Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar

‘We Will Try to Form an Islamic Society’

Mahmoud Zahar — a founder of Hamas, and one of its most militant hardliners — has called for an Islamic state in the Gaza Strip. After the Hamas takeover of the territory last week, he’s also threatened Fatah with more violence in the West Bank.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: After heavy fighting, Hamas won control over the Gaza Strip last Saturday. But it’s not clear what your party now intends to do. The assumption in the Western world is that Hamas wants to establish an Islamic state in Gaza. Is this true?

Zahar: Of course. We want to do that, but with full support of the people. At the moment we can’t establish an Islamic state because we Palestinians have no state. As long as we don’t have a state, we will try to form an Islamic society.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How would a Hamas-led Islamic state look?

Zahar: There would be no difference from how it looks today, because our customs and traditions in Gaza are already Islamic. Marriage, divorce, daily business — everything is Islamic. As soon as we have a state, then everyone will have their freedom. Christians will remain Christians, parties could be secular or even Communist.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: If an Islamic state is the ideal, why are there not more of them?

Zahar: If there were free and fair elections throughout the Arab world, Islamic forms of government would win everywhere. Islam is against the corruption, weakening, and materialism which have destroyed societies in Europe and America. Families are broken (in the West); there are AIDS and drugs. We don’t have such things here.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  What will Hamas’ future relationship to Israel be?

Zahar: We are ready to speak with everyone about everything. Of course we have to speak with the Israelis, de facto, for example over trade. We also have to speak with them about cross-border issues, like the movement of severely ill patients and protection from bird flu and how we can avoid environmental catastrophes. We won’t discuss politics, because the Israelis have no political agenda with us. The political agenda of Condoleezza Rice and Ehud Olmert with President Mahmoud Abbas consists of trading kisses every two weeks — but with empty hands. We will only talk about essential things.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: At the moment there are no attacks on Israel by Hamas’ military wing. Is this a new doctrine?

Zahar: Yes, at the moment we have to deal with two enemies at the same time. Also, the Israelis have halted their aggression. That’s a direct result of our attacks on Sderot (in Israel) — the Israelis have suffered too much. Thousands of citizens had to leave (Sderot), and the Israeli government had to pay for their hotels. Factories and offices in Sderot also had to close.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called this a good moment to push forward with the peace process. Will Gaza and Hamas definitely stay out of any such talks?

MAHMOUD ZAHAR

Mahmoud Zahar, a doctor by profession, is one of the founders of Hamas, the Palestinians’ Islamist party. Israel considers him a hardliner and tried to kill him with a rocket assault on his house in 2003. Zahar’s oldest son died in the attack. He is a sworn enemy of his rival party, Fatah, and he took over Hamas’ leadership after Israel killed his predecessor, Abd al- Aziz al- Rantissi.

During the Palestinians’ 2006 parliamentary election, Zahar said Hamas “would never recognize or negotiate with Israel.” Israel’s existence, he said, was “illegal.” After Hamas’ victory election he functioned as foreign minister in the Hamas- dominated cabinet, but was recalled in March 2007 after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, pressure from neighboring countries, formed a “unity government” with a power- sharing agreement between Fatah and Hamas.

 

Zahar: What kind of peace process is it? There will only be lots of chit-chat. Meanwhile the occupation will continue, and the Israelis will remain here to destroy our lives.SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the West there is a fear that the Gaza Strip may become a playground for international terrorism. Is this danger real?

Zahar: Our people can’t distinguish between resistance and terrorism. We’re fighting for the liberation of our land from an occupation. When people in Europe had to fight the Nazis, they were honored, later, as freedom fighters. No one would have called Charles de Gaulle a terrorist.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: There has been talk in Israel about turning off electricity, water, and gas in Gaza. Could the people in Gaza starve?

Zahar: In that case Israel would have to open its borders. People wouldn’t starve to death before violently storming the borders. Israel also loses $2 million in business income for every day the border stays closed.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The international community plans to release all the aid money it has withheld from Palestinians for over a year to the Fatah government in the West Bank. Will the West Bank become a kind of luxury-Palestine, while the Gaza Strip starves?

