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Spinning Islamist Extremism: When "justice" and "peace" aren't what you think


"We have a right to think that truth with a capital letter is relative. But facts are facts. And whoever says that the sky is blue when it is gray is prostituting words and preparing the way for tyranny."

--Albert Camus, 1957 interview in Demain (translated and republished in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, 168)

A recent presentation/petition drive that has attracted over 100,000 signatures is a perfect example of the type of fatuous moral relativism that Camus had in mind. Avaaz.org's "Stop the Clash of Civilizations" (see avaaz.org/en/stop_the_clash) seeks to reduce complex realities merely to a matter of "perception" and is, therefore, apologizing for the most reactionary, oppressive and terrorist movements within Islam. One gets the impression that facts aren't facts, as the seemingly simple distinctions of "friend/enemy" and "liberated/exploited" become inexplicably confused. But can there really be any doubt that machinegun-toting masked men are more likely to be hostage takers than friendship makers? To ask the question is to have already answered it. When Islamists declare war on everyone--Christians, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, secularists and fellow Muslims--recognition of their self-definition as an enemy and not a friend is a purely objective conclusion. It is similarly ridiculous to pretend that there is no difference between "liberated" and "exploited" women, thus negating their freedom of choice in the matter entirely. Unless, of course, we accept the view expressed by Muqtada al-Sadr, among others, that "freedom" can never involve allowing women to choose to go about in public without the hijab, or to abandon the "binds and rules of religion," because that will inevitably lead to "moral destitution."

Dealing in so cavalier a fashion with these issues opens up the possibility that any and all "perceptions," not limited to Sadr's, can masquerade as truth. As a case in point, prior to his "brave resistance", that is, escape under cover of burka, Pakistani cleric Maulana Abdulaziz of the Lal Masjid or Red Mosque gave a candid interview to Asharq al-Awsat. In it he stated that "dialogue" is not about compromise, but rather is for discussing the ways the Pakistani government will implement his peculiar definition of Shariaa: that women have an equal right and responsibility as men "to be ready for jihad... know[ing] how to use automatic weapons" and being able to "use chemical weapons," and that his followers are prepared to use any and all means to effect "a quick change in society," since past revolutions have also been "characterized by violence." Are we then to say that these responses qualify him as a "moderate" because of his dedication to negotiations, feminism and, ideally, the non-violent capitulation to his every wish and whim?

Words still do have meaning, and "changing the perception" cannot trump reality: a gray sky is just not blue. Why, it may be asked, would an organization dedicated to "taking action for a more just and peaceful world and a vision of globalization with a human face" produce such sinister piffle? While motive is ultimately illusive, Avaaz's failure to call Islamists what they regularly call themselves can leave little room for speculation. Using their own standard, this need not (although it should) involve a value judgment, but it does require listening to what these people are actually saying. To put it simply, is Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri's vision of "a more just and peaceful world" what they have in mind? Since his broadcasts (see video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7664209432789370243&hl=en) come complete with scrolling English translation, provided courtesy of al-Qaida's media unit as-Sahab, there can be no doubt as to where he stands and what he represents.

Among the best parts of the presentation are surprisingly the "facts." The title, for instance, is in the abstract valid. This is certainly not a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam; it is a clash between the West and Muslims (civilization) against Islamism (barbarism). Blurring that distinction is disingenuous and has dangerous implications. For instance, Islamists or as they refer to themselves, jihadis, do not speak for all Muslims, just as Avaaz, which means "voice" in several languages, presumably doesn't speak for all the world's people. However, this presentation, by equating Usama bin Ladin with President Bush, makes them the de facto "leaders." It also exculpates their crimes by juxtaposing 9/11 with Coalition bombing in Iraq and retroactively justifies the Madrid Bombings due to the Spanish government's "lies."

Another indisputable fact is that "65% of Egyptians want democracy," but this should nevertheless be rejected by serious individuals, because the Ikhwan or Muslim Brotherhood, whom they overwhelmingly would vote for, is far from democratic. That is, unless we are to accept President Bush's ridiculous definition of democracy in toto as free elections. Admittedly, the picture shown is of a Kifaya rally, but a coalition of short-sighted liberals, leftists, nationalists and opportunistic Islamists is hardly better than Islamists alone and will eventually produce the same results anyway. Curiously, Egypt and two other Western-allied countries, Lebanon and Indonesia, are listed as the only places where Muslims are demanding change. What the presentation neglects to mention is that change in these cases is not necessarily for the better, as those demanding "change" loudest are jihadis doing so with terror as well as the ballot box.

