We need to talk less, listen more, to Muslims

We need to talk less, listen more, to Muslims

By Haroon Siddiqui

Toronto Star, 14 July 2005

Germany has been as vociferous as France among the G 8 nations in opposing the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. It has also been increasingly skeptical of Washington’s war on terrorism.

Germany also has a sophisticated understanding of, and good relations with, the Muslim world. In addition, it considers itself the closest European ally of Israel. The German perspective on terrorism, especially on young European jihadists, is, therefore, useful.

“We need a dialogue with the Muslim world but there’s too much distrust,” said a very senior policy official in Berlin in a lengthy and candid interview, given on condition of anonymity, and conducted before last week’s bombings in London.

“There’s distrust because of our double standards,” he said, citing the Arab-Israeli dispute, and because of what he called the Bush administration’s “hegemonic” policy: Occupying Iraq to control the oil and the region, especially Iran, and controlling Afghanistan to have access Central Asian oil and gas reserves.

Worse, the Americans are carrying out the policy “in such a blunt way that they can’t see that they are destroying everything in their path … When the American soldiers see Iraqi women and children in a car, how can they shoot?”

Yet, he said, Washington wonders: “‘Why do they hate us?’ Easy. They hate us because of the policies.”

On the other side, many Arab regimes use the Arab-Israeli dispute to justify their own oppression. That’s why the American push for democracy, if it is serious, is welcome, he said.

Some hardline Muslim clerics, he noted, “will not recognize Christians and Jews” and won’t talk to us. But the West must open up a dialogue with the broader Muslim world.

Instead, he said, “Americans want to tame Islam. They are looking for Muslims to be ‘good Muslims.’ They are looking for Muslims who agree with them. They are talking to what (British author) Tariq Ali calls the ‘House Arabs,’ like the ‘House Negro.’ That doesn’t work.”

Such “House Arabs” and, increasingly, “House Muslims,” he said, “know exactly what to say. They say all the things Americans want to hear. And the Americans say, `How bright, how wonderful.’ This is wrong. We need people with whom we can have a frank dialogue.”

There has also been an increasing tendency among some Americans to blame Islam, he said, even though “the problems of the Muslim world are not faith-based. The problems are secular. They are political. They are problems of joblessness, poverty and corruption. They are not faith-based.

“At a conference, someone asked me: `What are we going to do about the problem of the Qu’ran?’ “I asked: ‘You want to rewrite it or what?’ You cannot discuss the methodology of the Qu’ran any more than you can the methodology of the Bible or the Torah or any other divine text. This is foolishness.

“All religions go through their own historical evolution. Outsiders can’t force it. We would not like it if a Muslim came and said to the Germans that Luther was silly, or that this or that part of the Bible makes no sense in this day and age. I think this is very dangerous.”

The official also shed light on the German perspective on young European jihadists, who are active not only in Iraq but in Europe.

“For many frustrated Muslim youth, it’s some kind of adventurism, like people joining the French Legion. They come together. They are revalidated. They feel self-important. Their rhetoric is the same as that of the (defunct) leftist movements, as the Baader-Meinhoff Gang or the Red Brigades — ‘fighting for the underdogs.'”

A similar spirit drove the jihadists who went to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight the Soviet occupation. “We welcomed it then. Now, it’s a big dilemma.”

He added: “We need a serious dialogue with Muslims, especially the Muslim youth … We are talking too much. We need to listen more to Muslims and take them as partners” in the war against terrorism.