REVIEW: Article

Understanding the Islamic World Beyond Arabia: New Challenges to American Foreign Policy Post-September 11

We are gathered on the eve of our country’s metaphorical war against terrorism turning into a real war against Iraq. We are moving towards seeing our most immediate threat as coming not from the continuing proliferation of fundamentalist Islamic groups but rather from a secularist state whose leader both they and we abominate. That contradiction, fighting those who would turn Arabia into one theocratic despotism by destabilizing one of the major secularist bulwarks to their spread, is only one of the many incongruities our Middle East policy is heir to. But more about that later.

The United States (US)  has come late to understanding the Islamic world. Our views of Islam have mainly been shaped by our often-adversarial contact with the cauldron of the Middle East. From the founding of Israel in 1948 until the Iranian revolution in 1979 most of the American public thought all Muslims in that part of the world were Arabs. It came as a cultural shock that the Iranians were not. But since they were seen as just as fanatical as the Arabs, there must be something in the common religion they practiced that made them so. In spite of this belief, after the Soviet Union sent their troops into Afghanistan in 1979, the United States supplied and trained Muslim religious extremists in their fight to drive the invaders out. We have been living with the blowback of that decision ever since.      

While the Middle East has been the focus of our immediate post September 11 trauma and our confusion about the nature of the religion in whose name the terrorists professed to act, it is imperative that to understand Islam we must discard our old stereotypes.  We must see it as it is—as diverse as the other two great monotheistic religions, Christianity and Judaism, and worshiping the same God—called Yahweh in ancient times by the Jews and Allah then and now by Muslims.  Jesus, along with Abraham and Moses, is venerated in the Koran as a Prophet. So little did the West know about the religion that it was often referred to in my university days as Mohammedism in the mistaken belief that it regarded its founder, as did the Christians their own, as divine.

Today Islam is the majority religion in over forty countries. In seven others its adherents form between 25 to 49 percent of the population. In India, although their percentage is only 12, their absolute numbers of 124 million give that country the third largest Muslim community in the world, exceeded only by Indonesia’s 201 million and Pakistan’s 140 million.

There has been a hunger since the apocalyptic events of September 11 to learn more about the faith in whose name the suicide hijackers professed to act. We have for too long been too ignorant of the tenets of the world’s second largest religion, one which is soon to become the second largest practiced in this country.

But I would suggest that understanding the Koran gets us only a little further towards the roots of the crisis we are in than studying the Old or New Testaments would enlighten the Arab world about our motivations in the Middle East. The problems we face are at base political and not religious. The great danger before us is that the fanatical fringe in the Arab world will enlist in their jihad not only more within their borders but the vast majority of the Muslim world, which lies beyond the sands of Arabia.  It is about an often forgotten part of that world that I would like to address.

And I want to do so in order to challenge the conventional wisdom that has been with us since the destruction of the World Trade Center. Sam Huntington’s influential thesis that we are in the midst of a “clash of civilizations” has been too uncritically accepted. Apocalyptic scenarios have been regularly played out in the media and in Washington turning that thesis into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  But what civilization are we clashing with?  How monolithic is it?

While there are more Muslims in Asia than anywhere else, I am going to focus most of my piece on Africa, partly because it is the continent I know best and also because it contains some of the best syncretic counterweights to the fundamentalist image of Islam, which has of late dominated our consciousness.

In a world of one and a third billion Muslims, Arabs account for 18 percent of them. An equal number is to be found in sub-Saharan Africa. If we include North Africa, the percentage for the continent shoots up to 28 percent.

The adherents of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa are a widely varied lot. But for the purposes of this article, let’s divide them into two groups. The first is composed of those who claim to be Arab or to have been under long-term Arab “hegemony.” These would include Mauritania (2.7 million), northern Sudan (25 million), northern Chad (four million), and the East African coast (15 million). This would account for roughly 47 million of the sub-continent’s 237 million or 20 percent. The remaining 80 percent comprise the group I will be talking about most.

In the first century after the death of its founder, Islam expanded, through conquest and commerce, from the Bedouin camps along the Gulf to North Africa and South Asia. As one historian has put it:

“The creation within the space of a single century of a vast Arab Empire stretching from Spain to India is one of the most extraordinary marvels of history. The speed, magnitude, extent and permanence of these conquests excite our wonder and almost affront our reason.”

