University of Oxford’s Professor Avi Shlaim FBA is an acclaimed Jewish analyst on the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and is considered to be one of the most critical and open-minded. LCBMIT held an Executive Lecture in partnership with FIRD to mark the anniversary of the tragic September 11 2001 attacks in America. Prof Shlaim’s underlying argument was that then President George W Bush’s response to the attacks in New York on the World Trade Centre as well as in Washington on the Pentagon, i.e. launching a “War on Terror”, was devastatingly foolish. He went on to say that “terror is a tactic not an entity, and one cannot have a war against a tactic”. Furthermore, putting Osama bin Laden stigmatise — whom the Americans had funded when he was fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan — fuelled the new global divide that Samuel P Huntington had simplistically described as the Clash of Civilizations.
Toaha Qureshi MBE shed light on his efforts to try and tackle the “clash of civilizations” frenzy by organizing a conference in 2006 titled “Dialogue Amongst Civilizations” where he led a British delegation to Pakistan that consisted of Metropolitan Police Commander and others. This impulsive “war on terror” resulted in a spill over to other countries, a focus of FIRD being Pakistan and the UK. People have been radicalised over issues of Palestine and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Prof Shlaim declared that the war in Iraq was clearly illegal and even recommended Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s call for the International Criminal Court to put Tony Blair on trial for war crimes. However, his talk focused on the way that the failure to resolve the Palestinian question — a situation made even worse by ongoing Israeli settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — prevents a normalisation of relations between the West and the Arab world, as well as contributing to the sort of extreme radicalism against which FIRD campaigns.
Not surprisingly then, the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was in for some heavy condemnation, as did Israel’s threats to bomb Iran.
Jonathan Fryer recalled flying to Beirut the morning after 9/11 on a Middle East Airways plane, most of whose passengers had decided not to turn up for the flight. Those who did were welcomed warmly on arrival in Lebanon, but the Lebanese were nervous that they might be attacked because of 9/11. So often in the Middle East it is people who have nothing to do with violent acts who find themselves at the receiving end of retaliation.