At the presentation's core is, however, a pernicious falsehood: that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the "root cause" of all evil. Though a widespread belief, this has never been the case and definitely is not now. In the Islamists' own words al-Aqsa ranks beneath the "liberation" of Arabia and Iraq in priority, as articulated in the "World Islamic Front Statement Urging Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders" of 23 February 1998, which bore the signatures of bin Ladin, Zawahiri and three others. In recent years, Hamas has made it painfully clear to those who will listen that their goal is not an independent Palestinian State--far from it. They can conceive of Palestine only as part of a Middle Eastern and then global caliphate. It has pointedly and not without some justice been said that the Hamas takeover of Gaza is symbolic of "the end of Palestine, the bitter end."

By recognizing that Islamists are our common enemy, we can stand in solidarity with moderate and reformist Muslims, who have always been on the front lines against these forces and who increasingly find their position untenable. In a review of Dr. Sari Nusseibeh’s Once upon a Country, Leon Wieseltier captures the moderates’ predicament, of which Nussibeh can be taken as representative. He is at once threatened by Islamists for his outspokenness in favor of reconciliation with the West and dismissed by Westerners so detached from reality that they embrace the very Islamists seeking his, and ultimately their own, destruction. They are frightened by the terms and clarity with which he writes as Nusseibeh has nothing but

contempt for Hamas... It is 'a political-religious movement systematically throwing shackles on the mind.' He deplores ‘the cult of violence, the myth of the martyr and the delusions of actually 'punishing' the Israelis. He insists that the Hamas charter 'sounds as if it came straight from the pages of Der Sturmer.' These sterling opinions are proof not only of Nusseibeh's extraordinary intelligence, but also of his extraordinary courage. And while he imperils himself with his attempts to persuade his brethren to accept a two-state solution and to reject Hamas, the fearless progressives at The New York Review of Books promote a one-state solution and dare to wonder whether the ascendancy of Hamas is 'the last chance for peace.'

There are growing numbers of courageous individuals like him, from Irshad Manji to the tortured Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury to the imprisoned Egyptian blogger Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman. Unfortunately, they often have to spend as much time fighting their enemies as those who should be taken for granted as friends. Instead, "friends" like Avaaz dedicate themselves with peculiar regularity to denouncing only one side in this conflict, the West, giving the lie to where they actually stand. Camus perceptively noted this phenomenon with the self-described "camp of peace," or those individuals supposedly manifesting the "most serious form of 'alienation' of conscience" in his day. When matters of conscience really were at stake, however, they opted for "neutrality" at best and all too often in favor of tyranny and repression. Their flawed judgment was an insistence "on seeing nothing but doves in the East and vultures in the West" as a result of "[b]lindness, frenzy of the slave, or nihilistic admiration of force" (Ibid, 166-167). This remains an apt description for Avaaz and those likeminded who are shamelessly prostituting the words "human rights," "global security," "justice" and "peace" in the service of Islamism.

Jason Guberman-Pfeffer

Sacred Heart University

Jason Guberman-Pfeffer is in his third year in the Thomas More Honors Program at Sacred Heart University (Fairfield, CT). He is majoring in political science in the Department of Government and Politics and pursuing minors in Middle East Studies and History. Jason is currently a 2007-2008 Intercollegiate Studies Institute Honors Fellow and a Civil Rights Fellow for HAMSA (The Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance). He can be reached at jasondgp(at)gmail.com

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000623.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 7 comments

I feel I have to respond to this article, because it so fundamentally misreads the "Stop the Clash" video (which I was responsible for in my capacity as an organiser of Avaaz.org), and because I have so much respect for the truth-telling and peace-loving legacy of Robert Rosenberg. I'll respond without going on at great length, and simply in a personal capacity, rather than speaking here for the movement as a whole.

The basic problem with Jason's article is that it presents Stop the Clash as an apology for radical Islamism and an attack on the West, when the video in fact seeks to emphasise the basic common humanity of ordinary Muslims and others around the world, and how - by coming together for goals we share - we can change the world. One of those goals, and the petition which over 100,000 people have signed, is real Israeli-Palestinian peace talks leading to a just and lasting peace which both sides can accept. That will be defined by the people, not by al-Zawahiri - who is a hijacker of Islam, as the video in fact suggests. And that peace - based on 1967 lines, with peace, security and independence for both - is what most Israelis and Palestinians want. Does Jason disagree with them?