Islam traversed the Sahara southwards in a series of jihads and trading ventures in commodities and in people. In the eleventh century Muslims conquered Ghana, one of West Africa’s greatest empires. In 1591, Morocco destroyed the other great kingdom of the area—Songhai. From the fall of Ghana onwards it was West Africans themselves and not Arabs who spread the faith throughout the region. 

In East Africa, Islam was the religion of the Arab slave traders who regarded themselves as superior to the humans they traded in precisely because their victims were not Muslims. The adoption of Islam by many communities there did not take place until the slave trade was ended in the nineteenth century. European colonization prevented the significant advance of Islam into Southern Africa. The age of imperialism put Muslim countries for the first time under European domination and in Asia and Africa resulted in the leavening introduction of Western education and legal codes.

The converts shored up the Five Pillars of Islam with no less fervor than their Arab brethren. They professed their faith and witnessed (shahadah) that “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger”; they offered (salat) prayer to their God five times a day; they tithed alms (zakat) for the poor; they fasted from dawn to dusk during the Holy month of Ramadan; and with pride they strove to make the pilgrimage or hajj to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.

As a leading American authority on Islam, John Esposito, has observed:

“In a very real sense an Arab Islam was transformed into Persian, South Asian and Southeast Asian Islam [and here I would add African Islam] through the process of assimilation and synthesis. Despite the common core of belief and practice epitomized by the Five Pillars of Islam, Muslim societies differed in the extent and manner to which religion manifested itself in public life—politics, law and society.” 

And the dean of Western Arabists, Bernard Lewis, has observed:

“On the whole Islam triumphed only in certain limited spheres of social and family life. In most political and public matters it was overwhelmed by the more ancient traditions of the regions, which survived in an Islamic disguise, notably in the persistence of the autocratic, monarchical form of government.”

Islam sometimes played contradictory roles in the post-World War II independence struggles in Asia and Africa. In the former it was an accelerator, in the latter it was a brake. In Asia, Islam reemerged in public life and became the unifying force against colonial rule. Whereas, in Africa, the opposite was more often true.  Nigeria, for example, was scheduled to become the first of Britain’s West African colonies to become independent. However, the predominantly Muslim North felt that it would be a disadvantaged junior partner in a federation dominated by the more westernized southern ethnic groups. As a result Nigeria had to cede pride of place to Ghana in 1957 and wait three more years to haul down the Union Jack flying over their government buildings.

Because the Arab interest and identity has been relatively small, sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of Sudan, has been on the fringes of political Islam. Events in the Arab-Israeli conflict rarely reached the sustained level of outrage expressed over apartheid and the liberation struggle in southern Africa. Nevertheless, many African states including those with a relatively small Muslim population are members of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). Secular and syncretic though many of its governments may be, African Muslims are an active part of the ummah—or worldwide community of believers. Airstrips are crowded each year with planes chartered by their governments to take pilgrims to Mecca for the hajj. They are no less pious than their Arab brothers and are as avid students of the Koran.  

Pliny the Elder once famously observed: Ex Africa semper aliquid novi, meaning “Out of Africa, always something new.” Amid the gloom reported about the plague of HIV/AIDS, genocide, corruption, poverty, starvation and human rights abuses there are at least three new things or paradigms coming out Africa today. The first is from South Africa where in the wake of the ending of apartheid, racial reconciliation without vengeance or violence is taking place. The second is out of Uganda where a country, most thought a few years ago to be on the brink of extinction because of AIDS, has now become a model of how to deal with the scourge. The third is out of West Africa, the most Muslim area of the continent south of the Sahara.

I have been perplexed and I must admit more than a little annoyed by all the so-called expert talking heads on television and by the published books and articles analyzing September 11, which have dealt with the Muslim world as though it had never spread much beyond the desert kingdoms where it was born. Great generalizations about Islam have been pontificated based upon the societies of the Middle East. Little has been said about the rest of Asia and even less about Africa.

Bernard Lewis has written:

“[I]n most Muslim countries Islam is still the basic criterion of group identity and loyalty...there is a recurring tendency, in times of emergency, for Muslims to find their basic identity and loyalty in the religious community, that is to say, in an entity defined by Islam rather than by ethnic or territorial criteria.” 

This generalization, unfortunately, feeds the stereotype of Muslims as some Islamic version of Jehovah’s Witnesses, unable to serve both God and Caesar and in which religious identity trumps tribal culture or national patriotism. Even in the Middle East from which Lewis draws most of his evidence there are exceptions, the most dramatic of which occurred during the Iran-Iraq war. Then, despite the entreaties of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iraqi Shias, who form 60 percent of that nation’s population, refused to betray their country and take up arms on the side of Shia Iran against the Sunni minority government of Saddam Hussein. They saw the Iranians less as fellow Shias than as Persians—the ancient enemies of their Arab ancestors.

