In his inauguration speech, US President Barack Obama extended his hand to the Islamic world and greeted it. He spent his first day in the White House making historical decisions; the most important of which was the decision to shut down the US prison at Guantanamo Bay and the network of American CIA ghost prisons.
Obama called Middle East leaders and spoke to them about the issues that concern the Arab and Islamic world, demonstrating his determination to keep an eye on these issues from day one of his presidency. Moreover, Washington’s special envoys were appointed for the Middle East and for Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Obama’s decisions and speeches, which express good intention towards our region, received diverse responses. The oddest response came from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya who called for Washington to review its approach towards Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and to give him a chance to reform. Gaddafi also called for engaging in a dialogue with Bin Laden to understand his motives.
The Jamaat Islamiya group also made a suggestion, for Al Qaeda however and not Washington. It called for the Al Qaeda organization to announce a four-month truce with the West and to give Obama a chance in order to verify the new US president’s fair stances.
It is strange that Jamaat Islamiya in Egypt asked Al Qaeda not to turn Obama into another George W. Bush! Does this mean that we have recognized Al Qaeda? Does Jamaat Islamiya’s request mean that if Obama does not act in a way that satisfies Al Qaeda then the terrorist organization can do what it wants?
With regards to dialogue with Al Qaeda, who would be authorized to represent the terrorist organization? What I fear most is that one of the states yearning for a regional or international role would come out and call for a reconciliation conference with Al Qaeda to be held on its territory!
What is frustrating about this proposal is that it shows that we have not yet fully understood the danger of Al Qaeda’s ideology and the essence of its goals despite all the crimes that the terrorist organization has committed not only in West but also in our Arab states over the past eight years.
The biggest mistake that we are making is to believe that a mere change of heart from an Al Qaeda member means that we have weakened the organization. Let us say for the sake of argument that Osama Bin Laden came out and said that he regretted everything that he has done to mankind and the Islamic religion (and this is very unlikely), would this mean the end of Al Qaeda? Of course not. Just as the saying goes, the stream will find its way no matter what. Someone will emerge who will outbid the Al Qaeda leader and declare that Bin Laden no longer represents them. They will surpass him with ease and will seek to eliminate him as well.
The danger of Al Qaeda does not lie in its members but in its ideology. Calling for a dialogue with Al Qaeda alone is evidence of the extent of our shortsightedness and our failure to understand what is more of a threat to us than to the West. What we need is to tackle the threat posed by Al Qaeda’s ideology rather than Al Qaeda members.
What we need is to direct all our energy towards eliminating this ideology and to fight ideology with ideology. We must not show it any tolerance let alone hint at giving it another chance to exist; this would mean that we are giving such extremist thinking legitimacy and the opportunity to exist once again.
Interaction with Washington and Obama is important, especially with regards to what concerns us. But if our reactions are going to resemble those that are mentioned above, then this will be frustrating, not for Washington, but for us, the people of the region who are hoping for a better future.