Napoleon’s Balfour Declaration

Bonaparte, Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the French Republic, in Africa and in Asia, to the rightful heirs of Palestine – the unique nation of the Jews, who have been deprived of the land of your fathers by thousands of years of lust for conquest and tyranny, which even so has never been able to destroy your name of your existence as a nation ……

Rightful heirs of Palestine!

My great nation, which does not trade in human beings or in countries, as did those who sold your fathers into slavery in other nations, herewith calls upon you, not to conquer your inheritance, but to receive only that which has already been conquered, so that you can remain there as ruler, under our guarantee, and will defend it against all foreigners”(1)

Or so went the declaration by the Corsican General, not yet 30 years of age, allegedly made in Jerusalem on Passover day 1799.  Historians have never been able to confirm the authenticity of this claim. The original declaration in French was never found, and Napoleon was never in Jerusalem. On the other hand, many other substantiating documents exist, including discussions in the Directory. There is, most famously, a German translation smuggled to England just prior to WWII, as the Viennese rabbinical family that owned it was set to escape Hitler. That has been alleged to be a forgery. In the 1950s and 1960s there was a rumor in Egypt that a Jewish family owned a Hebrew copy signed by Napoleon himself. But the source of the rumor could have been many of the Nazi fugitives who lived in Egypt then. Yet a number of historians have concluded that something like this document could have easily been in Napoleon’s mind as he marched from Egypt to punish the ruler of Acre, Ahmed Pasha Al Jazzar (The Butcher). The bloody and cantankerous man had smuggled an Ottoman firman to Egypt a few months prior which caused the Cairo riots of October 1798. Ahmed Pasha was known to be partial to sectarian killings, having started his reign in the Levant by sealing Christians into the walls of Beirut. When the French approached his walls he rounded up all the Christians of Acre, killed them and tossed their bodies over the wall. His reasons were not entirely murderous. The Christians, Jews, Druze and Shi’a of the Levant were collaborating with Napoleon in his effort to topple the Ottoman Empire. There is plenty of documented evidence that the French General promised small independent Cantons to all the diverse religious groups of the region. Napoleon landed in Egypt with a clear dream. He would build a new oriental empire on the ashes of the Ottoman shambles. Egypt would be its vanguard, Islam its ideology, and the Levant pacified by subdivision into vassal states.  “Little Europe” was too small for him. A century before the Ottoman demise, the Frenchman had in mind a “post-Ottoman” order. Napoleon’s vision was a less democratic version of the nascent United States. A constellation of states which would emerge independently from a French culture, but still owe more than a passing resemblance to it. His dreams of an oriental empire faded before the walls of Acre, and as his army swept back to Egypt, a multitude of Levantine Christian refugees joined it to escape the revenge of the Butcher. The scene of the “Shawam” escaping the chaos of their homeland to Egypt would be repeated many times in the next two centuries.  By a cruel irony, the French army entered Egypt on June 5 1799, and upon this occasion and on this date  the great General declared his loss a victory.

There was another vision for the region, one rarely taken up by recent historians. It starts with an equally talented and remarkable, but lesser known, General Louis Desaix, Almost the same age as Napoleon, and possibly more original and daring. Desaix had all of Napoleon’s skill and energy, but little of his near mystical ambition and self-regard. He accompanied Napoleon on the expedition to Egypt, before dying in Italy in 1800. In late 1798 he set out from Cairo to chase one of the previous rulers of Egypt, Murad Bey, whom he had defeated at the battle of Imbaba. Desaix was to travel as far south as the first cataract, at the head of the first European army to do so since the Romans. The Mamlukes outnumbered and outgunned Desaix, and knew the country better. Yet he won every encounter with brilliant military tactics and the unswerving dedication and love of his troops. His feats of generalship remain little noted.  It was during this campaign that he made the acquaintance of another remarkable man, Mu’allam Ya’qub. Ya’qub was Murad’s deputy and tax collector; not an unusual profession for a Copt at the time. Murad was “Sheik Al Hajj”, but it was Ya’qub who managed the complex task of organizing the caravans to Mecca, some from as far away as West Africa. It was Desaix who persuaded Ya’qub to switch sides, and he proved a great asset. He ran an intelligence network on the movements and location of the Mamluke armies. He sealed the Red Sea ports against the influx of warriors from Arabia, who flocked to the promise of killing infidels, but stayed to pillage Egyptians of all religions. Sometime between 1799 and 1801 Ya’qub cooked up a daring and wholly new idea; creating a nation-state out of Egypt, totally unconnected to any empire and lacking any affiliation to a larger Muslim or Arab identity. He formed a “Coptic Legion”, boarded a ship for Europe in 1801 to argue for an independant Egypt in the courts of Europe, but died soon after. His legion would distinguish itself in the Napoleonic wars and its descendants would continue to live in France to this day.