Africa provides us with compelling examples with which to question some of the conventional wisdom, which has been internalized by American policy makers and public opinion.

The first is that Islam is incompatible with democracy. I am amazed at how even the best of Islamophiles stumble over this one. Instead of presenting the available data they go into theoretical gymnastics trying to explain why the Islamic world is authoritarian. They make their analysis without putting it in the context of the rest of the non-Western world, which became independent after World War II. Most of it became authoritarian—either one party civilian-ruled states or military-run regimes. In the late 1980s, the winds of political change began to blow everywhere except in the Arab world. Islam, however, proved no barrier to democratic change in a host of African countries.

There are six nations in sub-Saharan Africa whose Muslims comprise at least 90 percent of the population. Three of them, Djibouti, Mauritania, and Somalia are members of the Arab League and are not yet democratic. The other three: The Gambia, Mali and Senegal are secular multi-party democracies. All six are members of the OIC formed in 1969 to protest the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem and the attack there on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine.

The Gambia is one of Africa’s smallest states. Its population is roughly equal in number to Kuwait’s. It was a democracy from its independence in 1965 until a military coup in 1994. It returned to civilian rule in 1997.

Mali, from independence in 1960 until 1991, was authoritarian, moving from a one party state to military rule. In 1991, a transitional government was set up and in 1992 a civilian administration was democratically elected from a field of 52 political parties.

Senegal, like Mali, has a population equivalent in size to Tunisia. It has been a multi-party secular democracy since independence in 1960. It is one of the few countries in West Africa never to have undergone a military coup.

Islam has never been a bar to democracy in Africa south of the Sahara. It is, I would suggest, not the religion but the cultures of the people who practice it which is the major determinant of Islam’s compatibility with democracy and the secular state. The best example of this is Nigeria, whose population of more than 126 million makes it Africa’s largest. Half of its people are Muslims giving it, with 63 million, more Muslims than any Arab state except Egypt which has only two million more. Only two in the Arab heartland, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, have even as much as one third as many as Nigeria.

Since independence in 1960, the country has been politically divided between the mostly Muslim North and the mostly Christian South. However, it has been ethnicity and not religion, which has driven the deepest wedge between the two halves of the nation. Demagogues, who need not be radical Islamists, especially in the North, will often use the religion card to bring the mobs into the streets. Northerners have been far more supportive of military rule than southerners and this is true whether those rulers are Muslim or Christian. This is due in no small measure to the fact that most military leaders have come from the North and that the section has a greater martial tradition.

During my tenure in Nigeria from 1993-1997, the country underwent its most traumatic period since the civil war a quarter of a century earlier. The most venal of all its military rulers seized power two weeks after I arrived. His predecessor had annulled the election, which was won by a southern Muslim businessman and philanthropist. The cheated Presidential candidate, Moshood Abiola, was a member of one of the country’s three major ethnic groups, the Yoruba. His fellow Yoruba, Christian and Muslim alike, rallied to his cause. Ever since independence the Yoruba had smarted under the rule of northerners whom they felt to be their intellectual inferiors. The northern Hausa/Fulani were a proud people who felt it was their destiny to rule Nigeria. They had historically co-opted the country’s third major group, the mostly Roman Catholic Ibo, to their side thus assuring their own hegemony and thwarting Yoruba aspirations for power.

The Yoruba are an unusual people. Nearly half of them are Muslim. Yet you cannot usually tell by their dress or name whether they worship in a mosque or a church. Intermarriage between Christian and Muslim is not uncommon among them. I first went to Nigeria in 1959 leading a group for the Experiment in International Living. My Nigerian counterpart was married to a young Christian woman from Vermont whom he met while a student here. Although we kept in touch over the years, I never knew he was a Muslim until I returned nearly 35 years later. While Yoruba Muslims do not flaunt their faith, they are as pious adherents of Islam as any I met while living in Tunisia or visiting the Gulf.

