View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Sunday, November 07, 2004

Arab Liberals Miss the Point 

The Indispensible MEMRI is reporting that a number of Arab Intellectuals are petitioning the UN to establish an international tribunal to try alleged terrorists:

On October 24, 2004, the liberal Arab websites and published a manifesto written by Arab liberals, in which they petition the U.N. to establish an international tribunal which would prosecute terrorists, as well as people and institutions, primarily religious clerics, that incite terrorism.

The idea to petition the U.N. with this request was raised by the Jordanian writer and researcher Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi in early September 2004, in response to the fatwa issued by Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi - one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood movement and one of the most important religious authorities in Islamist circles - which called for the abduction and killing of U.S. citizens in Iraq. The idea was developed and written up by Al-Nabulsi, Tunisian intellectual Al-'Afif Al-Akhdhar, and former Iraqi Minister of Planning Dr. Jawad Hashem.

During the first 24 hours since the manifesto was published on the Internet, it was signed by approximately 2,000 people worldwide, including intellectuals, authors, poets, and journalists. The authors of the manifesto hope that within a week the number of signatures will reach 10,000, at which point it will be presented to the U.N.

Their assessment of the causes of terrorism is also striking:

It is not enough for the Security Council to adopt resolutions 'condemning' terrorism. What will be more effective is the establishment of an International Tribunal affiliated to the UN organization for the prosecution of individuals, groups, or entities involved, directly or indirectly, with terrorist activities including, but not limited to, fatwas issued by religious clerics in the name of Islam calling upon Muslims to commit terrorist acts.

By these fatwas all terrorists have died, or will die, fully convinced that they will immediately enter Paradise. Of course, we are not excluding other causes for committing terrorist acts, such as the ticking-bomb of population explosion with its resultant illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, backwardness in education systems, reactionary religious teaching, and, above all, living under dictatorial systems of governments in almost all Arab countries. But despite the above causes, certain religious fatwas remain the pivotal cause of terrorist acts - fatwas which clothe such terrorist acts with legitimacy as being one of the sacred tenets of Muslim faith.

There's both good and bad here. The good is that the folks are putting the blame where it goes. The only mention of Israel in the entire document is a quote of an unacceptable fatwa. There's no dodging, no attempt to blame the West, no attempt to blame Israel. They point the finger directly at the bad guys for exploiting the degraded state of the Arab world. The also recognize that this is a Muslim phenomenon, rooted in a mutant strain of the Muslim religion. It'll be a hopeful sign if they can actually get 10,000 signatures.

Nevertheless, the petition is misdirected. The UN is hardly the place the go with this. In the first place, it's clearly not interested. In the second, the Arab delegations there, controlled by the dictatorial governments these people so obviously despise, have a stranglehold over any deliberations there. The diplomats who prowl around Turtle Bay aren't really interested in empowering the people of these countries; they're interested in getting along with the other diplomats. How long would it be before Israel and her government officials, or the US and her President were designated "terrorists?" Ask the Belgians.

Secondly, I'm a little dismayed that these men of good faith, while recognizing that the rot is from within, cannot also see that the solution has to be there, as well. They're repeating the mistake that Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami have often noted: the temptation to look to someone else for a solution.

The notion of a terrorist tribunal is not without merit. But it will have to be run by those countries part of a Coalition of the Willing. For now, this means the US and her allies in Iraq, but also Iraq itself, Afghanistan, and perhaps India, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia. The inclusion of responsible Muslim states, or states with responsible Muslim minorities, would encourage Arab countries to clean up their acts. If backed up by vigorous military action, it should be able to finish its work and disband.

Why, even after all this time, is the UN seen as the only, or even the proper source, for international legitimacy?

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