Ya’qub’s friend Desaix made three seminal contributions to Egypt, a country he seemed to like well-enough but without the hysterical passions of Napoleon. First he thinned the ranks of the Mamluke warlords and their militias, making it possible for Muhammad Ali to eradicate them a little more than a decade later. The credit for ridding Egypt of the vicious military caste that ruled over it for over 500 years and nearly brought total destruction on it, goes to both the French soldier and the Albanian Wali. Second, he brought forth a vision of governance unknown to Egyptians at the time. Napoleon enjoyed the title of “Al Sultan Al Kebir” (the Great Ruler), while the peasants of the countryside gave Desaix the title “Al Sultan Al ‘Adil” (The Just Ruler). Desaix’ vision of capable government and justice administered without regard to wealth or religion remains an elusive but inviting reality in today’s Egypt. Finally Desaix gave protection and support to many Savants, especially the artist Vivant Denon, who made the first reliable and extensive sketches of Egyptian antiquities. When he arrived back in Cairo in the heat of July 1799, the Savant could do little but speak of the greatness of what he saw and the fact that it preceded European civilization by centuries. In Denon and Ya’qub we detect the first stirrings of an Egyptian nationalism that held the nation to be an exceptional phenomenon, and the visible and indelible markings of religion and language as merely superficial aspects of a deeper essential self (2). That vision holds some promise but also a dark underbelly, and to this date it remains neither able to fulfill the promise nor capable of totally riding itself of its sense of injury and anger.

As the region remakes itself it is worth considering the lessons of more than two centuries ago, although we should gird ourselves for a likely disappointment.

— Maged Atiya

1- As collated by Paul Strathern in “Napoleon in Egypt

2- Louis ‘Awad did much to revive Ya’qub’s reputation. Islamists are fond of pointing out his defense of the Coptic quarter of Cairo against the mob as evidence of his “sectarian agenda”.

Obama at the Mosque

President Obama’s visit to a Baltimore mosque on February 3 2016, and his speech there, were meant to set him and his party apart from the ugly political rhetoric circulating in America. But like his equally well-intentioned Cairo speech on June 4 2009, the result has not lived up to the desired goal. One of his Republican critics, Governor Jeb Bush, praised his visit. Another, the intellect-starved Senator Marco Rubio, denounced it in incoherent terms. One American Muslim, Asra Nomani, who waged a struggle to liberalize her Muslim congregation, pointed out the implicit endorsement of gender asymmetry in the President’s visit; a stark departure from his stated objectives for American women. One newspaper gave lurid but cherry-picked details of the Mosque’s association with radicalism. The possible involvement of the unctuous organization CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations), as well the one-time Obama aide, Dalia Mogahed, in the selection of the venue, cast a shadow over the entire event.

It is possible that President Obama could have chosen a different mosque. All possibilities would have raised one objection or another. He could have a chosen a Shi’a mosque with an Iranian-American congregation, most of whom escaped the Iranian revolution and had since proven to be model immigrants. But that likely would have drawn fire from the usual anti-Iran channels. He could have sought, with some difficulty, to find a liberal mosque with a less visible signifier of social differences than little girls in head scarves. But again, the choice would have been criticized as unrepresentative. As any venue would have been a target of criticism, we need to move past focusing on the venue to look at the speech itself.

There is much to like in the speech, if read in isolation from actual events. Like the Cairo speech it is heavy on optimism, on declarations of belief in liberal values and tolerance, and on deep faith that fundamental forces will force a happy outcome. In short, that we are destined by the arc of history to a fair, just and tolerant outcome in any struggle. The trouble with that view is that it offers no guidance to short-term policy that will actually lead to such outcomes in the long run. Even worse, he drew invalid analogies between the status of American Muslims, and the problems they face, and that of other religious groups such as Mormons, Catholics or Jews. Inasmuch as the Cairo speech hinted at a future policy that would not be able to deal with the dissolution of countries and communities in the Middle East, the Baltimore speech does American Muslims injustice by lack of acknowledgement of real barriers that stand between their desire to conform to a conservative version of their faith and yet integrate effectively into American society. Obama is capable of giving a searing, honest and direct speech on such matters, as he did in the aftermath of the Reverend Wright controversy in 2008. His speech on race then stands as a unique guide post to race relations in America, with all their pain and promise. Here he seems far less passionate about, or desiring of, a similar engagement. This oversight is incomprehensible from a man who values the complex interactions between public policy and Christian belief enough to value the thoughts and advice of Marilynne Robinson. She is the author of profound essays reconciling American Calvinism and liberalism, and one admired enough by Obama to travel to her hometown to interview her in September 2015.