Zahar: Fatah in the West Bank will receive money, and they will have to pass it on to Gaza. If it doesn’t, it will lose Gaza forever. We would also have to search for alternatives. We have a very good image among people throughout the Arab world. If we want, we can get $5 million per month in donations from Egypt. We have also received money from foreign countries in the past — $82 million from Kuwait, $50 million from Libya. I personally once brought $20 million from Iran to the Gaza Strip in a suitcase. No, actually twice — the second time it was $22 million.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What will improve for people in Gaza now that Hamas is in control?

Zahar: The good thing is that we can now collect information about our enemies and informants from foreign powers. We will look for Israel’s spies.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Last week there were street battles in the West Bank between Fatah and Hamas militias. Fatah maintained the upper hand. How will Hamas loyalists defend themselves in the event of any new fighting?

Zahar: Let me ask you: How have we defended ourselves so far against the Israeli occupation?SPIEGEL ONLINE: With bombs and attacks?

Zahar: Exactly. But you said that, not me.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The split between Hamas and Fatah has never been wider. Are you still in contact with one another?

Zahar: Yes, we speak to each other. But we’re looking for the true Fatah so its members can take part in our new organization and plans for the future. The true, pure Fatah is the real loser (in this conflict) because its party in the West Bank is collaborating with Israel. In Gaza we have beaten those elements that collaborate with Israel. We have beaten everyone who represented an obstacle — the ones who wanted to keep us from defending ourselves.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The militant wings of Fatah and Hamas have been fully armed over the last few months. Are these weapons still in circulation?

Zahar: There are naturally very many weapons around now. Two years ago, one bullet in Gaza cost around €3.50 — now it would cost 35 cents. The American aid money has been translated into weapons. Thank you, America!

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Isn’t such a large number of weapons in the hands of militias — some controllable, some not — a huge security risk? What would happen if splinter groups started to shoot at each other?

Zahar: So far we haven’t confiscated any weapons. If there are problems with splinter groups, we will disarm them and take the weapons for ourselves.

Interview conducted by Ulrike Putz

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Hamas, Interviews, Palestine

American Ports in a Storm

New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman criticizes politicians in Washington for their opposition to a proposal to turn management of six US ports over to a state-run Dubai company. In an interview with YaleGlobal editor Nayan Chanda, Friedman argues that a far greater danger than any perceived threat to US security is thinking that holds it untenable for the US to cooperate with an Islamic nation on a business deal. Citing US anxiety over the Hamas election victory in Palestine, Friedman suggests that a nativistic mindset and security concerns threaten to undermine democracy and the free market as the guiding principles of an increasingly interconnected world. The transition to democracy in the Middle East, he holds, is most profoundly blocked by the absence of civil society and an authoritarian system where the “palace and the mosque” are inextricably linked to the exclusion of other guiding powers. Commenting on the war in Iraq, which he supported, Friedman expresses the fear that the “poison of ethnic division” may prove insurmountable. – YaleGlobal


American Ports in a Storm

Columnist Thomas Friedman calls American objection to the Dubai World port deal “shameful”

YaleGlobal, 23 February 2006

NEW HAVEN: A firestorm has broken in Washington over the proposed management takeover of six US ports by a state-run Dubai company. Politicians of both political parties view the impending move a security threat to the US. The company is owned by the United Arab Emirates, a country from where two of the September 11 hijackers came and whose banks were used to transfer money for the operation. New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman calls this uproar, with “a slightly racist overtone,” a “huge embarrassment” for the US, which could trigger a dangerous tit for tat with the Arab world. In an interview with YaleGlobal editor Nayan Chanda, Friedman also argued for not obstructing the newly elected Hamas from running the Palestine authority. “If it’s going to be ousted or it’s going to be de-legitimized,” he said, “then I think that’s for the Palestinians to decide.”

