ideology, but that was not the case in Jakarta. The key to success lies in the confrontation with Israel.

Abdel Monem Said

Abdel Monem Said

Abdel Monem Said is the director of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

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