Had the President been willing to be as honest and direct about the status of Muslim Americans in 2016 as he did about race in 2008, he would have asked difficult questions from the conservative congregation. There are major differences between the ethos of conservative Islam with its backward glances and emphasis on community sovereignty and the liberalizing trend of American society with its emphasis on the liberation and autonomy of the individual. Glossing over these differences leaves all exposed when the conflicts inevitably come to the surface. Bigots among American non-Muslims will insist that Muslims can never be “full Americans”, while bigots among American Muslims will insist that such differences are merely manifestations of irrational hatred of Islam. This is a disservice to any effective understanding and outreach between faiths. Like the Cairo speech, the Baltimore speech was a feel-good moment that provides no guidance to navigate the roiled seas ahead. On the important matter of creating and sustaining a respectful, inclusive and healthy community of Western Muslims, the Baltimore speech will be counted as yet another missed opportunity.
— Maged Atiya

Egypt’s January Revolution

No, not that one of 2011. The January revolution that comes to mind is that of 17-19 of January 1977. Thousands poured into the streets to protest the rise of subsidized bread prices. The police fled, and the panicked President asked the Army for help in quelling the chaos in Alexandria and parts of Cairo. If revolutions are to be measured by their results, then this was a profound and often forgotten event. Let us enumerate a few of its after effects.

Sadat in a panic over a lack of dividend for the impressive showing in the October 1973 war, and fearful of a US sponsored talk fest on peace in the Middle East, took matters into his own hand and eventually initiated direct talks with Israel. The result was an upending of the “Arab order” that still resonates to this day, in the hopelessness of building a Palestinian national state, the disintegration of the Levant and the rise of Saudi Arabia as the paranoid hegemon of the region.

The riots firmed Sadat’s desire to find allies among the Muslim Brotherhood. It was a fateful decision for him, and for the battered country he ruled. In the last days of his life he would realize the error of believing that the Brotherhood, and its allies, would seek anything less than the entire pie. That lesson seems to have been forgotten 34 years later, and with bloody consequences for the country.

The riots convinced the Egyptian political elites that subsidies for the poor were an evil necessity and can not be touched; the third rail of Egyptian politics, as it were. This conviction condemned the country to further three decades of authoritarian economic stagnation. Ironically, the attempt to reverse this in the decade before 2011 which was bearing some fruits in economic growth, came to an effective end in 2011.  

Shortly after the events of 1977 Tahseen Bashir remarked that “Egypt is the only country in the Arab world, the rest are tribes with flags”. The son of Egyptian aristocracy was paraphrasing a widespread feeling among those of his class during the early 20th century. They believed there were only two civilizations in the region, Egyptian and Persian. The irony of today is that both countries continue to struggle with the demons of their nationalism and religion sapping their potential greatness, while the “tribes” have fragmented even further.

It is not quaint historicism to recall the January 1977 revolution, for the next revolution in Egypt is likely to resemble the 1977 events rather than the 2011.     

— Maged Atiya


In The Season of Celebration and Loathing

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Matthew 7:21-23

In this season of celebration and fear, this difficult chapter from the New Testament beckons us with many warnings.

It warns against turning religion into identity. We “are” neither Christians nor Muslims nor any other religion for that matter. We are humans with an urge to religiosity that calls us to actions of great mercy and terrible cruelty.

It alerts us to the dangers of public piety, its many base uses, and its varied faces. There is the young Senator, who professes his religiosity to garner votes and bash enemies. There is the aging monarch, with shoe black in his beard and hair, who claims to be a “guardian” of holy places, as if God needs shelter in habitat guarded by humans.

It points us to justice as the way to discern what is right. We can not miss the harshness in Jesus’ voice when he denounces those who are unjust in the name of God. He denies them and exiles them.