The controversy over the Dubai-ports deal and the western hand-wringing over the terrorism-linked Hamas victory in Palestine have brought into focus the contradictions besetting the globalized world where democracy and free market are supposed to be the guiding principle. The objections to the DP World’s acquisition of US ports management and the Hamas claim to run their territory show that nativistic thoughts and security concerns could trump the very principles supposedly guiding the increasingly interconnected world.

The controversy emerged when it became known that the Bush administration had approved the takeover of the management of the ports by Dubai Ports World from British-owned P&O (The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company). In a recent deal, which awaits approval of the British court, DP World has acquired the worldwide operations of P&O for $6.8 billion. The company manages container terminals and logistics operations in more than 100 ports spread over nearly 20 countries including China, India and Europe. The US politicians have criticized the deal because of Dubai’s past link to the terrorists and have argued that unlike P&O, which too was a foreign-owned company, the DP World is state-owned.

However, Friedman says “We’re not turning over our ports, security over to Dubai Port Authority. We’re turning over the port authority and six ports to people who will say, “Park here, park there. Collect the fees and what-not and manage the traffic of the port.” Inspection will be done by the American workers and not by “cousins” brought from Dubai. “I think it’s a shameful and has slightly racist overtones to it,” he says. “This is about keeping ‘a bunch of Arabs’ out of our country, that’s what this is really about. And it’s a bad thing, not only because it doesn’t reflect our real values.” Friedman points out that American companies like IBM, FedEx or UPS run around, doing business in the Arab world. “What if they then turn around and say, ‘You’re not going to take ours, well, we’re not going to take yours.’ We’re in a very dangerous tit for tat that could get going here.”

Friedman agreed that the unspoken subtext of the American criticism is the fact the DP World is run by Muslims. He sees a dangerous lurch toward such nativism provoking backlash. “It’s part of the dangerous backlash going on. Both sides are guilty of it. When people ransack a Danish embassy in Damascus and the government allows it. You know, governments are there to restrain people’s worst impulses. We have nativists in our country. They have nativists in their country that are going to always want to push these issues. Government’s job is to restrain that, and I think this is a real issue, a really shameful episode. I think the president’s right on this one.”

Asked about Hamas victory and the talk in western capitals to deny Hamas aid unless they disown their stated goal of destroying Israel, Friedman said he was opposed to that approach. “I think that Hamas is a terrorist organization, but I also think that it won a free and fair election and if it’s going to be ousted or it’s going to be de-legitimized, then I think that’s for the Palestinians to decide.”

He pointed out that by forcing Hamas to publicly recant their position would not be convincing.” If we said to Hamas tomorrow, “Well, you don’t get any money, unless you sing “Hatikva,” the Israeli national anthem. The next day, they say, “Fine” and they start singing “Kol od balevav p’nimah…” Fine, would you believe them? And then you say that “You have to sing ‘Hatikva’ in perfect Yiddish, standing on one leg and pulling your ear. I still wouldn’t believe them.” He said it is pointless to ask someone to do something when you are unlikely to believe them. Instead, he says, “Why not ask them to do something that is really hard and that you would believe. And that’s maintaining a ceasefire with Israel. Oh, that speaks to me so much more than any words. If Hamas is ready to do that, if they’re ready to allow the Palestinian Authority to continue in a dialogue, negotiations with Israel, that’s what’s really important.”

Of course, the Hamas victory is not the only problem lurking in the Middle East. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is resisting democratization, pointing to the specter of victory by fundamentalist Islamic Brotherhood candidates. Friedman says such arguments should be rejected and the West should be ready to accept the Islamic Brotherhood.

“I guess the response should be, ‘Guys, for 50 years, you’ve been telling us that’s it you or the mosque. All you Arab autocrats are telling us, moi or the deluge. Well, you know what, we got the deluge anyway, and it was called 9/11. And it was called 7/7. And we keep getting the deluge. And part of the reason we keep getting the deluge is because you keep producing more of these people with your authoritarian systems. So you know what, we tried that for 50 years. Maybe we’ll give this a try for a couple of years.”