The central characters in the video itself are are two women - one with a headscarf, one without. The script runs like this:

"Is this how you see me? (Stereotyped images of a clash of civilizations.) Look again. (It's more complicated.) Are we that different? (Images of common humanity.) Why are we doing this to each other? We're afraid, and they're playing off our fears.

Do these guys speak for you? (Pictures of out-of-touch leaders.) Who speaks for you? You do. Global public opinion is the new superpower. If the people lead, the leaders will follow. (Case studies of people power.)

Together we can stop the clash of civilizations. Change the policy - change the perception - change the world. Demand Real Middle East Peace Talks Now."

Stop the Clash is fundamentally talking about, and to, ordinary people -- not ideologues; about Muslims, not radical violent Islamists. It's profoundly disrespectful to collapse that distinction as the "Clashers" do.

You will also notice that the sequence runs, "Change the policy - change the perception - change the world". In other words, it is our analysis that people power needs to be brought to bear to change policies on all sides (from occupation to suicide bombing), and that this is the surest way to change the world and stop the false perception of a clash of civilizations. *Not* that we just need to do a spin job for radical Islam and everything will be okay.

It's also profoundly wrong and insulting to take al-Qaeda's analysis of the principal grievances of the Muslim world as either accurate or representative of the Muslim world. I prefer to look at polling, expert opinion and conversations with Muslims themselves, which yields clear answers - Palestine above all, now Iraq rising to join it, then Chechyna and so on, and a general sense of disrespect, inequality and humiliation. The UN report also made this very clear.

I won't go on. Watch the video yourself - just Google "Stop the Clash".

I don't blame Jason for his mistake. I wish him well in his studies. I encourage him to read a little more broadly, and to think a little more inquiringly. It takes a long time to understand this conflict properly, and I'm not convinced even I do fully. But having met Sari Nusseibeh several times, I think a great deal of him, and (to conclude) I don't think he is well represented by this piece.

Sari is clear about his differences of worldview with Hamas. But he's a man who believes in democracy and respect. He has shared a cell with a Hamas leader in the course of his liberation struggle, and he believes that a two-state peace (the peace which, by the way, Avaaz are campaigning for right now) will draw their sting. That is the same argument as I subscribe to about democracy in Egypt: once the people are free (a neverending struggle, for sure), they will be in a position to make wise decisions. (This is especially true given that Mubarak has systematically dismantled, repressed and imprisoned every moderate political movement and leadership that has emerged. Not surprising that you're left with the Ikhwan, who by the way, *really* dislike al-Qaeda.)

See the interview excerpt below:
Wiener: Does the recent electoral success of Hamas make you worried that you might have to live in an Islamic fundamentalist state? What do you see as the future of Islamic fundamentalism among the Palestinians?

Nusseibeh: There are two parts to this question. The first part concerns what kind of state I would wish to live in. When I have resisted occupation, calling for an independent Palestinian state, I really need a state that will respect my rights as an individual. Will respect my freedoms, will be a lawful state where there’s equality, freedom of opinion. I do not believe a rigid Islamic fundamentalist state would provide me with this, so it’s not the state that I have fought for, and certainly not the one I would want to live in.

But behind the fundamentalism, behind Hamas and its ideology, are the people, and it’s easy to reach out to the people. You can never change the ideology itself. The question is how big or small it is going to be in the general landscape. I think it can be limited by reaching out to people, providing them with hope, with progress, with the ability to provide a better life for themselves and their families in the future.
Now *that's* the Sari Nusseibeh I have spoken with.

Posted by Paul Hilder @ 09/12/2007 04:04 PM CST

No, the video is not guilty of being aplotetic toward islamists. This video is only guilty of replacing complex reality with fluff, fantasy, wishful thinking, one-liners and political correctness. In a sense it is similar to what Bush has done when he drew the US to Iraq: he replaced reality -- complex, not always pleasant reality -- with one-liners, wishful thinking and fantasy. True, Avaaz's fantasies and wishful thinking are much more appealing to me than Bush's, but they are still not the reality that must be dealt with in order to deal with the problems we face. You might say, if Bush was able to dupe the US to go to war, maybe Avaaz can dupe people to support peace. Unlikely, Avvaz's fantasies have fewer clients. Their video is not really talking to ordinary people, and is unlikely to have an effect on them. But even if they did, sooner or later reality will rear its ugly head, as it did for Bush, and then it will be the peacnicks who will be forced to make excuses for their blunders. The collapse of Oslo should have already taught us the risks of selling wishful thinking as reality.

