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News from the Arab-American-European Dialogue

The International Institute for Sustained Dialogue (www.sustaineddialogue.org) recently held the sixth meeting of its Arab-American-European Dialogue since early 2004. This Dialogue was conceived and planned by IISD Vice President Randa Slim as an exchange with the democratic reformers of the Muslim Arab heartland — Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Palestine and now Iraq. It reflects the judgment that there will be no democracy in the Middle East unless moderate Islamists play a significant role, and unless the West needs to develop a relationship with them. “This was one of our toughest meetings,” reports Hal Saunders, IISD President and the Kettering Foundation’s Director of International Affairs. “We focused on the issues surrounding occupation, resistance and terrorism. The two leading cases were Iraq and Palestine. All agreed that the suicide attacks in New York, Washington, Madrid, London and Jordan are ‘crimes against Islam.’ But our Arab colleagues’ experience of occupation has left them convinced not only that resistance is legitimate but also that it can be effective. They believe, for instance, that the U.S. failure in recent years to make a significant effort to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories has left them no recourse.” After the meeting, European participants from Italy and the UK arranged meetings with public and governmental groups with several of the Arab dialogue participants. As a British colleague has written, Hal reports, “If we are to avoid a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West or within Islam in the West, it is with the political Islamists that the West must do business.”

Amy Lang
Amy Lang is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia. She wrote her dissertation on British Columbia’s groundbreaking Citizens’ Assembly process, and is currently doing follow-up research on the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly.

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