Friedman said that the absence of civil society in the Middle Eastern countries makes a smooth transition to democracy impossible. “You don’t go from Saddam to Jefferson without going through Khomeini in the Arab world, because there’s nothing between the palace and the mosque. There is no civil society at all. So when the palace breaks either by election or invasion, you go straight into free fall, and we have to accept that’s the reality. We have two choices. We can preserve the palace, as we’ve been doing for 50 years, knowing that it’s actually creating a context that’s actually producing more of these angry, frustrated, unemployed young men or just say, you know what, let’s try to liberalize the mosque.”

Friedman had supported the US intervention in Iraq to topple Saddam as a necessary step to bring about democracy. Asked about his thoughts on the current situation in Iraq he said, “What worries me, Nayan, is that we may be too late. I don’t know. We made so many mistakes there. What I worry about is that it may be too late – that the poison of ethnic division is now so much into the bloodstream of Iraq.”

Click here for the full transcript of an interview with Thomas L. Friedman conducted on February 22, 2006.

Click here for the video of the interview.

1 Comment

Filed under Interviews, Media, Middle East & Muslim World

Interview with Robert Keeley: US Foreign Policy towards the Middle East

“We need to talk to them”

A former U.S. ambassador who met with Hamas leaders on a recent Middle East trip says the Bush administration urgently needs more diplomacy.

By Kathleen Haley

Feb. 25, 2006 | Robert Keeley is an outspoken critic of George W. Bush’s Middle East policies. He also believes in the importance of diplomacy. That’s why the retired U.S. diplomat met with Middle East leaders that the Bush administration condemns.

Keeley, a former U.S. ambassador to Greece, Zimbabwe and Mauritius, was one of seven members of a delegation that observed the Palestinian elections last month and traveled to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. They were the first former American diplomats to meet with Hamas members. They also met with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League.

The delegation was organized by the Council for the National Interest, a group that is highly critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East, in particular what it regards as America’s unbalanced support for Israel. CNI, which contains both a nonprofit lobby and an educational foundation, was founded by Paul Findley, a former Republican congressman from Illinois who lost his seat in 1982 after he was targeted by AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israeli lobby.

Salon talked with Keeley about his visit to the Middle East in a recent telephone interview.

Your delegation met with major Hamas leaders, including Mahmoud al-Zahar, Shaikh Naif Rajoub and Khaled Mashaal. Your group also met with many other leaders in the Middle East, including the presidents of Lebanon and Syria. How was your delegation received by these leaders?

Well, they were, I would say, more than welcoming. They were eager to have Americans they could talk to. We were horrified in a way that we had had such easy access. Because that means that other people did not have access, or are not bothering to try to get access. These people are rather desperate to get their message out, and to talk to Americans. I suppose they thought we might be sympathetic, but they didn’t necessarily know exactly what our views were. They gave us lots of time; they were never hurried.

Was that how you were also received by the Hamas leaders? Were they also eager [to meet with you]?

Yes, they were. Hamas is on the list of terrorist organizations, meaning that official Americans can’t talk to them. I don’t know how much the U.S. media people talk to them — I don’t think enough. They’ve decided they want to go into politics. They have made attacks on Israel — violent attacks, sometimes against civilians, what we label as terrorism. I don’t dispute that. But they declared a truce a year ago, and they’ve honored that. So I think they’ve earned what they won. And they were very eager to show a moderate face — that they’ve decided to go into politics and try to achieve their goals through peaceful means, rather than through violence. I would hope that they get a broad spectrum of people joining in, so that it isn’t just a Hamas government. There are other tendencies and other viewpoints amongst the Palestinians.

Hamas does not recognize Israel. What approach do you think Israel should take with Hamas?

Well, it’s not a question of not recognizing. They don’t recognize Israel as it exists. If Hamas is going to talk to Israel, they obviously have to talk to somebody that exists; they can’t pretend they don’t exist. The question is: Where? What is your territory? What are your borders? What are your intentions? Obviously, if they’re going to have a settlement, they have to agree that the other side of the settlement exists.

