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Salameh Nematt discusses Islamic-Western relations

By Jenna Fernandes

Section: News

September 16, 2005

Salameh Nematt, Washington Bureau Chief of Al-Hayat International Arab Daily in London, gave a talk and fielded questions Monday afternoon regarding Islamic-Western relations.

The event, entitled Hope, not Hate, focused on the long-term strategy for improving relations between the West and the Islamic world and was a commemoration of the four year anniversary of September 11th, according to the Brandeis Calendar description for the event.

He began his talk with a diagnosis of what he believes to be the cause of radical Islamic terrorism. He calls it not a religious problem, but a political problem, saying religion is used to promote political goals. He stresses that Islam does not permit killing innocent people, but that people created their own ideology.

He attributes the rise of Islamic militancy to a failure of seculars in the Arab world. He described the rise to power of literally families who create autocracies, dictatorships and regimes which cause mass bloodshed and oppression.

These regimes are powerful enough to crush any secular opposition, but they cant shut down the mosques. Nematt says the mosques then become the only form of political protest.

Because the dictatorships are often supported by the West, the Arabic people see Europe and America as in collusion with the regimes;

providing financial, military and technological support.

Nematt criticizes US relations with the power structure in the Middle East, saying the President receives dictators and treats them as his friends. He also accuses the West of wanting their friends in power and taking advantage of Middle Eastern oil, stating pricing is being manipulated by the US at the expense of the Arabic people in order to please the American people.

This criticism also extends to the media, who do not cover what is really going on in these countries, singling out New York Times journalist and Brandeis Trustee Thomas L. Friedman 75.

He says this is the reason extremists have exported terrorism, citing the effect the deaths of 3,000 Americans had on 9/11, while the 300,000 people Saddam Hussein buried in mass graves went unnoticed, saying just because you didnt see it on CNN doesnt mean it didnt happen. Terrorists believe they have to attack the West to have an impact.

Nematt goes on to talk about the feelings of mainstream Arabs, saying that most dont agree with the extremists, but sympathize. He urges the American people to pressure the government and the media to expose scandals in the regimes in order to convince Arabs that Americans are on the side of the people.

Nematt sees terrorism as a sign of desperation of people who could not express themselves, adding that this is not a justification, but an explanation. He says radical Islamists wish to punish Americans for the support of corrupt regimes.

He adds that extremism is the product of a lack of democracy and freedom, and therefore supports the war in Iraq. He declares that by invading Iraq, Bush did something good without intending it. Referring to Saddam Hussein, who is blamed for the deaths of 1 million people, he says Bush actually found the weapon [of mass destruction] and neutralized the weapon. He makes the claim that Bush is going to go down in history as the one who brought democracy to the Middle East.

He does, however, find fault with the way the war has been handled. He says partisan politics has done damage to the effort as well as European dissent. He places most of the blame on the surrounding countries, alleging they send terrorists to Iraq to undermine the democratic project.

As evidence, he points out that while all the suicide bombers dying in the name of Palestine have been Palestinian, 90% of suicide bombers in Iraq are foreigners. He adds that the insurgency is not a genuine nationalist resistance and that Iraqi nationalists and Iraqi opposition are in the government.

He believes the war was necessary because it is the moral responsibility of the US to help people get rid of dictatorships. At minimum, he says, we have to stop backing dictatorships and have standards for human rights and free media and apply them.

Also speaking at the event was Professor David Gil of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, who took a more critical view of the US. He stressed that before we can spread democracy, we have to democratize ourselves. He spoke of terrorism as not the initiation of the problem, but a reaction. He also pointed out that we were cooperating with [Hussein] when it seemed to suit US interests.

Organizing the event was Sayeda Haq, a graduate student in Heller. She said the event was sponsored by Americans for Informed Democracy (AID), which, according to their informational flyer, is a non-partisan, student-led organization working on more than 250 university campuses to raise global awareness and promote discussion of the US role in the world.

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