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Where this crisis is heading 10/10/01
With me is Jonathan Freedland,
Richard Perle, Professor Kana
Makiya from Boston. Let's take the
question of whether this war can be
won. Do you think it can, Jonathan
Not really in the terms it's being defined
now. If you think about what are the
immediate objectives for example to
capture Osama Bin Laden or kill him,
either one of those undermines the larger
war. If you capture him, he becomes a
focus for Islamist anger, people will
want to hijack planes to spring him from
jail. If you kill him he becomes a martyr
and that radicalise millions of people
potentially. If you let him carry on killing,
you obviously haven't won. Any of those
options spells bad news for the coalition.
Richard Perle, you believe it can be won?
I think it could be won but not quickly and
it won't be won easily. The first immediate
task is to remove the Taliban regime and
restore Afghanistan to some reasonable
government that does not make a profession
of supporting terrorism.
What of the objections Jonathan
Freedland has just raised?
I think they are overstated frankly.
It is true that if Bin Laden is killed
in the course of this, there will be
people who mourn his passing and
regard him as a martyr, but we can
live with that.
Mai Yamani, do you think this war
can be won?
DR MAI YAMANI:
It depends what you mean by winnable.
If it is for the United States to go and
show military might and the latest in
technology, and bombing and destroying
an already impoverished society, that's
very easy, but if it's for long-term stability
in the region, in the Muslim Arab region
and to have friends there, then it is not
winnable. Already the situation is very
aggravated since the beginning and since
Kanan Makiya, do you think it can be won?
I think the question is, who are going to be the
greatest losers, not who are going to be the winners.
The idea the western alliance would lose the war
in military sense is nonsensical. But the greatest
potential losers are the Arab and Muslim world
themselves. I think it's in that context really that
your question takes on a certain urgency.
Let's explore that. What will be the effect of this
conflict upon the Islamic world?
DR MAI YAMANI:
At the moment they do, the majority of the people
and the Arab Muslims, perceive the war as a war
against Islam. They have connected and they have
the words of Osama Bin Laden that were heard a
few days ago on Al-Jazeera television, do have an
echo among the populations in the region. The
reason is that he does fill, it's like he serves his
word as a rallying point or filling the gap and
needs of the population in the region, and it is
not necessarily that they believe in the horrific
terrorism, but they do feel supportive of him.
Richard Perle, what do you make of that possible
I'm not at all sure that the vast majority of Muslims
believe that Osama Bin Laden represents them or
that his tactics, his actions are ones of which they
approve. But if they do, there's very little we can
do about that. We certainly cannot give terrorists
a free reign because other people approve of their
behaviour or are mislead into thinking he represents
something larger than himself. Osama Bin Laden
is a bitter, self-exile from Saudi Arabia. His immediate
objective is Saudi Arabia itself. He wants the power,
money and position and he's naturally wrapping
himself up in the pretence of a larger cause.
I think Richard Perle is being oddly defeatist in
saying there's nothing we can do about that. The
problem is at the moment the west appears to be
confirming what Osama Bin Laden's rhetoric. He
says this is a war of the west against Islam and we
say it's the world against terror. If that was true,
I'm sure we wouldn't be actually bombing a Muslim
country, we would be going just after the individual
terrorists. By going after a whole country we appear
to validate his exact rhetorical claim. There is something
we can do about seeming as if we don't have some grudge
against the Islamic world. That would be to be much
more focused and do this work more in the dark rather
than giving Al-Jazeera the spectacular they want.
Given the way it's being fought, what do you think
will be the consequences?
Well Mr Paxman, I think the problem is the reaction
of the Arab street at the moment, which is what we're
gauging in this discussion, has got to be seen against
the backdrop of a total state of denial that exists in the
Arab and Muslim worlds about this event. They have
not yet come to terms of the enormity of the event on
September 11th. Even the statement that was made by
the Islamic conference today reflects that. The fact that
this Osama Bin Laden is one of us, has come out of us
and the significance and importance of that fact he is a
Muslim and speaks in the name of Islam, with all the
ramifications and consequences of that, has not yet
sunk in at all.
Is Islam being conscripted legitimately when he talks
as he does?
I don't think so. The overwhelming majority of Muslims,
when they do come to terms with the fact that this
organisation has committed this act, needs to find ways
to repudiate him. It needs to convene a great big conference
of clerics that would go into the details and take from within
the Muslim tradition itself the arguments that exist in the
tradition to reject Osama Bin Laden's games. However he
represents a strain, a strain that has grown more and more
virulent, that has taken over religious discourse in large
parts of the Muslim world, and by the way, that has it's
origin in Arab nationalist secular categories like anti-imperialist
and anti-Zionism. The kind of anti-Americanism has its
roots in secular Arab nationalist rhetoric of the 60s and
70s. A failed rhetoric, I might add, the failure of which
was picked up by these radicals and turned into a new
kind of anti-Americanism. It is a modern political
phenomenon of the 20th century and it has to be rooted
out from within by Arabs and Muslims themselves.