As regards borders: What is your position on the so-called separation barrier, or the “wall,” which goes beyond the “Green Line” marking the 1967 borders and caves off large portions of Palestinian land? The U.S. has supported it; the International Court of Justice has condemned it.

According to international law, and the Geneva Conventions, and U.N. Security Council resolutions like 242, you’re not allowed to acquire land by military force, by military means, by occupation. If the wall were being built along the Green Line, I don’t think there would be as strong an objection to it. It wouldn’t be impinging on Palestinian land. Furthermore, it wouldn’t be isolating Palestinian cities, towns and villages from each other, and from communicating with other parts of the West Bank.

The other problem is whether Israel — although it doesn’t say so — really intends that to be the permanent border. If that’s the case, then Israel has acted unilaterally and has decided what the borders are going to be. The wall separates Israelis from Palestinians, but it also incorporates major Israeli settlements on the Israeli side of the wall. This makes people think that Israel is planning to incorporate those settlement areas eventually as part of Israel, that is, annex the land.

In regard to the settlements, in April 2004, Bush wrote a letter in which he changed a long-standing U.S. position on Israeli settlements by saying that “realities on the ground” meant that large Israeli settlements on the West Bank would remain. What’s your opinion of that?

I don’t think it was a good move. And it was a definite change in our policy. Originally, way back in the Carter administration, and previously, we considered those settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza, on Palestinian land, to be illegal. Later, the formula began to change. With President Reagan, they had great difficulty in the State Department, and elsewhere, preparing a position paper for the new administration because President Reagan was much more sympathetic to Israel. He didn’t want to say the settlements were illegal. He said they were a difficulty, or an obstacle, in the final negotiations. Later on, under George Bush senior, it became still somewhat different — I don’t remember the exact formula — it was that their future was to be settled through negotiations and so forth. In other words, they were no longer declared to be illegal or even improper. Under President Clinton [the policy] was further transformed. And again, [the Israeli settlements] became part of the final settlement negotiations between the two sides. And [the U.S.] didn’t take a strongly negative position on them.

What George W. Bush did was to, in effect, prejudge these negotiations and say, obviously some of these settlements have to be part of Israel as part of a final settlement deal. In other words, there’s nothing to negotiate about them — it has already been decided they’re going to be part of Israel.

What position do you think the Bush administration should take on [Kadima Party head and acting and presumed next Israeli prime minister] Ehud Olmert’s announced plan (which follows Ariel Sharon’s presumed intentions) to proceed unilaterally with withdrawals from some West Bank settlements, but keep the big settlement blocs on the West Bank and refuse to give up East Jerusalem?

The same thing I’ve been saying applies — that these unilateral decisions preempt any final settlement negotiations. I don’t think those unilateral actions are going to achieve a peaceful settlement because they’re taken by one side without reference to the other side.

Most observers see Jerusalem, in particular, as a “red line” for the Palestinians — i.e., that if they are not allowed to establish a capital in East Jerusalem there will be no peace. Do you think the Bush administration should be pressuring Israel to negotiate on Jerusalem?

On Jerusalem, that’s one of those four issues that I mentioned are supposed to be settled in the final status negotiations. Israel has already, again unilaterally, annexed all of expanded Jerusalem. First of all, it extended the borders of what is the city of Jerusalem, including a lot of West Bank territory, where they’ve established Israeli settlements, going up toward Ramallah in the north and down toward Bethlehem in the south. In other words, they enlarged the city. Then they annexed the whole city, including East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as part of Israel. And [the Israelis] have repeatedly said that this is the permanent, undivided and sole capital of Israel.

That is, no doubt, the most difficult issue of all in this conflict. And it extends well beyond the Palestinians because part of the Old City — the Dome of the Rock, what they call the Haram al-Sharif — is a sacred, holy site for Muslims throughout the world.

How much does the U.S. support for Israel hurt us with the Arab and Muslim world? What effect has it had on the fight against terror?

In my opinion, we’ve pursued a very one-sided policy. And it seems one-sided in the Arab world. That is, we give pretty much unbending support to Israel. I think the Arabs see us as being very biased in favor of one side in a dispute that is between Israel and the Arabs, and between Israel and the Palestinians. In my opinion, if you want to act as an honest broker, you have to be much more evenhanded.

