1 April 2006

Handing victory to the extremists

Bears' Chat - Welcome: "The failure to differentiate between Hamas leader Khaled Meshal and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, between Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and Jordanian extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is the failure to differentiate between those who seek an accommodation with the West and those who work for an unremitting and uncompromising clash. The solution is not simply to begin talking to political Islam - 'we don't want you to talk', a Hamas leader told us, 'we want you to listen' - but rather to begin the necessary process of questioning our own assumptions: that 'they' are 'all the same'. If we fail to begin this vital work now we will soon see Mecca 'burn'. And it won't stop there.

What is perhaps most surprising about what we have learned in our 'exercise of mutual listening' is not that our views are radical, but that they reinforce Western society's best instincts, including those of George W Bush. In a speech before the International Republican Institute last May, the US president laid out his vision for democracy in the Middle East.

'Today, much of our focus is on the broader Middle East, because I understand that 60 years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in that region did nothing to make us safe,' he said. 'If the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation and resentment and violence ready for export.

'The United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East; a strategy that recognizes the best way to defeat the ideology that uses terror as a weapon is to spread freedom and democracy.' "

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