"That is the same argument as I subscribe to about democracy in Egypt: once the people are free (a neverending struggle, for sure), they will be in a position to make wise decisions."

This is exactly the kind of fluff that you shouldn't go around selling as if there are no consequences. It is an obvious non-sequitur. Once the people are free, they will be in a position to make decisions. Will they make wise decisions? Even the greatest optimist cannot promise that. Unfortunatly, the chances of them making unwise decisions is probably even greater.

Posted by Micha @ 09/12/2007 07:12 PM CST

I would like to make a brief comment about Mr. Paul Hilder's response to Mr. Guberman-Pfeffer's essay. Hilder accuses Guberman-Pfeffer of making a "mistake" and of "misrepresenting" the Stop the Clash video. The allegation is that Guberman-Pfeffer has incorrectly painted the video as an apology of sorts for Islamism. The alleged mistake or misrepresentation is a false allegation because the allegation itself is made on the basis of a misreading of Guberman-Pfeffer's essay. Hilder is the one who has actually made a mistake of interpretation. I also find his comments condescending and disrespectful towards the author. I accuse him of constructing a "straw man" and of not making an effort at a charitable interpretation of Guberman-Pfeffer.

The point at issue in Guberman-Pfeffer's essay is clearly moral relativism. Guberman-Pfefer attacks moral relativism in his essay. The central claim in Guberman-Pfeffer's piece is that moral relativism serves the ends of Islamists by glossing over the meanings of words. Moral relativism is incorrect because words have meaning, as Guberman-Pfeffer put it. The claim is not that the Stop the Clash video is an apology for the Islamists. The claim, in other words, is that by morally equating, for example, Israeli "occupation" with Palestinian "terrorism", or US intervention in Iraq with 9/11 attacks, we gloss over fundamental moral distinctions and, as Guberman-Pfeffer wonderfully put it, "exculpate" the criminals of their crimes, prepare the way for tyranny -- the video, by presupposing a sort of moral relativism, works against the ideals of freedom, justice, human rights, etc., and therefore does not serve those ends.

Moral relativism occurs when it is presumed that one society's values are irreconcilable with another's, i.e., that what is "right" in the west, for instance, is right because westerners say it is, and what is "right" in some other society, despite being incompatible with the western value of "right", is right because that society says it is, and that is the end of the story; moral relativism says we have no choice but to "tolerate" this state of affairs. Guberman-Pfeffer's essay is a clear rejection of this sort of thinking and his position is supported by his claim that words have meaning.

Prostituting words such as "dialogue", "freedom", and "democracy" when the speakers clearly intend them to have meanings which exclude entire classes of people, that is, when the speakers use them in a way very different from how we intend them in the west, clearly undermines the forces of liberty. Recall the Camus quote at the beginning: calling the sky gray when it is blue prepares the way for tyranny....

For instance, pointing to evidence which suggests such-and-such Pakistani wants "dialogue" when "dialogue" means to the "discussing the ways the Pakistani government will implement his peculiar definition of Shariaa: that women have an equal right and responsibility as men 'to be ready for jihad... know[ing] how to use automatic weapons'", etc., and ignoring the fundamental incompatibility of this definition of "dialogue" with any plausible interpretation of "advancing human freedom" essentially works against values Avaaz supposedly stands for. Sharia is clearly incompatible with political freedom, not because some westerner says it is, but because it denies human societies the right to write their own laws and undercuts the essence of human freedom: self-government. I believe the correct interpretation of Guberman-Pfeffer's essay is that to the extent that the video presupposes moral relativism, the video undermines the values it purports to champion, and serves the ends of oppressors....

Posted by Anthony @ 09/17/2007 01:11 AM CST

The "clash of civilizations" conversation appears to be full of straw men, and this isn't a constructive debate. Let me say again: Stop the Clash isn't morally relativistic. It affirms a global common humanity which can join around common goals and principles which will in fact look basically alike even from radically different perspectives - a two-state agreement, democracy, human rights and self-determination...