It calls us to honesty, especially when dealing with painful realities. Jesus is particularly harsh on “Hypocrites”, those with words and actions that lack transparency of meaning or clarity of purpose. Anyone who attacks, or defends, can do well by heeding a simple advice “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” 7:5.

The defense of those who are few among us does not require complex arguments or utilitarian purposes. It is rather simple. “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them7:12

It inspires dread as Jesus’ words turn violent. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” 7:19-20

It provides gentle hope for those who are confused, displaced or simply fearful. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” 7:7

A few things to keep in mind in this time of celebration and loathing.

— Maged Atiya



Egypt and Ethiopia. Water and Climate. Competition or Conflict?

One of the more bizarre episodes of the short tenure of President Morsi, one which occasioned this author to think of him as a mortal danger to his country, occurred in the spring of 2013. Dr Morsi held a conclave of prominent Egyptians to discuss policy toward the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, during which many participants were heard to recommend ways to attack and destabilize their neighbor. The trouble was that Dr Morsi chose to broadcast the entire event live on Television. An Ethiopian acquaintance emailed a terse and chilling evaluation of the event; “Ahmed Gragn”. This was a reference to the Jihadist warlord who ravaged Ethiopia in the early 16th century during a failed attempt to convert it to Islam. The relationship between the two countries is a vital one for both, as they share a life-sustaining river and a history of intimate and occasionally fractious relations. Will Egypt and Ethiopia manage their relationship during the next decade as an example of effective collaboration or destructive competition? The fear is that the Nile basin may witness one of the first, and possibly most destructive, competitions of the new age of climate change.

The centuries long relations between the two countries are those of intimate, but not always loving, siblings. During the Middle Ages Ethiopia feared that Egypt was attempting to convert it to Islam; and as a result kept a wary eye on its northern neighbor. Egypt saw in Ethiopia a vital link in its trade routes. Ethiopia, predominantly Coptic in faith, recognized the Egyptian Church as its spiritual source, and often threatened to cut off the supply of the Nile waters whenever the notoriously brutal and sectarian Mamelukes leaned too heavily on the harried Copts. During the 19th century the nature of relations began to change. Ethiopia feared Muhammad Ali’s designs, while admiring his reforms, and wishing to emulate them. An Egyptian expedition to Ethiopia in the 1870s failed disastrously, due to the efforts of the great reforming Ethiopian Emperor Yohannes IV. That failure was instrumental in the formation of the ‘Urabi movement and the development of Egyptian nationalism and its inclination to favoring of the Army. The 20th Century saw an improvement in relations under the watchful eye of elites in both countries. Ethiopia had its share of philo-Egyptians who knew Egypt well and respected and admired its culture. Egypt, in turn, had many philo-Ethiopians who recognized the cultural kinship between the two countries. This closeness managed to smooth over the many crises of that time, such as Ethiopia’s suspicion of Nasser’s pan-Arabism, the discord between the Ethiopian and Egyptian Churches that led to the autocephaly of the Ethiopian Church, and the Ethiopian anger over Nasser’s High Dam plans. By the 1980s these elites had pretty much disappeared in both countries, victims of the Ethiopian revolutionary Derg and the rise of Islamists in Egypt. The latter kept up a barrage of demonization and insults toward “Al Habasha”, the common term for Ethiopia. As the two countries looked after the troubles at their borders, and internally, the relationship became one of ignorance and aloofness.

The construction of the “Renaissance Dam” in Ethiopia raises the spectre of discord again. Filling the dam will temporarily alter the river’s flow, but even a temporary alteration could be disastrous for Egypt. But more serious issues remain beyond the dam. Egypt and Ethiopia have identical populations, but Egypt uses 10 times as much water from the Nile as Ethiopia. The reasons are both historical and technological. Ethiopia enjoyed abundant rains, and the Blue Nile is difficult to harness. But with climate change and population growth Ethiopia will need to use more of the Blue Nile water, which supplies 85% of the Egyptian Nile. New technology, and a resurgent and reforming Ethiopia will suddenly make the ancient threat of withholding the Nile very real indeed. The picture is made worse, at least for Egypt, by the expectation that rising sea levels from climate change will place some of its low-lying arable land under the sea. Threats of force, as Morsi’s farce indicated, are unrealistic. Egypt, even at its strongest point, can not mount a foreign expedition, and in any case, few outsiders ever managed to win a war against Ethiopia. Ethiopia, stealing a page from Nasser’s High Dam adventure, has taken a “go-it-alone” approach without sufficient attention to the dangers of that approach. Egyptian leadership has, on the other hand, been largely absent; as the country is occupied by the pointless turmoil of its Arab and Islamic identity struggles. The latter has given Ethiopia scant reasons to be accommodating. This is a bad brew, and one with considerable danger for the world beyond the two countries. A water conflict between countries of a combined population of nearly 200 Million souls could send millions of refugees toward the shores of Europe, making the Syrian nightmare seem like a trickle. The involvement of China in acquiring water and land in Africa adds yet another dangerous international dimension to the equation. But what can be done?