Nigeria is a country of 250 different ethnic groups. Despite the notoriety it has recently received over the introduction of the Islamic criminal code version of sharia in the North, it is a nation of considerable religious tolerance although there is increasing religious tension. In the election of 1999, which returned the country to democratic rule, the successful candidate, Olusegun Obasanjo, backed by the Muslim North was a born-again Yoruba Christian. His religious orientation was of far less importance than the fact that he was a former military ruler whom the northern power brokers felt they could trust.

Now Nigeria faces its greatest religiously inspired crisis. The return to democracy with a Northerner not holding the presidency has led some Northern governors to enact sharia in their states. Under it, Muslim adulterers can be stoned to death and Muslim thieves have their offending hand chopped off. This harsh atavistic criminal code was never seriously proposed when northern Muslims ran the country. Although it seems to have widespread popular support among northerners frightened by the rising crime rate, it is bitterly opposed by southerners—whether Christian or Muslim. The two most populous Yoruba states have elected Muslim governors who have called upon their northern counterparts to rescind the code, which results in two sets of criminal law, sharia for Muslims and common law for all others.

Nigeria is the third leg of the “something new out of Africa” tripod. It is struggling to prove that Muslims and Christians can co-exist in a large country in which their numbers are roughly equal and struggling to prove that both faiths accept the idea of a secular or multi- religious state, as President Obasanjo prefers to call it, at a time when the number of Christian Evangelicals are growing in the South and the harmattan winds of Islamic fundamentalism are blowing through the North.

Those winds reached gale force when Northern Muslims rioted and pillaged in a number of cities against the Miss World beauty pageant being held in the capital. The Nigerian government anticipated reaping a huge public relations bonanza from hosting what its sponsors claimed was the world’s most watched television event. Instead it reaped a whirlwind of negative publicity centered on the riots and the death-by-stoning verdict handed down earlier by a Northern sharia court against a woman it had convicted of having extra-marital sex.

Even though the central government had made it clear that it would never permit the stoning sentence to be carried out, Nigeria was seen by many who knew nothing of its tradition of religious pluralism as just another benighted Islamic nation. That belief was reinforced when the deputy governor of the first state to adopt the sharia criminal code, Zamfara, issued a fatwah, amounting to a death sentence, on the young woman journalist whose article, suggesting that the Prophet Mohammed might have chosen one of the contestants as his bride, sparked off the riots.

That Islamic extremists had reached such a critical mass in Nigeria that they could force the Miss World contestants to flee the country may well have persuaded Osama bin Laden that the government, which had invited the pageant to come during the holy month of Ramadan, was ripe to be overthrown. On February 10, 2003, in a taped broadcast on al-Jazeera he called upon Muslims in a half dozen nations to bring about his own version of regime change by “break[ing] free from [their] tyrannic and apostate regimes” which he described as “enslaved by America.” Four of the countries were Arabic (Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Yemen); the fifth was Pakistan and the sixth, Nigeria.

Nigeria is the United States’ fifth largest source of imported oil. Pumping two million barrels a day, it is the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC’s)  sixth largest producer. Because of decades of corrupt rulers, it is now listed by the United Nations as one of the world’s poorest countries. Its new civilian government has tried to reverse the country’s culture of corruption and human rights abuses. Now, just as it faces a difficult re-election campaign, it has been included by Osama bin Laden in his axis of apostates. He may now believe that bringing down the Obasanjo government will give al-Qaeda an important beachhead in sub-Saharan Africa. Even without a regime change, he may hope to inflame Islamic passions to the point that President Obasanjo will have to back away from his hitherto strong support for the Bush administration’s anti-terror campaign. 

Bin Laden’s al-Jazeera declaration betrays a lack of understanding of the diversity of Muslim societies in Africa. If Nigeria’s government were to be toppled by internal unrest, it would not be as Osama called for “to establish the rule of Allah on Earth,” but rather to bring back the hegemony of Hausa/Fulani military rule. Nearly a quarter century of such rule shows a predominately Muslim dominated army as dedicated to secularism as is Turkey’s.

African Muslims, like their counterparts in Asia, on the whole, do not find separation of state and religion to be contrary to Islamic teachings. They know that the concept of an Islamic state is not commanded by the Koran. But as the harmattan-like winds of sharia blow across Northern Nigeria, moderate Muslims across the continent are likely to come under increased pressure from fundamentalists to adopt the Islamic criminal code as a testament to the purity of their devotion. To quote Lewis again:

“The gravamen of their case against existing regimes and prevailing ideologies is the abandonment of the sharia, the systematized law of Islam, and the adoption of what they see as infidel laws and customs.”