But before questioning this false clash, it also recognises the reality that millions of people have been sucked into it, and that hundreds of millions currently hold deeply divergent viewpoints on the ethical status of (e.g.) a masked insurgent. (Take bin Laden's 46% approval rating in Pakistan, thanks substantially to that state's failure to cement a sustainable democracy.)

Those mass perceptions are in fact a contemporary fact which leads to people being killed - I don't think you can get much less relativist than that.

"Guberman-Pfeffer attacks moral relativism," indeed. But that is the problem: he takes the video as a straw man for the position he opposes!

Posted by Paul Hilder @ 09/17/2007 05:02 PM CST

It is unclear to me what purpose it serves to say that this debate is not "constructive". At any rate I will still try to move the discussion along.

Mr. Hilder has conceded that Guberman-Pfeffer's piece attacks moral relativism. He then goes on to accuse him of a straw man, without offering very much in the way of support for this claim. Mr. Hilbert seems to think that his concession that Bin Laden's perception in Pakistan "leads to people being killed" absolves either him or the video (it is not clear which) of any charge of moral relativism.

But it appears Mr. Hilder has backed himself into a corner. He concedes the force of Guberman-Pfeffer's argument -- but dismisses it as a straw man. In other words, he has conceded that IF the video were morally relativistic, then Guberman-Pfeffer would have a case. Therefore, the entire issue turns on whether or not the video is guilty of glossing over moral categories in the way Guberman-Pfeffer suggests.

I believe the most charitable interpretation of Mr. Hilder's view is that the video is not guilty of moral relativism because not only is there no explicit endorsement of Islamism in the video, but Mr. Hilder has explicitly (in the comments above) condemned the likes of Al Qaeda and related Islamist ideologies on moral grounds.

Is an explicit condemnation of Islamism sufficient to repudiate the charge that the Stop the Clash video is not morally relativistic? Let us examine the video and see what we can find out.

If we watch the video, we clearly see the equation of the 9/11 attacks with American military operations in Iraq. We clearly see words to the effect of "Bush's party defeated". There are also clear implications in the video that "Bush's party" or, in more general terms, some sinister political force within the American government, is the moral equivalent of Islamism. The more direct implication is that this sinister force within the American government ("Bush's party") is equally as guilty of fomenting the myth of a "clash of civilizations" as are Islamism's main ideologues. Therefore, there is a moral equivalence implied to hold between both "Bush's Party" and Islamism. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Stop the Clash video is morally relativistic.

So Guberman-Pfeffer certainly seems to be far from a straw man from what I can tell. Further, I would say he is certainly winning this non-"constructive" debate. Painting

Mr. Hilder, I appreciate good debates. The ball is in your court. I feel I have interpreted you fairly. Please feel free to rebut respectfully. I take it you will either have to demonstrate that "Bush's Party" really is as bad as Al Qaeda (good luck), or that the video really does not make the implication that "Bush's Party" is "just as bad" (and therefore really no different) than Islamism (good luck). I don't think you can win this one, but please try to surprise me (I will respect a strong argument).

Posted by Anthony @ 09/18/2007 08:05 AM CST

While somewhat disheartening to admit, I did make an error in judgment which Mr. Hilder has now graciously given me the opportunity to rectify. When I stated that Avaaz’s “motive is ultimately illusive” and left room for doubt as to whether their presentation was just the misguided and disgusting product of good intentions gone terribly wrong, I was, in fact, merely entertaining a well-intentioned wish of my own. In any case, I would have much preferred that scenario than to have been proven correct – as he now has done – on every other point. Avaaz does not carelessly prostitute noble words such as "human rights," "peace” and “democracy” in the service of the very enemies of what those words actually mean, but is doing so deliberately. The presentation itself should have been enough to discern this, but now we also have the benefit of Mr. Hilder’s “responses.” I’ll oblige his contention that these were written in a personal and not professional capacity. However, as the person responsible for the presentation, his thinking here must be taken in good measure to be representative. We also should keep in mind that up until fairly recently (i.e., the publication of this article) the presentation/petition was Avaaz’s flagship campaign complete with an accompanying self-laudatory promotional spot on YouTube.

