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The 11th of September Returns | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Are we not bored yet with 11 September? It seems to me that this year we are observing a listless anniversary. I have not yet felt that the French press, for instance, is preparing to observe this anniversary. This is evidence that the most momentous events lose their glamour with time. This apparent quiet does not mean that 11 September is over. In fact, its repercussions are continuing to this day as it influences the foreign policy of the entire West. No doubt, it is the event that inaugurated the advent of the 21st century and we will continue to live under its nightmarish repercussions for a long time to come.

My evidence to the fact that the 11 September events continue to influence the West’s foreign policy is that the issue of Islam is still the topic of the hour. Publications on Islamic fundamentalism in the various languages of the West continue to occupy the front rows and continue to enjoy attention and record sales figures. Yes, indeed: Fundamentalism has replaced communism in the interest of the West. If communism preoccupied the West for 50 years during the Cold War, fundamentalism may keep it occupied for the same period if not longer. All the western leaders admit this point, including the moderates that do not conceal hostility in advance toward the Arabs or Islam. For example, I recall the words of Hubert Vedrine, the former French foreign minister. In a recent statement to Nouvel Observateur, this respected man said: “Whatever our opinion on Samuel Huntington’s theory in Clash of Civilizations is, it is obvious that it is partly true. It is obvious that there is a problem between the West and Islam that is bigger than any problem between the West and another civilization, such as China or India or Russia. We should take this seriously, but not the way the neo-conservatives are treating it but through fraternal dialogue and extension of bridges so that things do not get worse and the gap expands between us and the Arab and Muslim world.

Other western thinkers and philosophers tend to believe the same thing. They say that Islam is going through its own identity crisis before it is reformed from within. This is an acute crisis that may take long. It is similar to what happened in western Christianity about one and a half or two centuries ago. Thus, we should understand these circumstances instead of making them more complex by defaming Islam or by wrong offensive and hostile policies. Philosopher Paul Ricoeur said before dying in 2005: I am confident that Islam will emerge from its destructive crisis and will someday find the path to enlightenment, tolerance, and recognition of other faiths and beliefs. We, Christians, fought against the modern world for long before reconciling with it and reaching a rational explanation to our religion and heritage. Hans Kung, the renowned theologian, says the same thing. Shouting in the face of western politicians and journalists, he says: “Stop frightening us with Islam with and without occasion. Reduce your focus on Islam. Islam is not a monster that is attacking you to devour you. What sort of nonsense or rather what sort of hallucination is this? You accuse Islam of every problem as if it is to blame for all the problems of the world. This is not true; it is an exaggeration. There are also fanatics among Jewish fundamentalists, Christian fundamentalists, and fundamentalists from other faiths. Give Islam enough time to solve its problem by itself. Give it time to find a reasonable way to reconcile its long and broad heritage with scientific, political, and philosophical modernity. This is a long story; it is a big issue that needs time and is not solved overnight.

The above remarks tell us that the wise and rational men of the West understand the difficult circumstances through which the Arab-Muslim world is passing and they use a responsible language when they talk about it. You note that the tone of their remarks indicates a genuine desire to establish contacts with this world and help it take the right road leading to salvation. Thus, the West is not one blind, dumb, and mute mass, contrary to what the pseudo-patriotic fundamentalist demagogues controlling the street are trying to make us believe. But the problem lies with the hostile radical rightist current in the West that gloats when it sees our Muslim world floundering in its problems and preoccupying the world with its bombings. In fact, I bet that this current wishes that Al-Qaeda would carry out huge bombings every day so that this black image of everything that is Arab or Muslim would become entrenched in the minds of the western nations. Here lies the big fear. Those with good intentions on both sides find themselves besieged by extremism and counter-extremism. Let the West deter and protect us from its vulgar elements so we would deter and protect it from our vulgar elements. The West too has its radicals, fanatics, and hate-filled people. No doubt President Obama has done a lot in this direction and he is to be thanked. He used a new language and a new political philosophy with a humane character opposite to the one adopted by the neo- conservatives. Finally, if anything useful came out from 11 September, it is the fact that it will force everyone to self-assess and sweep the dust in front of their own homes. At least, this is what we hope for and look forward to.