This is where the problem for the coalition is. They are
constantly saying, if you like, Sheikh Bush and Mullah
Blair tell us that Islam has nothing to do with Bin Laden.
The problem there hasn't been the formal repudiation against
Bin Laden that will tell the Muslims this guy is not one
It's only been four weeks since the event. This is a huge
It's a huge event which is clearly wrong.
I agree with you fully and totally.
And cannot be justified in any religious terms.
Of course not but to absorb the meaning of it, to
repudiate it in the way it should be, lock, stock
and barrel, with which that is my position, for such
a earth shaking event to take place, it's not the same
as just denouncing what happened on September 11th.
It is a very big thing and the Arab and Muslim world
which hasn't accepted that Osama Bin Laden has
perpetrated the act, which I totally accept, it's totally
self-evident from where I sit, but Arab and Muslim
world has not yet accepted that fact.
If that is the case and there a state of denial, can this
conflict be prevented from becoming the much prophesised
clash of civilisations.
DR MAI YAMANI:
I don't agree there is a state of denial. The people are
horrified, they are shocked by the event and they have
triggered a lot of thinking and I think...
Why isn't anyone taking Bin Laden seriously then?
DR MAI YAMANI:
Everybody is looking at Bin Laden and his words and
this event on 11th September is tied in people's minds
with the United States and the perception of the United
States' role in the Palestinian struggle and painful Intifada,
the constant bombing of Iraq and the sanctions that are
damaging on Iraq as well as the military presence that
has continued since the Gulf war. I think all of these
things and Bin Laden's words that we hear that make
people ... There is a very big difference between the
people, populations and the states, the rulers and the
Richard Perle, what do you make of it, is there any chance
that we will avoid a clash of civilisations?
I don't know what you mean by that. That there may be
hostility in the Arab street is entirely possible. We will
survive hostility in the Arab street, what we will not survive
is terrorists with access to weapons, logistics, communications
and intelligence, who come to our country and kill our citizens
and we mean to stop that. With all due respect to Mr Freedland,
I'm sure we would be delighted to give you a compass, a map
and some rations and you go and get Bin Laden. We appealed
to the Taliban to hand him over, they did not do so. This is not
a attack on Afghanistan. This is an attack on a regime that
sponsors terrorism and refuses to turn over Bin Laden. On
a larger sense it's an attack on those governments that support
networks of terror.
I didn't want to volunteer personally to take out the al-Queada
network. Rather politically, it may make sense to eliminate the
volunteers in London, Berlin and Paris than it does to go after
the head. To go after the head is to make a martyr. It may be
one of those odd situations that it's better to leave him alone
and disable the network.
It's already radicalised and engaged in terror. If we are going
to defend our people and we have every intention of doing that.
We will have to deal with the sources of terror.
Let's leave aside the tactics because we have done that a little
bit. We must readdress this question of how in propaganda
terms to start to re-conceptionalise this war which in certain
parts of the Islamic word is being seen as war on Islam?
That is the problem. The whole clash of civilisations
argument as it was debated in the west is only one end
of the telescope. Liberal thinkers say they don't have
a problem with Islam, and therefore there is no clash
of civilisations, and we forgot to think how do they
see us? They do think there is a epic conflict and it's
not just a battle against Taliban or al-Qaeda. You have
to disable that conception. You have to say we won't
pound another Arab country, maybe there has to be
more energy in the peace process and more beginning
to engage with those grievances. I think there is a huge
problem there too because then you appear to accept
the terrorist's agenda.
Professor Kanan Makiya, you were saying earlier it
was up to the Islamic world itself to make the assessment
itself that it couldn't be done for it.
I agree. It's very nice and I fully approve of the leaders
of the western alliance visiting mosques and making the
statements that Tony Blair and President Bush have done
over and over again. It's important but it's not enough
and it's not their fault because the fundamental task is
of Arabs and Muslims themselves. It's not like we haven't
seen this before. In the Gulf war for which in some sense
was a dress rehearsal for this event, look at what happened?
Much of our problems are caused by the way that war
ended not the fact that it ended in a defeat of Saddam
Hussein. The source of the problem remains still in
power gloating over the current situation and aiding
and abetting it, perhaps. It's the same thing with Osama
Bin Laden. While it's true that the pure military question
is not is what is on the agenda, this is a battle for hearts
and minds, on that I think we agree. But at the same time
that does not exclude going after the heads of these kinds
of movements. It's the rotten state of affairs in so many
Arab and Muslim countries that needs to be done away
with. What is very important is that the western alliance
sees that rotten state of affairs is an issue and extends the
hands of friendships to the people of this world, not just
engages in military operations.
Briefly Richard is there anything of that you would
I don't think it's all about hearts and minds. If it is,
others can work on that. I want to take the weapons
out of the hands of terrorists and keep them from
our shores. If we can do that we will have accomplished
something important and the hearts and minds can follow
DR MAI YAMANI:
If the United States wants to destabilise Bin Laden
and al-Qaeda they should solve some of the issues he is
addressing, i.e. Palestinian and Iraq.
Thank you all very much.