Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Don’t Just Take My Word for It: Arab Moderates Warn About Mistaken Western Policies

What do moderate Arabs think about what Westerners think about the Middle East? Usually, such matters are raised only in private conversation with those of long acquaintance in whom the speaker has personal trust. But now we have several statements by respected Arabs who are relatively liberal but also part of the intellectual establishment.

Thanks to MEMRI for gathering and translating these remarks. They could be just about the most important things you read about the Middle East this year.

As you go along, imagine the reaction of the conventional wisdom types if another American or European had said these things.

First up is Tareq al-Homayed, chief editor of al-Sharq al-Awsat, which might just be the best Arab newspaper in the world today. It combines the unusual characteristics of being both Saudi-owned yet relatively liberal.

Homayed explained that if the West is too lenient to extremists this is a grave mistake. Once you start talking to Hizballah you might as well negotiate with al-Qaida. "Openness for the sake of openness,” he concluded, “makes the situation more complicated and sends the wrong message."

Khalil Al-'Anani in al-Hayat warned that the Obama administration’s readiness to negotiate on a basis of making concessions with radical states and forces would teach Middle Easterners to conclude “that extremism is the most effective way to attract the U.S.'s attention, and to compel them to conduct dialogue.” By showing weakness, the United States would ensure its enemies concluded that America was defeated and to make more demands. He even calls this policy one of “appeasement.”

Another al-Hayat columnist, Elias Harfoush, reaches the same conclusion. Being too soft on the Taliban, for example, has brought no benefits to the Pakistani government but merely, “More murders and torture of those opposed to the movement and more suffering for the people” victimized by the radicals.

The West, he continued, just doesn’t understand these Islamist movements, which equate Western efforts at dialogue with the West being defeated.

So also says the director-general of al-Arabiya television, the more moderate and UAE-backed competitor to al-Jazira, Abd al-Rahman al-Rashid. Rashid, former editor of al-Sharq al-Awsat, is one of the most courageous and articulate of the establishment liberals. I wrote about his work in my book, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East.

No matter how hard Obama tries to please Islamists, Rashid explains, it won’t work. “Despite all [Obama’s conciliatory actions], violence has increased….None of these elements have changed their positions–despite everything Obama has done since assuming the presidency. Every step [Obama] takes towards [his foes] will only prompt them to challenge him” without making any concessions of their own.

But why are these Arab intellectuals saying these things? Simple, Western mistakes strengthening the Islamist revolutionaries may destroy their societies and even result in their own murders. That’s a good incentive for them to encourage the West to stand up to Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, the Taliban, al-Qaida, and the Muslim Brotherhoods.

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