Tonight, Dean Peter Awn spoke to the Columbia University alumni chapter in Seattle. I attended Columbia’s School of General Studies, for whom Awn has served as dean for 13 years. He is also a professor of religion specializing in Islam. His topic tonight was the Obama administration’s Middle East policy, which of course was right up my alley and why I attended.
Awn gave a terrific talk that focussed mainly on the history of the Shia-Sunni split and the cultural, political and religious differences between the two sects. Along the way though, he covered all the main stops on the Middle East tour including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iran nuclear impasse, topics I blog about regularly.
I asked Awn about the nexus between religion and politics and how that fuels the Israeli-Arab conflict. He replied with some interesting comments which reflect closely my own feelings. He believes that the Israeli-Arab conflict is essentially political, rather than religious. Not that there isn’t a religious element to the conflict. But that political extremists on both sides exploit religion as an accelerant in the conflict.
Awn pointed out that Osama bin Laden isn’t particularly interested in the Israeli-Arab conflict nor even in toppling the west or establishing a Muslim caliphate. What he really wants to do is topple the Saudi regime, which is largely a political goal. He shamelessly exploits the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while not caring a whit for the plight of the Palestinians. Similarly, Awn feels that Americans make a serious mistake when they claim that bin Laden wants to destroy the U.S. The 9/11 attacks were an attempt to get U.S. forces out of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
The real danger in political conflicts like the Israeli-Arab dispute is that religion will be injected into it and raise the level of hysteria. Political violence is bad enough. But adding religion and turning it into sacred violence infinitely raises the stakes.
So as troubling as Jack Teitel or Nidal Hassan are, Dean Awn views them and their religious fanaticism as symptoms of a conflict that is political. He does not view religion as the root cause nor should we.
In the “you shall know them by their enemies” department, you can be assured of Dean Awn’s bona fides knowing that the fake anti-jihad “expert,” “Hugh Fitzgerald” has attacked him in Frontpagemagazine, certainly the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval if there ever was one.
I always suspected that bin Laden didn’t care about the Israel-Palestine conflict. It stands to reason that if he really did, he would be supporting resistance groups there and would have directed his 9/11 attack against Tel Aviv, not NYC. I recall that after the 2006 war with Lebanon, bin Laden issued a statement saying he was going to be turning his attention to Israel, but nothing ever came of it. I believe bin Laden is dead; he was lugging around a kidney dialysis machine in 2003, and living like a caveman in the mountains of Afghanistan wouldn’t improve his health, either. Now he is nothing more than a legend kept alive by US propagandists needing to justify the atrocity that is the Afghanistan War.
football shirt says
Mary is right – OBL doesn’t give a damn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict nor more recently about the Iraq conflict he has used incessantly in his propaganda messages. The argument he mainly wants to topple the Saudi regime is 100% dead on and shamelessly exploiting the conflict to further his political agenda.
Exactly the same way they send high school drop outs to go bomb some school or market as they gloat on tape how “they” did this or that.
Arie Brand says
Richard, isn’t the Israeli claim to the West Bank the main reason that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has thus far been insoluble? And isn’t that claim largely sustained by references to ‘holy writ’? I don’t know to what extent the Israeli public in general believes in these things but the ‘prime movers’ do or claim they do.
I agree with Awn that the Arab-Israeli conflict is essentially political. But when you say, “The real danger … is that religion will be injected into it and raise the level of hysteria” — why the future tense? Religion started being injected into about 90 years ago, a lot longer if you go back to where it actually began — within Anglo-American Protestantism. Maybe the force of the future tense is the fact that the religious hysteria keeps getting steadily worse. But the danger is not simply hysteria, it is also that the religionization of this political issue deeply corrupts the three religions involved, transforming major segments of them into pseudo-religions that are amazingly lifelike simulacra of the traditions formerly known by those names.
Richard Silverstein says
Michael Levin says
Raed Jarrar, the Iraq consultant for the American Friends Service Committee, argues that one of the most significant aspects of the dominant US narrative concerning the conflict in Iraq –> that much of the strife in Iraq is rooted in internal sectarian and religious conflict between Sunni and Shia — is a deeply and profoundly misleading perspective. A detailed analysis by Raed Jarrar is available on YouTube: “Iraq Occupation: Raed Jarrar decodes the misinformation” [May 23, 2008, University of Hawaii, 1:11:40].
Ra’ed is absolutely correct.