We must recognize that the Nile basin issues can not be resolved solely by the countries involved. Climate change is a creation of the industrialized world and it has a responsibility to assist the affected countries. But beyond the moral imperative, there exists a practical necessity of not seeing a human crisis at the periphery of Europe and near the heart of Africa. The problems of the Nile basin resemble others previously managed by the United States during the first half of the 20th century, and by the Netherlands in its struggle with the North Sea. An international consortium, including all Nile countries, to manage the river waters for the people living alongside it, and funded partially by the developed nations is the best way forward., The cost will be small compared to the cost of managing crises and refugees. Such an achievable effort will radically alter the landscape of the basin, for the better, and provide a better life for nearly 300 Million people. Failure is unimaginably dire.

— Maged Atiya


The Syrian Refugee Vote – A Warning

The French President declared that France was at war immediately after the November 13 terrorist attack on Paris. Across the Ocean, the American President offered wholehearted support but insisted that “we are not at war with Islam”, echoing a statement by his predecessor George W Bush 14 years ago in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack. But the political environment in the US grew more sour with despicable demagoguery. Dr Ben Carson riffed on “rabid dogs”. Donald Trump urged all measures including “registration” of Muslims . Other Republican politicians castigated them, but in uncertain tones. It is ironic that the attack in far away Paris aroused more backlash than another, 14 years ago on American soil, that claimed 20 times more lives.

Of greater concern was the US House of Representatives vote by the nearly veto-proof margin of 289-137 on a measure to tighten the vetting of Syrian refugees. President Obama opposed the measure, but more members from his party deserted him on this vote than on the Iran deal, where they were lobbied heavily and expensively. It would be a mistake to blame this vote on prejudice and Nativism gone wild. This is a warning that we should take seriously. Many Americans, including those of a liberal bent, are unsure about the wisdom and risks of admitting a large number of refugees, even while cherishing the American ideal of welcoming all immigrants and refugees. After all, it took no more than a few young men to place Paris and Brussels under siege. This is not the first time where the tortured Middle East presents the US with a difficult choice between its ideals and its interests. This is a moment that calls for far-sighted leadership, still missing at the moment. Many politicians, of both parties, but predominantly Republicans, found it an occasion to appeal to fear. The President has taken the moral high ground, but failed to advance arguments that convince and comfort.

There is also a religious angle to this refugee issue, which adds an unfortunate dimension to the controversy. Jeb Bush urged that we should “focus on Christians who are in the greatest danger”, while the clumsy Cruz simply urged admission of only Christians. President Obama rightly called out both men on their comments insisting that the US does not apply religious tests. But while doing so he also failed to address the larger issue. Many Americans favor giving preferential treatment to Christians because they feel they are in bigger danger and less likely to face assimilation problems. Few bothered to ask Jeb Bush about the policies of his brother, whose venture in Iraq contributed to the decline of the Christian community there, but who gave little thought of increasing immigration quota for them. In framing the Syrian refugee problem in a religious rather than a national construct US leaders played into the very same ills that caused the dissolution of both Iraq and Syria. Again, this should have been a moment for leadership from Syrian-Americans and Muslim-Americans, asserting the primacy of national over religious identity. But that leadership seemed dormant.

