Mad Mayhem

Mad Mayhem

A car bomb killed 91 in Pakistan while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits. A bomb in Baghdad killed 155 fueling Sunni-Shiite tensions. A bomb in Kabul targeting UN staff killed 12 people. All these and more were reported in one day (The Jakarta Post 29.10.09).

Now Palestinian President Abbas is telling Clinton there will be no talks unless the Israelis stop expansion of settlements. He´s had enough of being the salami in a sandwich and will quit without tangible concessions.

Despite this sad saga of backing losers Israel, Egypt and the West continue to boycott the elected Hamas government in Gaza whilst backing Abbas and the nominated West Bank government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel “is the homeland of any Jew….the Palestine refugee problem should be resolved outside Israel´s borders. Jews comes here and Palestinians will go there.” (Newsweek 02.11.09).

So Israel continues the blockade of Gaza, expands the “natural growth” of settlements and tightens its grip on annexed Arab East Jerusalem.

Then Netanyahu, with reportedly 200 atom bombs in his basement puts up a wailing wall of woe to the world about Iran when its nowhere near finishing one bomb, and is negotiating to sending uranium abroad for enrichment.

Netanyahu tries to justify his intransigence on peace talks by arguing Iran comes first. “Free and open societies are menaced by a dark radicalism that is that is seeking to arm itself and its proxies with nuclear weapons.”

The theory of nuclear deterrence apparently does not apply to Iran, potentially justifying a pre-emptive strike, since the Iranians are thought mad enough to launch a handful of bombs against Israel one day, knowing the reply could be ten times greater! But this is not about nuclear deterrence. This is about power, and accepting that others can have it too.

Hamas keeps offering a long term truce in return for ending the blockade and economic cooperation, and reportedly offers a formulae whereby they would eventually accept a Palestinian peace deal with Israel, even if they did not negotiate it, so long as a Palestinian referendum accepted it first.

So when the Israelis say they don’t want a comprehensive solution but prefer to wait, its ok. When Hamas says the same thing this is ignored by the West, on the pretence of enforcing preconditions to prevent terrorism which are really to shore-up fading Western and Israeli political power.

The rise of political Islam is part of Muslim modernization and the West has no alternative but to reach a compromise with it, starting with Hamas in Palestine and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The longer this is delayed the stronger the conservative side of the movement will become.

Similar strategies will eventually have to work, adapted throughout the Arab and Muslim world, but with emphasis on a massive program of support for Muslim modernization rather than reliance on a strategy of pro-Western militarization, which undermines the governments undertaking it.

The key is to engage Islamists who will fight for Islamic positions within democracy rather than seeking to impose Islamic dictatorship. (See Hadeel Al-Shalachi, AP, Jakarta Post 31.10.09). But to do this political Islam has to be accepted as a legitimate political actor as in Turkey, Indonesia or Malaysia.

Hard line ideology cannot be defeated and eliminated, it has to be adapted, and its protagonists allowed to retain Islamic identity politics within democratic frameworks, alongside support for moderate and secular parties and flexible compromises between state power and religion.

There needs to be a wiser separation of religion and state in Muslim countries before it is too late, offering, for example, wider opportunities for voluntary adoption of shariah law on family and property rights alongside state courts, but with modern religious education and contextualization of religious teachings.

A blindfolded man in a pub trying to pin a tail on a donkey would have a better chance than Western leaders who are failing to cope with the wind of change in the Arab and Muslim world. If they carry on like this their Palestine strategy will collapse in ruins and they will lose Egypt, as well as Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan in turmoil for many years.

Terry Lacey is a development economist who writes from Jakarta on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking.