Published 04 Dec 07
By Abigail R. Esman
World Defense Review columnist
What terrorists? All they're asking for is peace.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a panel debate on terrorism at a cultural center in the Hague. Before questioning the panelists, however, the moderator turned to address the audience. Why had they come? she asked. What did they hope to learn? Were they familiar with the subjects of the evening's discussion – namely, Hamas, Hezbollah, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Osama bin Laden?
A tall, attractive, and clearly well-educated Dutch woman raised her hand. "I came," she said, "to learn more about Osama bin Laden, because right now I don't know very much: only that he is an intellectual, that he grew annoyed with America and supposedly did what he did."
I prepared myself for an interesting evening ahead.
The set-up of the event, titled "Know Thine Enemy," was as follows: Panel members had been sent, in advance, copies of speeches by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh; Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah; President Ahmadinejad; and Osama bin Laden. The audience received a single sheet with brief, two- or three-paragraph excerpts from each, including the following:
"The morality and culture of the holocaust is your culture, not our culture. In fact, burning living beings is forbidden in our religion, even if they be small like the ant, so what of man!? The holocaust of the Jews was carried out by your brethren in the middle of Europe, but had it been closer to our countries, most of the Jews would have been saved by taking refuge with us. And my proof for that is in what your brothers, the Spanish, did when they set up the horrible courts of the Inquisition to try Muslims and Jews, when the Jews only found safe shelter by taking refuge in our countries. And that is why the Jewish community in Morocco today is one of the largest communities in the world. They are alive with us and we have not incinerated them."
— Osama bin Laden, "Message to the American People," 6 September, 2007
"I invite everybody to form a front of fraternity, amity and sustainable peace based on monotheism and justice under the name of 'Coalition for Peace,' to prevent incursions and arrogance and to promote the culture of affection and justice."
— President Ahmadinejad, "Address to the UN General Assembly," 26 September, 2007
"Imagine the state which possesses the world's second biggest oil reserve if not the biggest, a state leading the countries of the world in petroleum exports, yet its people are displaced, migrated, poor and in need for food rations just to eat?
"This is the prosperity the Americans promised us: a people without nutrition, medicine, security, stability, or freedom.
"Where is this freedom in Iraq today?"
— Sayyed Nasrallah, "Speech for Al Quds International Day," 5 October, 2007
"The government, through national conciliation, will work on consolidating the calm and expanding it to become a comprehensive reciprocal truce happening at the same time between both sides and this should be in return for Israel halting its occupation measures on the ground in terms of assassinations, arrests, incursions, and home demolition and leveling of lands and the digging works in Jerusalem, and it should work on removing the checkpoints and reopening the crossings and lifting all the restrictions on movement and the release of prisoners. ...
[The Palestinian Unity Government commits to caring for the sector of women] so that women can assume the status they deserve based on their sacrifices and to secure them participation in the decision-making process."
— Ismail Haniyeh, "Program of Palestinian Unity Government," 17 March, 2007
And so the discussion began, held among three participants: an Iraqi artist, forced into the uncomfortable position of "token Muslim" for the occasion; a journalist who had been held hostage by Chechnyan rebels for 666 days and had recently completed a novel based on the life of one of Holland's most famous Muslim extremists, Samir Azzuz (http://worlddefensereview.com/esman012207.shtml); and an expert in Arab culture for the country's most prestigious and highly respected scholarly institution, Clingendael. What, the moderator asked them, was "terrorist" about these statements?
One by one, the three presented their views. Some were insightful, leading to tangential discussions about the nature of the Islamic state ("Define it for me," said the scholar from Clingendael, who had previously held a career as a lawyer. "Whenever I ask people to do that, they say, 'it's Islam.' But they can't be more specific than this."), or the history of the Shi'a/Sunni conflict, and the fact that suicide bombing was invented by Hezbollah. Others were more predictable: "If we are going to insist upon democracy, we have to recognize a democratically-elected government like Hamas", or "If Hezbollah only uses suicide bombing tactics against the military, can they really be considered 'terrorists'?"
All in all, however, the discussion remained cordial. There was a lot of nodding, an occasional "I'm not sure I agree," followed equally by "I can see your point, though. ...". All in all, the panel agreed, two things could be derived from these texts: one, with the exception of bin Laden's, they were exceedingly boring to read; and two, ultimately they represented a reaching out; in contrast with Bush's "for us or against us," these leaders seemed to be seeking unity and peace.
And with that settled, we all dispersed for wine and hors d'oeuvres in the cultural center lobby.
Then I went home.
Included with the text excerpts we'd been handed at the debate were web addresses where those who wished to read the texts in full could find them.
So I did.