An interview on MSNBC with Dalia Mogahed highlights the problem of leadership and identity. The producers of the show chose Ms. Mogahed, who is Egyptian born, to speak about Syrian refugees, presumably because she identifies herself as “Muslim-American”, but almost never as “Egyptian-American”, a reflection of what tears up the Middle East. A well-known pollster, one-time assistant to President Obama, and author of a book on “Who Speaks for Islam”, Ms. Mogahed missed a golden opportunity to connect with her fellow Americans and show that she understands their fears and can address them from a unique perspective. Ms. Mogahed blamed the rise in Anti-Muslim feelings on electioneering, and on events such as the Iraq war, hiding behind statistical correlations to avoid the painful but relevant issues. She alleged that the majority of Muslims are silenced by extremists and the mainstream media. She expressed umbrage that Muslims need to apologize for the heinous acts of other Muslims, when it is obvious that they disagree with such acts. That last argument was intellectually defensible and politically tone deaf. She could have advanced the agenda for tolerance by being less hedging and hurt. It is the lot of minorities, unfairly, to have to try harder. This is why Civil Rights leaders wore their Sunday best to the marches. It is why Eastern Christians often silence their Church bells and move their liturgies to Fridays. To maintain harmony in a diverse society everyone has to do more than the minimum necessary, especially in stressful times. These are stressful times indeed. Rather than present a vision of a future Middle East in harmony with American ideals, she left a vague sense of unease about problems from “over there” becoming entrenched “over here”.

But beyond the lack of leadership that addresses problems clearly and honestly, another reason for this spike of Anti-Muslim feelings may simply be “Middle East fatigue”. The US first engaged with the region in the 1850s, when it was still called the “Holy Land”. Even the term “Middle East” is an invention of an American Admiral. For over a century and a half the US influenced the region deeply, often with missionary zeal, and in ambiguous ways, with both sincerely held high ideals, and embarrassingly base actions. Still, the US can claim no more than a small part of the current chaos. The peoples of the region are the true architects of their bed of nails. Today’s events and those of September 11 2001 are separated by nearly four Presidential terms and two Presidents of very different temperaments and policies. Yet neither man has been able to come to grips with the chaos and the resulting terrorism. Americans must be excused for thinking that the Middle East is unreformable and that their energies are best directed elsewhere. Syrian refugees must seem like a reminder of failure, and of its threatening consequences. It is unfair to those currently on the road, and the many more likely to follow once the US policy of removing the brutal Assad succeeds.

— Maged Atiya


A Requiem – and The Long View

“Requiem” is a quintessentially Christian rite, but it comes to mind in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. There is, at the simplest level, a necessary requiem for the dead, whose lives ended suddenly and violently simply for being in the wrong country at the wrong time. At a wider level, there is a need for a requiem for the swirl of comments and recommendations about how to deal with the surge of terrorism by fundamentalists among Muslims. We can also hope for a requiem for the usual pieties, about how most Muslims have no truck with terrorism and how we should not let this scourge affect our “life style”. These pieties are irrelevant; for the majority of Muslims, who suffer more than ten-fold from this terror, have not been able to put an end to it, and for the obvious fact that because it takes a few determined men to put an entire country under siege, terrorism will affect our lives, regardless.

We also need a requiem for the endless chatter from political leaders who exude determination and certainty about how we can defeat this “evil”. They have failed at all attempts. One American President sought to put an end to it by invading a country and foisting a democratic system on its inhabitants. Another withdrew armies and tried to reach out with a friendly hand and a serious mien of understanding, laced with the occasional apology for errors long committed. Neither put an end to terrorism. Future leaders insist that a judicious mixture of these two approaches will certainly work this time.

We could use a requiem for the shibboleth of the usual phrases, “clash of civilizations”, “battle of ideas”, “what went wrong”, “democracy”, “inclusiveness” etc. They can no more save us, however correctly we pronounce them, than the 42,000 Ephraimites. We could also use a requiem for the inordinate, even irrational, fear of Islam among many in the West, and the consequent desire to placate the most oppressive elements among Muslims. A requiem is needed for the “explanations” that poverty, lack of education, or political oppression create this lust for innocent blood. They hurt by misdirection. All contribute, in a secondary way, to terrorism, but terrorists are rarely the most abjectly poor, nor the least educated, and many are raised in the liberal West. In any case, it is slow work to eradicate these ills in our own societies, let alone in lands far away.

When the requiems come to a close, and all are laid to rest, we are left with the singularly important “Long View”. In this view we see this terrorism as a product of a historical struggle for a redefinition of Islam, a younger sibling of Christianity, to fit in a world it did not create; and one with uncertain outcome yet. In the Long View we have equanimity about the certainty of terror attacks, and the hope that we develop the requisite capability to foil them or lessen the associated loss of life and property. In the Long View we see the revival of failed states as necessary to a better outcome for this struggle, and recognize the need for competent native partners and expectation that such work will not always be to our liking. In the Long View we recognize that at times it is better to do nothing than to flail uselessly, and that temporary gains and losses tell little about the final outcome. That outcome is determined by faithfulness to the few beliefs that we hold to be self-evident.

— Maged Atiya


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