If Only It Were So Easy

An unusual document emerged from Istanbul yesterday. As reported in The New York Times, “leaders from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds on Monday announced a United Nations initiative to resolve the conflict between the West and the Muslim world.”

Sounds like a promising and necessary undertaking. So what does this international assembly of wise souls think should be done? Resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of course. “No other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among people far removed from the battlefield,” says Kofi Annan. “As long as the Palestinians live under occupation, exposed to daily frustration and humiliation, and as long as Israelis are blown up in buses and in dance halls, so long will passions everywhere be inflamed.”

If only things were so easy. While I think it is clear that small-d is staunchly in support of the Palestinian right to statehood and the Israeli right to a secure, Jewish state, these should be pursued for their own merits. Would a resolution of hostilities between Israel and her neighbors – first and foremost the Palestinians – temper some of the flames in the region? Yes. Of course. Would we still be facing a crisis in relations between the West and the Muslim world? Yes. Of course. (Here, in large part, is why – warning! large PDF)

The tension between the Muslim world in the West is far more deep-seated than the actual stakes in that war-scarred patch of land on the Mediterranean Sea. To such an extent that it is sometimes difficult to discern whether the Israeli-Palestinian flashpoint is more a symptom rather than a cause of this tension. More strident steps should be taken to resolve the dispute. But the larger issue remains: the war being fought within the Muslim world.

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