The need for a new approach towards the Middle East, particularly on issues like terrorism and Islamism, was highlighted during one of the sessions in the Doha Forum and Enriching the Middle East’s Economic Future IV Conference here yesterday.
The session, titled ‘The Middle East: New imperatives and old realities’, featured prominent speakers, including Daniel Kurtzer, former US ambassador to Egypt and Israel, who is currently a visiting professor of Middle East policy studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; Robert Toscano of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, France; Waddah Khanfar, director general, Al Jazeera Network; Malik Dahlan, principal, Quraysh Institution for Law and Policy, based in the UK; and Richard Schofield, senior lecturer, Department of Geography, Kings College, London.
Khanfar said the western world had been facing a problem of methodology while dealing with Islamist movements in the Arab and Muslim world.
“When we say Islamists, Osama bin Laden and Taliban are the two images that instantly come to our mind, thanks to the Western media. The West should go beyond these stereotypes and try to understand and engage with Islamic movements,” said Khanfar.
He said Islamism was not a new phenomenon and it had evolved from educational and religious movements to political entities over the past several decades.
“Some of these movements are now more pragmatic than many governments in the Arab world. They are now willing to enter in to a discourse with the rest of the world but the West has failed to understand this change,” said Khanfar, citing the example of groups like Taliban, Hamas and Hezbollah.
Toscano said it was wrong to identify terrorism with any particular religion or community. “Terrorism is a form of conflict that can be used by anyone — Muslims, communists, Catholics or others. So Islamist terrorism is a fallacy. Fighting terrorism with force is also a false idea,” said Toscano.
He said the most important thing was to address the root causes of terrorism such as poverty and unemployment, which remain serious problems in many countries in the Arab world. He said the global downturn could worsen the problem with an increase in the number of unemployed youth.
Kurtzer spoke on the policy challenges facing the new US administration in the Middle East on issues such as Iran, Syria, Palestine and Israel.
He said US President Barack Obama had adopted “soft power diplomacy” that seeks to integrate American interests with the interests of its partners. This policy, however, does not exclude the idea of maintaining US military and economic supremacy in the world.
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