February 26, 2003

IS IT ISLAM OR ARABISM?:

The arc of moderate Islam, (Tom Rose, Feb. 20, 2003, Jerusalem Post)
Just as many in the West seemed to be resigning themselves to the inexorable force of militant Islam, six Muslim nations convened in the Republic of Kazakhstan last week to break bread with Jewish leaders from the United States.

Israelis seemed transfixed last weekend by two televised images. In Europe, millions of demonstrators choked the streets of nearly every capital to protest US threats to disarm Saddam Hussein. And in Mecca, millions of Muslim pilgrims concluded the annual Haj with repeated chants of "Murder the Jews" and "Death to America."

These taken together, the average viewer would be forgiven for thinking that militant Islam is an unstoppable force - and that the West lacks the will to confront it.

But something else happened last weekend. Far away from international media centers, in the sleepy capital of the newly independent Muslim Republic of Kazakhstan, representatives of six Muslim nations, including three presidents and three foreign ministers, convened to condemn militant Islam, showcase their moderation and encourage greater interaction with the West.

To make their point, they invited a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to take part in the summit as full participants. Just as many in the West seemed resigned to the inexorable force of militant Islam, six Muslim states were breaking bread with Jewish leaders from the United States.

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev hosted an event he called "The International Conference on Peace and Accord." Seated around Nazarbaev's long horseshoe table inside the grand and gilded "Golden Hall" state room were the presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Afghanistan. With them sat Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman of the President's Conference and publisher of the New York Daily News, US News and World Report magazine, and former US senator Rudy Boschwitz. [...]

In Kazakhstan, nearly 45% of the country 16 million citizens are non-Muslim, including about 30,000 Jews. Avraham Berkowitz, the executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Commonwealth of Independent States points out that "Kazakhstan is the only Muslim country strongly encouraging Jewish life. Right now, there are 20 synagogues being built across the country, paid for by the state. The government is helping Jewish schools, providing security to Jewish institutions and working to improve relations with Israel."

True or not, Kazakh President Nazarbaev, regularly admonished by human-rights groups for cracking down on political opponents, sees the development of strong ties with Israel and American Jewry as the key to better relations with Washington and faster access to the Western capital he needs to develop his country's natural resources.

"The faster he can deliver that wealth," says [Richard] Perle, "the stronger a bulwark his country can become against militant Islam. If he thinks that the road to Washington goes through Jerusalem, all the better."

Indeed, in addition to extending his offer to negotiate the return of Israeli soldiers kidnapped and held by Hizbullah, Nazarbaev announced that he would allow coalition forces to use Kazakh airspace and facilities in a campaign to disarm Iraq. He made that announcement while on a highly publicized state visit to neighboring India, the purpose of which was to better coordinate the two nations' anti-terrorist campaigns.

"That these nations remain largely unknown," says Perle, "is both a failure and an opportunity. Not only are these states not pursuing sharia [Islamic law], they are leading the fight against it. The opportunity they present is that they will soon provide the living proof that moderate Islamic societies are able to realize real social and political development. The failure is that we have not done our job helping these countries to deliver that example already. If we wait much longer, it may be too late."


If non-Arab Muslim states begin to develop close ties with the West, even with Israel (as Turkey has), then the Arab Middle East ends up extraordinarily isolated as well as surrounded. Don't its leaders--especially the kings in Saudi Arabia and Jordan and Hosni Mubbarak in Egypt--have to deal with that at some point? Posted by Orrin Judd at February 26, 2003 10:09 AM
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