Opening dialogue between the West and Islam
Sohail Mahmood details the next steps that should be taken in order to create peace and stability in the Middle East, placing special emphasis on dialogue between the Western and Islamic worlds, and the power of every individual to make a difference.
THE PEOPLE OF THE MUSLIM WORLD, and their friends in other places, have been appalled by the turn of events in the Middle East. After decades of turmoil, peace and stability remain a distant dream. The question, therefore, is what should be done?
One first step would be the realization in the West that the US led interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were wrong. Continued warfare will spell disaster for the region. Therefore, the US and NATO must start to plan a reasonable exit strategy. The Western world must realize that radicalism in the Islamic world cannot be defeated from without, but it can be contained from within.
After this first step has been taken, there are several actions that must be put into place simultaneously to defuse the complex situation. Most important would be the opening of meaningful dialogue between the Western and Islamic civilizations. My recommendations for the next steps that must be taken for peace in the Middle East and West Asia are the following:
NEXT STEPS FOR PEACE
1. An international conference must be called to discuss the issue of terrorism under the facade of Islam.
2. A detailed and workable strategy to combat terrorism must be drawn up, putting the emphasis on the long-term, rather than the short-sighted quick fixes of the US-led War on Terror.
3. The moderate political forces/movements throughout the Middle East should communicate and begin to coordinate their actions.
4. The US should open dialogue with Iran, as it did with Syria.
5. An international conference should be held in regional location, say Istanbul, to discuss the situation in Iraq after US withdrawal. A regional peacekeeping force should be organized and led by the Arab League or OIC.
6. The same should be done for Afghanistan: the West should pull out its forces, and a similar regional peacekeeping force should move in.
7. Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, and Bangladesh should take the lead in providing troops to stabilize both countries after the Western forces leave.
8. The rich countries of the Gulf (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, etc) should provide funding for these missions alongside the US, EU, and Japan.
9. The Arab League and OIC should be strengthened in order to provide good governance and technical assistance to Afghanistan and Iraq immediately.
10. Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories of Palestine, and allow them their independence. There certainly can be no peace without a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The radical forces in the Muslim world can only be thwarted politically if the Palestinian issue is given a just solution.
11. A grand coalition of great powers (EU, US, China, India, Russia) and Islamic world leadership should work together to stabilize both countries.
12. A grand coalition of Islamic moderates should also be organized to defeat extremism from within the Islamic body politic.
CROSS CULTURAL DIALOGUE
Yet, above all of these recommendations, dialogue between the West and Islam is the most important. The Western powers must open up dialogue with the Muslim countries based upon mutual respect, equality, and understanding. Only then can the misperceptions that have guided the West’s foreign policy be altered with more productive approaches to peace. Military force aside, the radical forces in the Islamic world need to also be fought on the intellectual front.
The war of the minds is more significant in the long run than the military option. The nature of radicalism is such that it cannot be defeated by force. The only viable option is to empower the moderates from within Islam to battle their brethren through canvassing and arguments. The continued employment of sheer force will only incite more hatred and bitterness within the region.
MUTUAL RESPECT AND TOLERANCE
Muslims demand respect from the West. They desire to lead a life of dignity as they deem fit. It is not for the Western powers to dictate their own preferences and values upon the Muslims. The Islamic world had been subjugated, intimidated and held inferior for a long time. This speaks of the ascendancy of the West and the decline of Islam in the last five hundred years or so. It is only now that some parts of the Islamic world have started to reassert their dignity and want to be shape their societies in accordance with their own traditions and religious values. The West must understand this.
The circumstances are right for a dialogue to take place in an environment of tolerance and mutual respect. Only in this way, can peace be ushered in.
OPPORTUNITY IN TIMES OF CRISIS
Yet, opening constructive dialogue is much easier said than done. We lack leadership with a long-term vision for the future, and every day the violence increases and more lives are taken. Yet, even in the heat of this crisis, we must realize that we can still make a difference.
The Chinese symbol for crisis is also the symbol for opportunity. In every crisis, there is the opportunity for people to unite and rise up to meet the challenges before them. First and foremost we must have faith in ourselves. Human goodness can prevail despite our many obvious differences and quarrels. And with the guts to fight for peace and justice, we can create a better world then the one we inherited. This is, after all, the purpose of our existence.