Africans, on the whole, do not believe democracy to be haram or forbidden. They dissent from the interpretation of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia when he declares: “The election system has no place in the Islamic creed….” Rather they seem much more in harmony with the Tunisian Islamist leader now in exile, Rashid Ghannoushi, who says:

“If by democracy is meant the liberal model of government prevailing in the West, a system under which the people freely choose their representatives and leaders, in which there is an alternation of power, as well as freedoms and human rights for the public, then Muslims will find nothing in their religion to oppose democracy, and it is not in their interests to do so.”

The question then of Islam and democracy is more complicated and nuanced than conventional wisdom would have us believe.

The other great generalization concerns Islam and the status of women. Here the record is far more mixed.  One cannot draw as clear a line between Arabs and non-Arabs. I am not going to attempt an exegesis of the Koran to determine what it prescribes and what it proscribes. This is a vigorous debate going on in many Muslim societies led by groups of dedicated women. Rather, I think, it would be best if we look at practice, which it is easier for non-members of the faith to interpret than belief. The Taliban had come to symbolize Muslim treatment of women. That dastardly regime seized power in a country, which previously had a thriving class of professional women.  Was the country less Islamic then? 

The greatest hallmark of a modernizing Muslim society is its enlightened treatment of women. The range is great even in the Arab world. The least enlightened is our closest ally—Saudi Arabia—which practices the most fundamentalist brand of Islam, wahhabi. The record in many others is mixed. In Egypt, Muslim women are barred from being judges while in Morocco more than 20 percent of the judiciary is female. I don’t know what the comparable percentage is here in the United States but I doubt if it is substantially higher.

However, even in countries where there are the greatest professional opportunities for women, they are often subservient to men in so many other ways—such as needing a male family member’s authorization to travel outside the country or more commonly to take a child abroad. The fact is that a woman’s lot is not a happy one in most Asian and African countries whether Muslim or not. Most are patriarchies, which don’t need Muslim customary law—sharia—to favor sons over daughters or male relatives over widows in estate law.  Precisely because so many of them were patriarchal and authoritarian before their conversion to Islam, the adoption of the civil law version of sharia was often seamless.

Yet, in spite of their patriarchal past and Muslim present, how do we explain such great paradoxes as the fact that the world’s most populous Islamic country, Indonesia, is today governed by a woman President and that the second most populous, Pakistan, twice elected a woman as Prime Minister and that in the third largest, Bangladesh, not only was a woman elected Prime Minister last year but her main rival, the leader of the opposition party was also a woman? Apart from England, Ireland and Norway which of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) democracies has ever elected a woman to lead them?

Three men tried to lift their Muslim nations out of the mind-set of the seventh century so venerated for giving birth to Islam. They were Shah Pahlavi in Iran, Habib Bourguiba in Tunisia and my candidate as one of the ten most important political leaders of the 20th century, Kemal Ataturk of Turkey. All three strove to modernize their countries by liberating women from wearing the veil. The Shah’s reforms were reversed by the Ayatollahs; Bourguiba’s by his successor, fearful of being swept away by an Arabic Islamic fundamentalist resurgence. If Ataturk’s could have spread beyond the borders of Turkey, the world might be a radically different place today.

When a people think themselves oppressed and their culture denigrated, they will often lament that it was because they have strayed too far from what they perceive to be their own traditional values. We saw this in our country in the black identity movement of the 1970s with its slogan, “Black is Beautiful.” Today, in the Muslim world there is an Islamic identity movement subscribed to by increasing numbers who are not yet ready to go the next step and support the most restrictive tenets of the fundamental Islamists. In Iran and Taliban Afghanistan women were forced to wear headscarves or veils. Elsewhere women are now volunteering to do so and in Turkey, they helped oust from power a government which refused them that right.

Shortly after the horrific events of September 11, I recalled the words of A.E. Housmann: “Strangers and Afraid in a World We Never Made.” It led to me to think about how we ought to deal with that day’s aftermath. And that in turn led me to conclude that this is a world we very much made. But one, which as the world’s sole remaining superpower, we have very badly mismanaged. I still remember from my childhood during World War II the lessons my generation learned about the folly of our having sold scrap iron to Japan, which was later fashioned into weapons and hurled back at us.

