he British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, David Miliband, has come out with his own initiative of outreach to the Muslim world ahead of President Obama's similar public initiative, and it is a prime example of wishful thinking as a substitute for reality.
He started off with a major policy speech at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies last Thursday. The speech looks very similar to what an Obama foreign policy may look like, with serious engagement with the Muslim world even when some countries do not share Western ideas of morality:
Respect is never enough alone. It is only ever a precondition. A change in tone must lead to a change in substance. Broadening coalitions will require a more active effort to reach out, a greater effort for reconciliation with those who do not share our values or adhere to our world view, but who have more in common with us than those who preach that we are the enemy.
That is why Britain, with Embassies in 38 Muslim majority countries, maintains diplomatic engagement with countries with whom we have major disagreements on human rights, nuclear proliferation or conflict, like Iran, Sudan or Uzbekistan. In each case, we seek to influence through engagement and dialogue, and to do so on the full range of challenges we have in common: climate change; Millennium Development Goals and the economic crisis for instance.
Where it is harder to draw the line and determine who we can and should work with, is in relation to those political movements that are not in government. And conflict situations are the most difficult of all. Every case is different. In some cases our troops are at risk and we will not jeopardise their security. And the commitment to politics and violence are shifting and blurred. There are no easy cases.
...as long as those values we hold in common are respected in the course of the election, then its outcome is legitimate.
I know that at this stage many people will be leaping out of their seats to ask “what about Hamas?”
Let me address that by first reminding you that in 2000 we and many of our EU partners shunned the Austrian government not because of the way it had come to power but because of the far-right views and policies it espoused. When it comes to Hamas, no one disputes that they won the most seats. We are not claiming that their election was “illegitimate”. We are saying the failure to embrace a political process towards a two-state solution makes normal political relations impossible.
Also, elections are not the end of the matter. Democracy requires the ballot box but is not reducible to it. It also requires a thriving civil society. So, in places where power is closely guarded we must continue our efforts to promote reform from the bottom-up - training journalists and judges, or funding civil society groups working to protect women or minority rights. At the same time, we will use our influence to defend the institutions that protect freedoms and uphold justice for all and to stand up for individual rights. The accountability of power is the way to reinforce authority and legitimacy.
At first glance, this looks liberal but realistic, reflecting the difficulty of differentiating between terrorists and groups who can be partners for peace. It is a defensible position.
The problem is that Miliband granted an interview to London-based Al-Hayat over the weekend, where he shows his biases are towards accepting Hamas and Hezbollah:
British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband said that both Hizbullah and Hamas could be seen among groups that have a patriotic aim.
In an interview with the daily pan-Arab al-Hayat on Sunday Miliband said "our stance has always been up to the assassination of Lebanon's ex-premier Rafik Hariri in 2005 was to dialogue with Hizbullah MPs. However, this stopped following the Hariri assassination."
He added that the military wing of the party continues to be regarded as a terrorist organization in the United Kingdom."But we agreed to resume our dialogue with Hizbullah MPs partially because they have a cabinet minister in Lebanon and the fact that the Lebanese government is committed to the Arab peace process," Miliband said.
In the Arabic interview, Miliband says that one of the mistakes that the West has made in dealing with the Muslim world was to not distinguish between groups like Al Qaeda and groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, who have national aims. He admits that Hamas' constitution has some problematic elements but insists that this does not necessarily reflect Hamas' reality.
It is worthwhile to remind the minister that Hamas' charter is virtually indistinguishable from what Al-Qaeda says:
The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Moslem generations until Judgement Day. This being so, who could claim to have the right to represent Moslem generations till Judgement Day?
This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Moslems have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Moslems consecrated these lands to Moslem generations till the Day of Judgement.
What this means is that Hamas holds that Andalusia, Spain is indeed Muslim land and must be reconquered by force - exactly what Al Qaeda says. Hamas holds that all Muslim nations should coalesce into a single Islamic 'Ummah - exactly what al-Qaeda says. Hamas does not distinguish between Islam as a religion or as a political movement - just like al-Qaeda. And as far as I can tell, every Islamic movement that descended from the Muslim Brotherhood, including Hezbollah, shares these exact sentiments.
If there is a philosophical difference between Al Qaeda and Hamas, I would love to see some real evidence of it, not the hopeful interpretation of Hamas' PR department's English-language statements.