Adonis (Syria), Tahar Ben Jelloun (Morocco), Mohamed Charfi, Abdelwahab Meddeb, Ali Mezghani (Tunisia), Malek Chebil (Algeria), Mahmoud Hussein, Ali Shalakany (Egypt),Ali Kazancigi (Turkey), Ehsane Naraghi, Daryush Shayegan (Iran)
A letter to american friends from concerned writers and thinkers of muslim countries.
We would first like to express our unambiguous condemnation of the September 11 attacks. We share your grief and understand your distress. This type of terrorism, which seeks to justify its crimes in terms of religious absolutes, concerns us as much as you. These terrorists, in making Americans their targets, have taken Muslim peoples as hostages. We need each other if we are to confront the real dangers which they pose to us all.
As the world seeks to counteract this threat, we believe that our collective response must ensure that the rule of law triumphs over the law of the jungle. Thus far, however, the response has been limited to cooperation among states in support of a counterattack through military and police action. Such action does not meet the challenges that this newly globalized terrorism presents. If we want the struggle against terrorism to be a struggle for the universal values we share, for freedom and justice, we must explore together the state of the world that made it possible.
This is the motivation behind our appeal for a broader dialogue. We have been surprised to see many of your compatriots reject the mere idea of reflecting on the international context in which the 11 September attacks occurred. Let us be clear: nothing could possibly justify such attacks. But to understand is not to justify. We will never succeed in dealing with the anonymous, many-tentacled threat of this new terrorism if we fail to study the environment in which it has emerged.
In the days and weeks following the attacks, many Americans were no doubt surprised to discover the extent of resentment against their country in many parts of the world. While a number of explanations have been offered in the American press, they have generally been too simplistic. Some point to an inevitable conflict between civilizations or religions. Others have argued that America is too free, too rich, or too powerful, and that the rest of the world is jealous.
For our part, we are convinced that the anti-American feelings currently so widespread — even in Europe — have more concrete political and economic origins. They are reactions to the manner in which your country’s immense power has been used throughout the world in recent decades. We do not, of course, put the blame on America for all the world’s problems. We have our own share of soul-searching to do with regard to the failure of most of our own countries to find their way to modernity and secularization. But when it comes to the fate of the world as a whole, America’s actions and gestures have a much greater impact than those of any other nation.
America’s great power comes with the burden of equally great responsibilities. Yet despite lofty rhetoric of support for human rights and democratic values, American foreign policy has frequently been determined by narrow special interests. All too often, America’s leaders have acted without regard for the needs, interests and aspirations of other peoples affected by their actions.
While other examples could be mentioned, such as the suffering of Iraqi citizens under a sanctions policy which has no apparent aim, the most tragic example of this attitude has been America’s refusal to listen to the voices of the Palestinian people, who have endured military occupation for more than thirty years. United Nations resolutions—for which the United States voted—require Israel to withdraw its forces from the Palestinian territories it occupied following the 1967 war. Such a withdrawal would pave the way for the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. Israel, however, has refused to withdraw, and only America has supported this refusal, vetoing every international effort to sanction Israel. The Palestinians, therefore, remain one of the last colonized people in the world, a situation perceived everywhere as an unacceptable injustice.
In a globalized, increasingly interdependent world, where terrorism poses its new challenge, we can no longer afford to allow misunderstanding to degenerate into conflict and conflict to degenerate into violence. Rather than repeat the errors of the past, it is time to dedicate ourselves, with modesty, perseverance and sincerity, to the task of gaining a better understanding of this world that we have made and that is threatening to fall apart before our very eyes. Together, we will have far better chances of success.
We do not hate Americans. We want to talk to them. And we want them to feel they can talk to us. Let us seek an exchange that is not between governments or organizations, but in which people of good will can speak for themselves.