It is wrong, though, to term what he has written a “response” since so little of it deals with my article, and even then, not in a substantive way. What we get instead is a defense along the lines of what he claims the presentation (or to use his term: video) says is the only possible and acceptable interpretation of it. This is, of course, regardless of what it clearly depicts. For instance he writes that al-Zawahiri “is a hijacker of Islam, as the video in fact suggests” when the video does a bit more than suggest the opposite. The mug shot of al-Zawahiri, a man who even by Islamist standards is said to be particularly zealous (notice his trademark zabibas or calluses on the forehead created by repetitive floor prostrations during prayer and consider that he and al-Qaeda “*really* dislike” the Ikhwan not for differing visions, but for the latter’s tactical “moderation”), appears with “Zealot?” superimposed over it during what Mr. Hilder’s laughably truncated transcript describes as the “(Stereotyped images of a clash of civilizations).” In other words, the “correct” interpretation of this scene according to Avaaz is that Western “perception” of al-Zawahiri and other jihadis as zealots is the “problem.” Who knows, maybe he is a nice guy. And maybe the presentation is also “correct” that there is no difference between Islamist terrorists and those who fight them or between women who choose to wear bikinis and those who are forced to wear burqas. To euphemize and justify such vile things by means of moral equivocation is either to believe them or to “emphasise [with] the basic common humanity” of those who do. Whichever is the motivation, this is indeed “profoundly wrong and insulting” to the Muslim world and is extremely detrimental to the cause of Muslim moderates. This is also offensivee to anyone seriously committed to human rights, peace and democracy. How dare Mr. Hilder to insinuate that if you don’t accept Avaaz’s propaganda for the most reactionary, oppressive and terrorist movements within Islam that you are against “democracy” and “peace.”

There is an intellectual incoherence explicit in the video and highlighted by these “responses.” On the one hand, the message is that “people power” is represented by democracy (e.g., "65% of Egyptians want democracy") while on the other, democratically elected leaders are said to be “out-of-touch.” Needless to say, no one elected bin Ladin and he isn’t accountable to anyone, but that doesn’t stop Avaaz from equating him with Bush, I mean, Cheney. There is also Mr. Hilder’s assertion that “once the people [in Egypt] are free (a neverending struggle, for sure), they will be in a position to make wise decisions.” Who is to judge the wisdom of their decisions? Isn’t the whole point of the presentation that one can’t make such judgments because “perception” gets in the way? Micha aptly describes Mr. Hilder’s supposed optimism as “exactly the kind of fluff that you shouldn't go around selling as if there are no consequences” and proves my suspicion that Avaaz posits a Bushian conception of democracy, that is, free elections and majority rule without regard to individual or minority rights and the free institutions and educated populace that are necessary to preserve them. Micha is also right to accuse this “democracy” talk of being “guilty of replacing complex reality with fluff [and] fantasy.” Take, for example, Mr. Hilder’s interpretation of bin Ladin’s “46% approval rating in Pakistan [as] thanks substantially to that state's failure to cement a sustainable democracy” instead of the reality that Pakistan has had a longstanding Faustian pact with jihadis which is now coming back to haunt them.

Where we diverge is that there is nothing desirable about the “peace” Avaaz is said to be naively selling, precisely because of the unacceptable consequences it would entail. Furthermore, the presentation itself and certainly Mr. Hilder’s comments make plain that these consequences are known and even endorsed. Consider his contention that Sari Nussibeh is not well represented in my article because: “Sari is clear about his differences of worldview with Hamas. But he's a man who believes in democracy and respect.” In other words, Mr. Hilder believes that “democracy” and “respect” may require acquiescence to Islamism, a worldview which fundamentally rejects coexistence. Whether or not we “change the perception” there is no getting around that “freedom” isn’t what al-Sadr thinks it is, that “feminism” isn’t how Maulana Abdulaziz defines it and that al-Zawahiri and bin Ladin’s imperialist dream of establishing "a more just and peaceful world" would neither be just or peaceful. Despite Avaaz’s best efforts at spin, there is just no “common ground” with these people, no less, “common goals and principles which will in fact look basically alike even from radically different perspectives.” The reason is that their preferred methods of “changing the perception” of innocents and opponents is by killing, intimidating and indoctrinating them. In short, this is not a matter of “differences of worldview” but the right to have a different worldview at all. Nussibeh states explicitly in Mr. Hilder’s own interview excerpt that such freedom would not be possible in a “rigid Islamic fundamentalist state.” I don’t know what Mr. Hilder thought would be gained for his argument by quoting Nussibeh to the effect that the evil ideology of Hamas “can never change” and that it must be opposed including with a policy of containment in order to insure that a Palestinian state would “respect [individual] freedoms, will be a lawful state where there’s equality [and] freedom of opinion,” but I sincerely thank him for doing so.
I also wish to thank Avaaz for giving your humble student a fine lesson in hypocrisy.