Why do you think the Bush administration has tilted so strongly toward Israel?

I think there are some very influential people in the administration — particularly around Vice President Cheney, on his staff, and some of the people working on the National Security Council, and even some in the State Department — who have a long record of being very pro-Israel activists. They have been advocating policies that are beneficial to Israel, and they have a major influence.

Is the U.S. saber rattling over Syria productive or counterproductive?

I don’t think it’s productive. I think we need to talk to them. I’m a retired diplomat, and of course I believe in diplomacy. What we found on our trip was that there was not enough diplomacy going on and not enough exchange of views. We should be talking to people, even people we disagree with. If you don’t talk to them, there’s no way you’re going to diminish the problems you have with them, or find any solutions.

Based on the things you’ve learned from your trip, what are your recommendations regarding U.S. policies in the Middle East?

I have a specific recommendation. This came to us originally from Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League. The Arab League had a meeting in Beirut, Lebanon, in March 2002. Crown Prince Abdullah, who is now King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, presented a peace proposal, directed at the U.S. and Israel. It was an offer for all the Arab states to recognize Israel de jure, that is, with full diplomatic relations, with no question about Israel’s legitimacy, if Israel were willing to withdraw to the 1967 borders and permit the Palestinians to create a Palestinian sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as their capital.

The Arab League made a major concession on the question of the Palestinian refugees outside the territory. They said that this is a problem that should be negotiated with Israel in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194, which is an old resolution about the refugees going back to 1948, 1949. Resolution 194 says that they should be permitted to return to their homes, or be compensated for loss of property if they didn’t return home. The Arab League wasn’t saying all the Palestinian refugees had to go back to Israel; it said the refugee issue could be solved by negotiation.

The U.S. and the Israelis totally ignored this; we didn’t answer it, we didn’t comment on it. I would say let’s go back and look at that.

— By Kathleen Haley

1 Comment

Filed under Hamas, Interviews, Middle East & Muslim World, Palestine

Spiegel Interview with US Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes

 

SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH US UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE KAREN HUGHES

“My Job Starts with the Truth”

Undersecretary of State and George W. Bush confidante Karen Hughes, 49, has the difficult job of improving America’s tarnished image in the world. SPIEGEL spoke with her about anti-American sentiment across the globe, unrest in the Muslim world and the truth.

"Our opponents want to make this about faith, but it's really about a political ideology."
Zoom
AFP
US undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs Karen Hughes: “Our opponents want to make this about faith, but it’s really about a political ideology.”

SPIEGEL: Madame Undersecretary, your job may be the toughest in the Bush Administration. Your task is to improve America’s image in the world. Do you sometimes feel like Sisyphus?

Hughes: I remember the morning after the president announced that he’d asked me to take on this task. I ran into the vice president and he looked at me and said: “Karen, my condolences, you’ve taken the toughest job in the government.” It’s a huge challenge. On the other hand, it’s also a great honor because I believe ours is a wonderful country.

SPIEGEL: Take a look at what is happening now: There is an uproar concerning new pictures showing atrocities in Abu Ghraib. And a United Nations report is demanding that Guantanamo be shut down.

Hughes: Those pictures are disgusting and, frankly, I’m embarrassed, as an American, to think that people around the world associate those pictures with our country. Those pictures are old and represent crimes for which many people have already been punished, including one who is currently serving a 10-year sentence in prison. We don’t want to be defined by those pictures, any more than the people of Germany would want your country to be defined by pictures of crimes. They don’t represent America. On the larger issue of Guantanamo, what to do with dangerous terrorists who wish to kill innocent Americans, Germans and others is a very difficult one, but we feel this report is fundamentally flawed. The authors of the report did not even accept the offer to visit Guantanamo. Our government has been wrestling with how to deal with terrorists who don’t wear a uniform, who don’t represent any state, who therefore don’t fit neatly under any international treaty or convention. Nonetheless, we are treating the detainees humanely and consistent with our laws and treaty obligations.

