Olivier Roy Interview (2007): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
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Is it fair to conclude that terrorism is more of a police problem than a national security problem? It's a national security problem in the sense of what weapons are they using, and so on, but in fact, the best way to get at this problem is through good police work and good intelligence and cooperation between police forces throughout the world.
Absolutely. The big mistake has been to respond to 9/11 by traditional warfare, by sending troops to occupy territory. But these guys don't care about territory. If Afghanistan is controlled by a coalition army, well, they leave Afghanistan and they go to Pakistan. What do we do now?
This is why the decision to go to Iraq, for me, doesn't make sense in the perspective of a war against terrorism. First, as we know now, there were no links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Secondly, there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But more important, once we are in Iraq we're stuck. We are stuck, you know. Of course, it's a good thing to get rid of a dictator like Saddam Hussein. It's a good thing to wish that Arab countries should become democracies, I am not at all opposed to that, but it's a waste of time, and of means, if we want to fight global terrorism.
Not only are these wars fueling terrorism but they have a very negative side effect, convincing many people that, in fact, the West is weak, the West is unable to wage more than a local war, that a Western army, and specifically the American army, is even not able to overcome some tens of thousands of local guerillas. The eventual withdrawal from Iraq will be seen as a defeat, like Somalia in 1992. So, you don't respond to terrorism by war. You respond by two things, as you said: first, police intelligence, cooperation, and second, political action to isolate the terrorists from the mainstream population.
There's much discussion in the United States about non-military action. We hear from Thomas Friedman, "Where are the moderate voices in Islam?" What is the policy implication of what you're saying? What makes for a sensible strategy? I'm not talking about dealing with the terrorists but of the West relating to Islam, and individuals of faiths in all the faiths relating to each other.
First, there are moderate voices in Islam, people who either expressly condemn terrorism or who explicitly try to devise a more liberal and open Muslim theology. The problem is that these guys are not abstract people. They have a citizenship. They are not necessarily global people. They may live in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Palestine, Israel, in Saudi Arabia, and so on. What they see is that all their local concerns are perceived by the West through the lens of the world against terrorism.
For instance, there are conflicts in theMiddle East, of course, and there will be conflicts in the Middle East, but the roots of these conflicts have nothing to do with terrorism or with Islam. Most of these conflicts are nationalist. The Palestinians are fighting for a Palestinian state, they are not fighting for an Islamic state, and if Hamas won the elections it's not because Hamas is Islamic, it's because the Palestinians were convinced that Hamas would be better than Fatah, not to destroy Israel but to manage the project of the bureaucracy and the society.
We don't take into consideration this nationalism. We tend to tell to all the Arabs, "Give up your nationalism first, adopt our Western point of view first, and then we'll talk to you." And what they say is, "Address first our political problems and then we may speak about interfaith dialogue, moderation, and things like that." So, there's a huge misunderstanding.
Most Arab intellectuals, either Islamist, secularist, or even Christian, by the way, are nationalists, and nationalism is a bad term here in the States. Patriotism is a good term, but only the Americans are supposed to be patriotic and the foreigners are seen as bad nationalists. No, these guys are also patriotic. They want to do something for the country, and they resent -- for good or bad reasons, it's another debate -- the present policy of the West, of the international community. We should disconnect the issue of Islam as such and the real issues of the Middle East, which are nationalist, ethnic, or sectarian problems and divisions.
Olivier, I want to thank you very much for coming on our program again. I want to recommend very highly your new book, Globalized Islam, which offers us an insightful picture of that faith. Thank you very much for being with us.
Thank you, Harry.
And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.
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