Posted by Jason Guberman-Pfeffer @ 09/20/2007 10:19 AM CST

I heave a final sigh... One of the central points of Stop the Clash is to try to dismantle the way in which ordinary Muslims around the world are tarred with the brush of al-Qaedist Islam-perverting terrorism. Terrorist revolutionary Islamism does not represent most Muslims, even if it has a dangerous appeal to many.

So Jason Guberman-Pfeffer's article and subsequent responses simply don't have any bearing on the video, which doesn't defend those he is trying to attack via this proxy. I'll say it again, for the last time in this forum (there's not much point in repeating yourself if people who aren't listening!): the central misreading of Jason's article is the idea that Stop the Clash champions totalitarian fundamentalist Islamism. It doesn't. It champions ordinary Muslims and non-Muslims, and calls for greater understanding, respect, challenging interaction and common endeavour among them. We're talking about a mutual, citizens' hearts-and-minds effort. That operates on a different plane to politics or war, but hopefully can have a positive effect on both.

"Is this how you see me?" asks a Muslim woman. Then a series of images of violence and oppression follow - including the image of Zawahiri with "Zealot?" Most viewers of the video seem to have got the point here: the video isn't questioning that Zawahiri is a zealot - certainly, he is. But bin Laden, Zawahiri and images of terror prevent people from seeing ordinary Muslims clearly as fellow human beings, and instead "overwrite" perceptions of these ordinary people as zealots. (A similar, if not identical process is behind misperceptions by people in the Middle East of ordinary people in the West.) Repeated failure to recognise that distinction - which is made abundantly clear in the video - may point sadly to the power of the idea of a civilizational clash.

As to the relationship between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and this false clash, "at the heart of" doesn't equate to "only cause" or "root cause". A similar analysis to that in our petition has been made by many in the past - including Tony Blair, who might be well-respected by many on this site, and has publicly disavowed the supposed crime of digging into root causes in relation to Iraq. I remain curious as to whether Jason would support a two-state peace agreement, for instance roughly along the lines of Clinton/Taba/Geneva/Ayalon-Nusseibeh. I do hope so.

(Incidentally, it's my understanding, that Sari Nusseibeh believes as expressed in the quote that such a deal, and the building of a free democratic Palestinian state, would be the best "containment" framework against totalitarian Islamism in Palestine, providing as it would a basis for moderation, ordinary life and a level playing field for visions of their future society. Frankly, what alternative is there? We built our Western democracies laboriously, step-by-step, and we are still building them today.)

To laboriously tick off a couple more points, the richness of Lebanese people power flourished most notably in the cedar revolution, which I assume Jason approves of, and from which our photo of women with their hair flying free was taken (in fact there is some question as to what their religion is, Lebanon is interesting that way...!). Malaysians and even Indonesians, both of their orders far from perfect, nonetheless have things to teach their Middle Eastern brothers and sisters about democracy which are tremendously more important than the existence of a radical-fundamentalist minority in South-east Asia.

Does democracy for Muslims really risk collapsing into fundamentalist terror more often than not? Is democracy so weak? Are Muslims so bad?

Avaaz ran the Stop the Clash campaign in March - six months ago. It spread from there -- and a YouTube guest editor decided to frontpage it this summer. Avaaz remain very proud of it as a statement of intent, and occasionally put it back near the bottom of the frontpage.

This article certainly hasn't, and won't, have any impact on what Avaaz does with its campaign for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. I happen to believe in dialogue, truth and understanding, which is why I've perhaps given this discussion more attention than it merits - there is too much sterile controversy on the web already! So I will wish you all farewell. Even if further misreadings appear in the comments section here, I can't see the point in posting further corrections.

There has been a great deal of the clash of civilizations playing out also in the comments section of the video on YouTube, including some really terrible racism and hatred coming from right-wing Westerners and radical Islamists. That's only reinforced our sense that this false clash is real and dangerous, and needs to be debunked. But there have also been many exceptionally sensible mediators in that discussion, and most importantly, over a hundred thousand people who've taken action for peace in the Middle East at Avaaz. So my hope is growing stronger too...

Posted by Paul Hilder @ 09/20/2007 11:49 AM CST

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