And what I discovered was that, with the exception of the statement from Hamas, which was brief, matter-of-fact, and basically unremarkable, the full texts in no way matched the tenor or implied content of the passages we, the audience, had been given. Consequently, in the interest of objectivity and enlightenment, I have chosen to present, below, further excerpts from these speeches – excerpts the audience was not shown, passages that were never raised as issues in the discussion, for those who care to read them:
From President Ahmadinejad's Address to the UNGA, 26 September, 2007
"The brutal Zionists carry out targeted assassinations of Palestinians in their homes and cities, and terrorists are decorated with medals of peace and receive support from the big powers. On the other hand they gather a number of Jews from different parts of the world through false propaganda and with the promise of providing them with welfare, jobs, and food, and settle them in the occupied territories...They prevent these people from returning to their homelands and by coercion and propaganda induce them to malevolence toward the indigenous Palestinian people. [...]
"Now I would like to address those who have shown hostility towards the Iranian nation for about five years: offended and accused my people who have contributed to the history and civilization of the world, and I advise them to learn from history and their recent actions.
"They badly mistreated the Iranian nation but they should be careful not to inflict the same on other members of international organizations, and not to sacrifice the dignity of international organizations for the sake of their unlawful wishes. Today the nations of the world are wide awake and resistant. If you reform yourselves, the whole world will be reformed.
"They should endeavor to serve their own people; others that do not need them. [sic] Is it not high time for these powers to return from the path of arrogance and obedience to Satan to the path of faith in God? Would they not like to be cleansed of their impurities, submit to the will of God and believe in Him? [....] If they accept this invitation, they will be saved, and if they don't, the same calamities that befell the people of the distant past will befall them as well. [...]
"You, who crave high values, wherever you are ... The era of darkness will end, prisoners will return home, the occupied lands will be freed, Palestine and Iraq will be liberated from the domination of the occupiers, and the people of America and Europe will be free of the pressures exerted by the Zionists.
"The tender-hearted and humanity-loving governments will replace the aggressive and domineering ones."
From H.E. Sayyed Nasrallah's "Speech for Al-Quds International Day, 5 October 2007
"Americans along with Zionists and the 'Israeli' Mossad stirred up the Shiite-Sunni fighting in Iraq, a situation that evolved into Sunni-Sunni fighting in more than on Iraqi governorate, and now they are working day and night to start Shiite-Shiite fighting in more than one Iraqi governorate. This is the American project: Sunni-Shiite fighting, Sunni-Sunni fighting, Shiite-Shiite fighting, Arab fighting Kurds, Kurdish fighting Turkmen; this is what is happening in the Iraqi arena. American leaders no consider the Sunnis fighting Sunnis in the Anbar province, one of their greatest achievements in recent months; has this not been presented as a qualitative achievement for Bush, the military leadership and the armed forces in Iraq? [...] On your behalf, I appeal to the Iraqi people and say to them, 'your unity and connectedness, your overcoming of sedition and national reconciliation are all your only choice. Your jihad and political resistance and your cooperation are the only path towards saving Iraq and the entire region. [...]
"The 'Israeli' Zionists killed Jews in Western and Eastern Europe as well as in different parts of the world. They killed sons of their own religious faith to force them to migrate to occupied Palestine.
"Because their plan necessitated that those Jews be killed, they killed them."
From Osama bin Laden's, "Message to the American People," 6 September, 2007
"To preface, I say: despite America being the greatest economic power and possessing the most powerful and up-to-date military arsenal as well; and despite it spending on this war and its army more than the entire world spends on its armies; and despite it being the major state influencing the policies of the world, as if it has a monopoly on the unjust right of veto; despite all of this, 19 young men were able – by the grace of Allah, the Most High – to change the direction of its compass. [...]
"However, there are two solutions for stopping [the war in Iraq]: The first is from our side, and it is to continue to escalate the killing and fighting against you. This is our duty, and our brothers are carrying it out, and I ask Allah to grant them resolve and victory. And the second solution is from your side. It has now become clear to you and the entire world the impotence of the democratic system and how it plays with the interests of the peoples and their blood by sacrificing soldiers and populations to achieve the interests of the major corporations. [...] I invite you to embrace Islam, for the greatest mistake one can make in this world and one which is uncorrectable is to die while not surrendering to Allah, the Most High, in all aspects of one's life – i.e., to die outside of Islam. [...]
"And peace be upon he who follows the Guidance."
These, of course, again are only excerpts. In fairness, to judge the texts – and the intentions of their authors – one should read them in entirety, and I hope that the woman who thinks of Osama bin Laden as an "annoyed intellectual" one day decides to do so. But she's been informed now, probably, well enough, by the "experts": These speeches are but gestures of harmony and peacemaking, humane words in a fierce and angry world. She knows now what she came to learn; and so, she never will.
— Abigail R. Esman is an award-winning author-journalist who divides her time between New York and The Netherlands. In addition to her column in World Defense Review, her work has appeared in Foreign Policy, Salon.com, Esquire, Vogue, Glamour, Town & Country, The Christian Science Monitor, The New Republic and many others. She is currently working on a book about Muslim extremism and democracy in the West to be published by Praeger in 2010.
Visit Esman on the web at abigailesman.com.
© 2007 Abigail R. Esman
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