I recently have come across two columns from different parts of the world which I thought had some interesting parallels. One was by Rami Khouri, via the Daily Star of Lebanon. The other article was by William Pfaff who is a columnist for the International Herald Tribune.

Rami  Khouri’s, From Belfast to Beirut: Good news at last, tackles the idea of being inclusive in bringing various conflicting factions to the negotiating table as well as the idea that the factions must feel some sense of ownership of the ideas that are being brought to the table.

Khouri begins his piece by investigating the implications of the Irish Republican Army’s decision to halt violent resistance against the UK and explaining how this could serve as a model for establishing a peaceful Middle East “which in turn would help reduce the global terror problem”.

Khouri writes:

It would be equally nice if all concerned in the West and the Middle East would muster the courage, humility and determination to apply some of the same principles of peace-making in Northern Ireland to the confrontations and conflicts in this region. This could apply in at least three important areas in the Middle East: domestic military conflicts or political tensions within countries (Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon, Algeria, Egypt, Palestine, and others); the Palestinian-Israeli and the wider Arab-Israeli conflicts; and the standoff between the U.S., U.K. and some other Western states and leading Arab Islamist political and/or resistance groups like Hizbullah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and others.

Khouri continues to explain the “lessons for achieving a permanent, durable negotiated peace in the Middle East.” He describes three main areas:

These are the need for: a) an honest, patient and fair third-party mediator (the U.S. is the only option), b) decisive, courageous and self-confident leadership among the principal warring parties and mediators (we’re all in the D+/C- range on that one), and c) an inclusive negotiating process that allows all legitimate parties to sit at the negotiating table and help craft a permanent peace accord (nowhere in sight on most counts).

Khouri emphasizes that the process in Northern Ireland included “the republicans and unionists in Northern Ireland, and the British and American governments,” and commends each party.
He then includes the thoughts of Gabrielle Rifkind, a British psychoanalyst. She explains:

“The most important message of Northern Ireland, and it was learned through bitter experience, is that you must include all the parties in the process – whether you like it or not, whatever their faith – you must get them all around the table and hear the different voices…

In an effort to bridge this concept with negotiations in the Middle East, Khouri writes:

This lesson has not been learned in the Middle East, she says, citing how the Palestinian-Israeli Camp David summit in 2000 tried to solve the conflict in a week or two, with a glaring “asymmetry of power that denies the process of seriously engaging in something much more complex, something that takes account of all the different groups.”

Khouri quotes Rifkind again:

“You have to engage people in the end. Even if your ideas are good, as may be the case with the United States today trying to impose democracy and promote peace in the Middle East. Unless she engages people on the ground and listens to them and makes them feel like it’s their idea, and that it organically emerged from them, people won’t sign up for it. When there’s an asymmetry of power, telling other people about how they should behave will not succeed….There is a profound belief that Western society is more civilized and understands these things better, and therefore can tell other people how to be and how to behave, without owning up to the hypocrisy in all of that, or to how you in the Middle East see it in terms of the double-dealing that is going on”

William Pfaff’s editorial “Traditional Culture Strikes Back” raises some interesting points which address some of the same concerns Gabrielle Rifkind had.

Pfaff explains:

The bombers in London and the insurgents in Iraq may think that they are avenging themselves on Western civilization. Some in Washington, London and Tel Aviv may think that they are blocking the ambition of radical Muslims to create some marvelous new caliphate to rule the world. Both are wrong.

The civilizations at war are modernity on the one hand and the traditional world on the other. The Islamic fundamentalists’ terrorist attacks on the West are merely a sideshow – a bitter but doomed reaction to a war that modern society has already largely won, with liberals and conservatives united in their battle against the values, assumptions and mode of life of the vast majority of non-modern mankind.

Pfaff goes on to explain that despite the West’s intent on creating global or transnational progress via free societies and strong markets the West is in fact “the aggressor.” He argues that even perhaps unintentionally the modern world does not respect traditional civilizations and believes destroying them will bring about progress, but he questions this progress.

Pfaff contends that an important factor in understanding cultural differences lies in the disconnect between Western utopian ideas surrounding materialism versus a more traditional religious perspective.

Modern civilization has substituted a material utopia for religious salvation. Since the Enlightenment and the modern scientific revolution unseated religion as our society’s dominant intellectual force, material and social progress has replaced religious salvation as the goal of life.

To take an obvious political example of modern utopianism, the American campaign to deregulate global finance and open the world to U.S. business investment may have American material interest behind it but it was accepted by the Clinton administration and nearly everyone else in America and Western Europe as a progressive idea that would make societies everywhere richer by bringing them into the international trading system.

However, deregulation and the globalization of the world economy casually destroyed what already was there: self-sufficient economies functioning within traditional trading patterns, artisanal manufacturing for local or neighboring markets, subsistence agriculture – and the cultural assumptions that went along with all of this.

Pffaf’s conclusion echoes some of Khouri and Rifkind’s thoughts:

Modern Western civilization is the product of Western history and culture. The West is what it is because of its past. Nobody imposed foreign ideas on the West. Hence the West is at home in the modern world. The modern world was created by, and belongs to, the West.
But the West is trying to impose not only foreign ideas on everyone else, but ideas that contradict and would destroy the fundamental values and assumptions of non-Western societies.

It says: This is progress. Our progress is your destabilization, the destruction of your cultures, the creation of millions of culturally alienated, deracinated, displaced persons, ripped from their own past to become integrated into a radically materialistic ethic.

It should hardly be surprising that the reaction to this is nihilistic violence.

What do you think?

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