Denis MacEoin has taught Arabic and Islamic Studies in Fez, Newcastle and Durham University, and has published extensively on Islamic topics. In the Jerusalem Post he writes this open letter to Tony Blair, in response to Blair’s recent policy speech. (Thanks to Hugh Fitzgerald, who hopes Denis MacEoin will imagine his chagrin and accept his apologies.)
Dear Mr. Blair,
I’m writing to encourage you to continue to do your utmost to see a just and realistic end to the fighting in Lebanon, and to support you in your determination to ensure that Hizbullah, an organization with a long history of terrorist activity against Israeli and Western targets, be not allowed to emerge from this conflict still intact and capable of regrouping, re-arming, and, in the end, growing strong enough to accomplish its long-stated goal of destroying the state of Israel.
Let me say, very briefly, that I take a particular interest in this conflict.
I used to teach Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle University, but my specialization has always been in Iranian affairs, specifically aspects of Shi’ite Islam. I am also a regional coordinator for the Israel Peace Forum, and much involved in presenting an accurate and nuanced picture of the Middle East conflict as a whole.
I believe that your analysis of a wide arc of terror is entirely accurate, and that failure to act now against the spreading evil of radical Islam may expose this country, its allies, and many other nations round the globe to increasingly severe acts of terror that will shift, given time, to more conflict of the kind now seen in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
I know that international pressure for a cease-fire in Lebanon is intense, and I realize that time must be running out for you and those few nations who have seen the real danger Israel now faces. Please stand firm.
To leave Hizbullah largely intact would be to guarantee greater and bloodier fighting in the years ahead. The danger, as I am sure you are aware, is not only to Israel, but for the people of Lebanon, who may find themselves at Hizbullah’s mercy.
Not only that, but a perceived victory for Hizbullah would permit both Syria and Iran to extend their baneful influence further through the region. If Hizbullah is seen to be capable of fighting with reasonable success against one of the world’s best armies, how may that not be interpreted elsewhere in the Islamic world? It would certainly be a boost for recruitment to radical jihadist ideology, to active jihadist groups, and to international organizations like al-Qaida.
Here in Britain, support for terrorism among large sections of the Muslim population is an alarming trend that must surely be cut off before it grows to unmanageable proportions. I believe you are right to call for the glorification of terrorism to become an offence, but I also believe you have been taking advice from sections within the Muslim community that are committed to an anti-Western, anti-British, and anti-Semitic view of the world.
If Hizbullah should proclaim even a partial victory, I would expect to see more young Muslims here flock to the banner of jihad, whether to fight abroad or here in the UK.
In the Middle East, force alone will not solve a deeply embedded problem.
But one thing I am certain of and that is so long as its neighbors do not recognize Israel and its right to exist, there will never be peace.
With a terrorist organization in control of Gaza and dominant in the West Bank, with a terrorist army on its borders, and with an apocalyptic Iranian president determined to wipe it from the map, Israel is faced with the greatest threat ever suffered by any nation since these islands faced the armies of the Third Reich.
In the 19th century, a sectarian group of Shi’ite Muslims in Iran, believing the advent of their messiah, the Twelfth Imam, to be imminent, purchased and made arms and prepared for the final jihad. They made ready to fight in order to bring the Imam to earth.
Today, there are reliable reports that President Ahmadinejad holds an identical belief, that he anticipates the return of the Imam in a short space of time, and that he may be preparing to force his hand by initiating the holy war necessary to his advent.
Given that context and the knowledge that that the destruction of Israel would win its author acclamations from every quarter of the globe, I fear for Israel. I have seen documents that suggest al-Qaida already possesses nuclear materials. I know, as you do, that Iran is bent on the acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Even a small number of such weapons in the hands of Hizbullah could wreak untold calamity on the people of Israel and open up chaos in international affairs. Unlike Ahmadinejad, I do not wish to sound apocalyptic.
But I do believe that the elimination of Israel is planned, plotted, and even scheduled with great care and seriousness in more than one country. And I am convinced that, if Israel disappears, the consequences for all of us will be fearful.
You are a resolute politician, and I think you see this threat more clearly than most. If there was ever a time to act, I think this is it.
If an international force does enter Lebanon, can you ensure, in tandem with the United States, that it will have teeth, that it be empowered to implement UN Resolution 1559, that it be capable of disarming Hizbullah with or without the cooperation of the Lebanese government, that Israel, which has never been the aggressor in the wars it has fought, be enabled to contribute to the downfall of this fascist-like group, and that both Israel and Lebanon finally enjoy secure borders across which they can work together to mend the breaches that have opened up between them?
Backed by an ideology of martyrdom through suicide or fighting – an ideology with deep Shiite roots, now disseminated from Teheran – radical jihadist Muslims have come to seem invincible. Whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Lebanon, they are starting to believe they can triumph over the forces of democracy, reason, and justice.
They are starting to think they can destroy Israel, win back Spain, and impose shari’a law in Europe.
Just as our parents and grandparents fought the dark ideology of Nazism in the 1930s and 40s, so I believe this generation has the heaviest of responsibilities face to face with this growing threat to all civilized values. Not just the West, but the peoples of the Islamic world too may see their way of life changed for ever should the totalitarian spectre impose itself and its deadening hatred of life on all we and they hold dear.
I don’t like to speak in terms of historic moments or symbolic conflicts, but I’m afraid that, as this struggle intensifies, I am bound to do so.
Civilization itself is at stake. The values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and the open society are as much or more at risk today than in the decades when we confronted, first German fascism and then Soviet communism.
It may or it may not be your destiny jointly to lead the free world in this clash of civilizations. But I ask you to hold firm now and in the future, not just here in Britain, but in the Middle East, where a sort of Armageddon is being fought on the television screens of the world.
Excuse my prolixity and my overwrought language. I intended something simpler.
I wanted to say in a few words what I have now written in four pages. By all means ignore most of this, if, indeed, it ever crosses your desk. But promise me one thing: that if it is your destiny to stand up for Israel in the time of its greatest peril, you will not prove fainthearted.
Dr. Denis MacEoin