SPIEGEL: You could at least give them a fair trial.

Hughes: We have given fair reviews to these individuals and have released those we believe no longer pose a threat to the US or our allies. The first responsibility of government is to protect its citizens, but we are very willing to listen to constructive suggestions of what we ought to do with the more than 400 terrorists who are a threat to us or who refuse to renounce their stated ambitions to kill Americans and others. I note that some of those who have been released have unfortunately returned to the fight.

SPIEGEL: Why is the government still refusing to release all of the Abu Ghraib pictures?

Hughes: The concern is that this will only spark further violence and therefore risk lives. These events took place several years ago now, they have been investigated and people have been punished. It would only further inflame a world that’s currently, as we’ve seen in the case of the cartoon situation, on edge. I’m looking at work that may take decades. For example, one of my biggest projects is how do we delegitimize terror? How do we discredit that as a tactic? How do we say, no matter how legitimate your grievance is, it is never appropriate to blow yourself up and kill lots of innocent civilians? We have to do with terror what was done to slavery. It was once widely accepted and it’s now an international pariah.

SPIEGEL: But Europe is deeply concerned that America has lost the moral high ground in dealing with these problems. After 9/11 almost the entire world stood behind the United States, but now we see an historic level of anti-Americanism. How could you squander this capital so quickly?

Hughes: I’ve seen some polling before September 11th, where many people around the world were expressing concern about America. We are a superpower, and with that comes some resentment. But we do need to do a better job of reaching out, of listening. That’s the reason the president asked me to take this job, as someone who is a close friend of his, who is able to travel and listen and come back and share what I hear with the president and the secretary of state.

SPIEGEL: So what do you hear in the Muslim world? Why is there so much hatred against America?

Hughes: That’s not an accurate depiction. I think they have concerns. Many view the war on terror as a war against Islam, but that is the message of our enemies, and that’s not true. Our efforts against terror are a common effort among people of all faiths and all nationalities to fight an ideology of hate. They want to impose tyranny on the rest of us. It’s very interesting that the people who know the agenda of the extremists best, the people of Afghanistan, reject it the most.

SPIEGEL: The deeper goal of your efforts is to create a more moderate Islam?

Hughes: It’s not for me to tell another person how to practice their faith. But I’m working to empower voices within the Muslim community who speak up to say that Islam is a religion of peace not of violence. We must isolate and marginalize the violent extremists and undermine their effort to appropriate Islam, that’s a very important strategic imperative. I’ve reached out extensively to our Muslim-American community, because I believe they are a very important bridge. We send them around the world, they have a lot more credibility to debate issues of faith than I do as a Christian woman. They make the case that all major faiths are teaching that life is precious and that you should not take innocent life. Our opponents want to make this about faith, but it’s really about a political ideology.

SPIEGEL: Was the cartoon issue a setback for these efforts?

Hughes: Sometimes the most strident voices are the ones that are heard loudest in today’s media market. Both Muslim and Western voices have spoken out that these protests should be peaceful. We can not allow the extremes to define this debate.

SPIEGEL: The cartoons showed up very rarely in American press.

Hughes: My country is a very large and diverse multicultural melting pot, and we have learned to speak respectfully about things others hold precious to them. There are certain words most civil people in America don’t use — racial and ethnic slurs — not because any law prohibits us, but because civility and decency and respect for our fellow citizens call us to a community responsibility. And the best place to debate these issues, by the way, is in democratic societies.

SPIEGEL: Are you going to Germany next week because the resentment against the Bush Administration is particularly high there?

Hughes: We believe this is a moment of promise for our historic friendship with Germany. You have a new chancellor; she had a wonderful visit in Washington. Americans really appreciated her candor and forthrightness. She, as someone who grew up behind the Iron Curtain, understands the importance of freedom, and we view Germany as an important partner in helping foster democracy that we believe will lead, ultimately to a safer world.

SPIEGEL: But even such a close friend as Angela Merkel is criticizing Guantanamo.