We went one better with Afghanistan in the Carter and Reagan administrations. We put not scrap iron but finished, sophisticated weapons in the hands of religious extremists with no thought as to how they would use them and the training we gave them, after they completed the job of driving the Soviet army out of their country. The task completed, we then turned our back on Afghanistan and a blind eye towards its takeover by the Taliban. We allowed ourselves to be cast as the main supporters of the most oppressive regimes in the Middle East. We did not see the anger building up towards us by the enemies of our allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt. When they could not get at those governments they came at us. For all of our sophisticated intelligence network we were, on that fateful September morning completely blind sided.

Now, too overly fond, I am afraid, of military metaphors we have declared war against “terrorism with a global reach.” How reminiscent is that of other virtual wars we have declared—on drugs, on hunger, on crime. I would suspect many know what real war is.

In the summer of my Junior Year in college North Korea invaded South Korea. Many boys I went to high school with, who were not as fortunate as I in having a university haven from the draft, went off to die in that land few of us had heard of before. Now that was a war, but our government insisted on calling it a police action. Now, I would suggest, we are in reality in a police action, which our government insists on calling a war. It seeks to assume powers, which its predecessors were never granted in the Cold War. Then we were faced with an enemy, which could have destroyed our whole country with a series of nuclear strikes.

The danger we face now not only pales in comparison, but it is not one that comes to us from a hostile nation state or, with all apologies to the axis of evil, from a combination of rogue states. We are faced for the first time with non-state actors against whom military might is far less effective than good intelligence and vigorous alliance building diplomacy. We have bombed the Taliban back to the Stone Age from which it emerged, but all evidence seems to point to the fact that the main object of our assault, bin Laden, escaped and that al-Qaeda while bloodied remains unbowed.

Nor have we dealt with the grievances of the Arab world, which fueled sympathy for the suicide hijackers. We stand isolated from the rest of the West in our obsession to complete the unfinished business of the Gulf War and under the rubric of the euphemism “regime change” violently overthrow Saddam Hussein. Our coalition is fracturing as most of our European allies do not see how our campaign against terrorism and the Islamic states which support it is served by going to war against one of the most secular states in the region, no matter how odious its leader may be. Our long-term interests would seem to be best served by narrowing rather than expanding our roll call of evil enemies. In this police action it will not do to just round up the usual suspects.

We risk inflaming that Muslim world beyond Arabia, which after September 11 rallied to our side. Let us never forget the great outpouring of sympathy and support from all corners of the world that we received in the wake of the destruction of the World Trade Center. “We Are All Americans,” headlined Le Monde. Now, little more than a year later, that reservoir of goodwill has been substantially drained. We have forgotten that the essence of long-term leadership is persuasion not coercion. Although we tried to make amends by finally going to the United Nations for Security Council backing for our Iraq policy, our assertions that we will proceed on our own if necessary, only confirms the fears of our friends that we continue to operate a unilateralist foreign policy with little regard for what George Washington called the “decent opinions of mankind.”

The terrorists are like a newly diagnosed cancer. So long as it is confined it can be successfully operated on. But once it spreads outside its capsule, bombarding it with radiation may slow its proliferation but will rarely exterminate it. The capsule of the cancer that threatens us is the Middle East. Our challenge is to stop the disease from infecting the body politic of the rest of the Islamic world.

Because of our past and present policies in the Middle East, we are portrayed convincingly by our enemies as hopelessly anti-Islamic, uncritically pro-Israeli, and cynically supportive of some of the most repressive regimes in the region. We run the risk that the ranks of the terrorists will be swelled with recruits from outside Arabia because of increased anger at our policies.

If that happens it would be well to remember the experience of the British in dealing with the terrorism of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). For many years they tried, unsuccessfully, paramilitary strategies. They adopted homeland security measures more draconian than our own. But in the end they realized that they had to give precedence to the tools of diplomacy and negotiation.

British intelligence once foiled an attempt to blow up then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet. They were told by the IRA that they had been lucky that time. But in order to avoid their bombs they would have to be lucky all the time while the IRA had to be lucky only once.

Protecting our shores against further terrorist attacks without solving our Middle East problems will be like trying to defend ourselves against nuclear attacks by building an overhead nuclear shield. Our homeland security experts tell us rightly that we have prevented a number of terrorist attacks. I do not doubt that they will be smart enough and lucky enough to prevent many more. But the lessons of Northern Ireland haunt me. We will need to be lucky against terrorist threats every time while the terrorists need to be lucky only occasionally.*

* Editor’s Note: This text is edited from a speech delivered by Ambassador Carrington on November 22, 2002, at the Falmouth Forum, Lillie Auditorium, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts.