Bombings in London, the lobbying and political clout of the 9/11 Commission, gentle prodding from European capitals, and, yes, even some unfashionable common sense has finally convinced Washington to trade in GWOT (Global War on Terrorism) for the more sober SAVE (Struggle/Strategy Against Violent Extremism).
Tony Blair can't take all the credit for persuading George Bush to modify his guns-a-blazin' military and rhetorical style.
But Blair's commitment to dialogue with peoples alienated by two wars coupled with July's devastating attacks guaranteed that such an initiative would bridge the Atlantic.
Sounds reasonable, right? After all, the capture of top Al-Qaeda operatives and the war in Iraq have not shutdown offshoots, look-alikes and even Osama Bin Laden himself. Worse still, the attacks in London made clear that instilling democratic values in Cairo has no impact on disillusioned, radicalized Muslim youth who are born and raised in Europe.
SAVE would rescue moderates on both sides from a combination of apathy, fear and uncertainty to sustain dialogue between communities. The Bush administration, sullied by "hearts and minds" disasters, is wise to seek guidance from Europe.
But the good news ends there.
As yet, the US delegation to the European discussions does not include an expert on Islam.
The problem? A vetting process that is rigorous enough to win Joe McCarthy's seal of approval. Or Daniel Pipes'.
Were Osama Bin Laden still under house arrest somewhere in the Gulf, you might never have heard of Pipes' or his bigoted (a term that would be used if he targeted any community other than Muslims) diatribes, or his "Campus Watch" website dedicated to monitoring American universities' Middle East studies programs for anti-US policy or anti-Israeli sentiments.
In 2002 he published Militant Islam, about which the Baltimore Sun said: "A polemic has license for exaggeration, but Militant Islam makes indefensible claims. Citing Iran's eight-year war against Iraq, Pipes suggests that Islamic states are inherently war-like, ignoring the fact that the war was started by secular Iraq. Afghanistan's civil wars are blamed on militant Islam, a gross simplification ignoring the venality and murderousness of the warlords who opened the way for the Taleban"
But in the post-9/11 world, it was perfectly acceptable for President Bush, bypassing the US Senate, to install a hothead as a trustee at the venerable US Institute for Peace. An irony that was undoubtedly lost on Bush.
Shortly before he was shoehorned into USIP, he wrote in the Jerusalem Post, "There is no escaping the unfortunate fact that Muslim government employees in law enforcement, the military, and the diplomatic corps need to be watched for connections to terrorism...Muslim visitors and immigrants must undergo additional background checks. Mosques require a scrutiny beyond that applied to churches, synagogues and temples. Muslim schools require increased oversight to ascertain what is being taught to children."
Hoping to offset the influence of his least favorite organization, CAIR (Committee of American Islamic Relations) Pipes has actively supported Kamal Nawash's Free Muslims Against Terrorism, a group he describes as "moderate" and countering the influence of Islamists in the US
Established in 2004, Free Muslims "promotes a modern secular interpretation of Islam which is peace-loving, democracy-loving and compatible with other faiths and beliefs.
The Free Muslims' efforts are unique; it is the only mainstream American-Muslim organization willing to attack extremism and terrorism unambiguously."
Let me decipher. Free Muslims is a neoconservative dream-come-true: Separation of mosque and state (of course, mixing church and state is just fine). Better yet, Nawash never harps on how the West failed Arabs, Christians and Muslims, in Palestine.
His formula works with the White House. Despite very limited membership and next to no credibility, in June 2005 Nawash was the only American Muslim on the official US government delegation to the OSCE conference on Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Intolerance.
His speech was a cloyingly enthusiastic endorsement of post-9/11 American government policies and actions. As if that weren't enough, he exhorted Europeans to treat their Muslims just as benevolently.
Yet if the US is serious about dialogue, identifying its own Islamic expert (Pipes claims to be one) is a minor issue compared to the thornier problem of controversial individuals that European allies may seat at the table.
Less than a month after Nawash's address, the UK admitted Qatari-based Islamic cleric Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi for a week of speeches and meetings. Though Qaradawi has condemned the killing of innocents in terrorist attacks, like many other Muslims, he has more difficulty doing so when the attack targets Israelis. Qaradawi is banned from coming to the US
Citing "national security" reasons, the US government revoked the work visa of controversial Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan just days before he was due to teach at the University of Notre Dame. Irking the French, which he has done repeatedly, cannot be a criminal offense in the US. Perhaps his geneology did him in. Ramadan inherited his grandfather, Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Banna's genes and, of his own free will, some of his ideological tenets.
Both of these individuals currently speak to Muslim communities, have huge followings, and are identified as "moderates". And, as is the case with many (dare I say "most"?) moderate Muslims, they are critical of Israel. What should be far more worrisome is that Qaradawi, not Ramadan, has made remarks that justify Israeli civilian casualties. Regrettably, to the Bush administration valid criticism of Israeli policies and extremist commentary are equally noxious. Refusing to separate one from the other is Bush's Achilles heel.
Will Europe prevail and win a more representative sampling of Muslim intellectuals and religious leaders? Will Washington be able to withstand political heat at home as individuals blacklisted in the US are avidly courted abroad?
Perhaps distance — and new, conservative governments in France and Germany — will save face for Bush. Might Tony Blair find left-leaning Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero a bad partner in Iraq, but the right one for pushing Brussels and Washington for rational discourse on Islam?