Hughes: I hope that the people of Germany would be able to recognize that we should not allow a difference over how we handle 490 terrorists who have pledged to kill Americans and others to divide our two countries and our historic friendship. I try to focus on the common interests and common values between America and Germany. We can not base our foreign policy only on a sense of common threats; we must also focus on our common interests and values.

SPIEGEL: A majority in the United States is supportive of a military strike against Iran as a last resort. The Europeans are very much concerned about that. Do you fear that this might lead to a new rift?

Hughes: Actually, we’ve been working very closely with our partners in the EU-3 (Germany, France and the United Kingdom). We hope that we are able to resolve this diplomatically — that is our fervent hope. We are on the same page. And I hope that Europe would understand that an American president can never take, in the end, a military option off the table.

SPIEGEL: Your government is spending another $75 million to support Iranian opposition groups and radio channels. In the old days of the Cold War that was called propaganda, what do you call it today?

Hughes: It is an effort to communicate with the people of Iran directly because we want to make very clear that we support their aspirations for freedom. We hope that one day the people of Iran will have a government that is worthy of them. What do you mean by propaganda?

SPIEGEL: One government influencing another via broadcasts …

Hughes: I don’t like the word influence and I don’t believe that’s my job. I view my job as engaging people. This is not Karen Hughes speaking at the world. This is Karen listening and our government listening and exchanging views. Yes, I want to put my country in the best possible light but my job starts with truth and so I don’t even like the word spin doctor, because that implies you concoct something. I’m communicating the truth.

SPIEGEL: Do you sometimes think that the Europeans are hypercritical with your friend, the president?

Hughes: I know him so well personally, that I sometimes am stunned by what I see as a caricature of him that has emerged in some press coverage. He’s a very warm person, he’s a very thoughtful person, he’s a very decent person. He cares deeply about people, he’s a wonderful leader. I think all of us should take a breath and be a little bit more charitable about how we view each other.

Interview conducted by Frank Hornig and Georg Mascolo.

Leave a comment

Filed under Interviews

Interview with Olivier Roy

Globalized Islam – Interview with Olivier Roy
Religioscope
8 Nov 2004

In 2002, after years of work on political Islam, French scholar Olivier Roy published a major book on “globalized Islam”. A revised and updated version of this work has now been published in English.

According to Roy’s analysis, contemporary Islamic projects are becoming increasingly disconnected from a particular territory, partly as a consequence of the failure of all attempts to build an Islamic state. This means that trends are likely to move more and more toward an Islamization of individuals within the context of a global, de-territorialized ummah. This applies to both pietistic movements and radical, political forms of Islam, according to Roy.

Islam is not immune to trends found across all other religions, such as individualization. Islam is more and more often becoming disconnected from a specific culture, as evidenced by the growing number of young Muslims in the West who define their identities primarily or merely as Muslim, instead of defining themselves according to their parents’ origins.

In this interview, Olivier Roy shares some of his observations, as well as developments in his analysis, with the readers of Religioscope.
Ed: Full article below

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Interviews, Islamism

NPR’s Mideast Coverage

NPR Home Page

NPR’s Mideast Coverage

Due to intense listener interest, starting on May 6, 2002, NPR began providing at no charge the transcripts and audio of reports about the Mideast produced by NPR in its newsmagazines and talk shows. As a service to listeners, NPR transcribes Morning Edition®, All Things Considered®, Weekend Edition Saturday, Weekend Edition Sunday and Talk of the Nation. We do not transcribe other programs or hourly newscasts because it is cost prohibitive.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Interviews, Media, Middle East & Muslim World

Saudi Stories (BBC Radio 4)

Saudi Stories: A series featuring remarkable interviews with people from the closed and often secretive society of Saudi Arabia.

Bill Law has made many trips to the kingdom, which is takingtentative steps towards greater openness. This time he succeeded ingaining access to reformers, officials and many of those people caughtup in the ongoing struggle between traditionalists and modernisers at acrucial time in the country’s history.
Ed: Found via Seeker‘s Digest

Leave a comment

Filed under Interviews, Media, Saudi Arabia