2004 Report (Continued)
Historians in the future will surely wonder what went so wrong when the United States, for the first time ever, focused its foreign policy on the Islamic world. Following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the U.S. had an opportunity to tackle our serious differences and find common ground with 1.6 billion Muslims around the world. Even the war in Iraq held out the hope that by toppling so cruel and intolerable a dictatorship, the U.S. could have opened the door for the Iraqi people to build free, democratic institutions that would become an example for the region. I shared that dream. Obviously, events did not comply and today we are faced with our own disappointment and growing hostility abroad. But is all lost? Is our country inexorably bent on a clash with the Muslim world? Or might we still accept the proposition that what we lack in our relationship with the Muslim world is true understanding of what Islam is all about—understanding of the Muslim world’s diversity and history, understanding of the aspirations held by more than one and a half billion people?
The work done by the Dialogues: Islamic World-U.S.-The West program, founded and directed by my colleague and friend Mustapha Tlili at New School University’s World Policy Institute, should be, I submit, of great interest to our policy makers and all those who are often confused by the unfortunate outcomes of well-intentioned policies toward the Muslim world. Dialogues’ first international conference, which took place in Granada, Spain, in October 2002, gave a sense of the kind of contribution that the program would make to what I consider the great question of our time—that is, the future of the Western-Islamic relationship. I urged our policy makers, decision makers, media, and informed public, particularly the educational community, to ponder the conference report and heed its conclusions and recommendations.
In light of the dismal results of our intervention in Iraq—where we have nearly exhausted any goodwill resulting from the expulsion of Saddam Hussein’s sadistic regime—it is even more urgent that you read the report of the “Islam and Elections” workshop. I wish this workshop had been organized before the war in Iraq and that the report had been available to the Bush administration then. The report’s powerful insights and sophisticated analysis of the issue of good governance and its relationship to Islamic history, culture, tradition, and scripture might have saved the administration from engaging our country’s resources on so wrong a path; it might have spared not only many American and Iraqi lives, but also the Iraqi people’s hopes for justice, freedom, and the rule of law.
If Western-style democracy is to develop in Muslim-majority countries, it needs, in both form and substance, to adapt to Islamic understandings of just and good governance. It is my strong belief that inflexible ideological doctrines on both sides of the divide will not take us far in our quest for the triumph of participatory governance, the rule of law, accountability, and transparency in the Muslim world. As the Amman workshop report clearly shows, Islamic civilization shares these principles and goals with Western culture and its philosophical heritage. To preserve the chance for a politics of reason and mutual respect between our country and the Muslim world, we need to look no further than the Amman workshop report.
President of New School University
New York City
May 4, 2004