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Thursday, September 21, 2006

In God's Name

Panel with Christian Amanpour, CNN Presents

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT AND MODERATOR: I'm Christiane Amanpour.
 
Today, the West and the Islamic world appear increasingly to be at war, not just a hot war, but a war of ideas, a war of cultures.
 
So how can there be peace if people fight in God's name?
 
ANNOUNCER: "In God's Name: A Global Summit with President Clinton."
 
Now, from New York, here's Christiane Amanpour.
 
AMANPOUR: Thank you. Thank you.
 
We're here in New York City during the 61st U.N. General Assembly meeting and the Second Annual Clinton Global Initiative.
 
The mission of both organizations is to find peaceful solutions to the world's most urgent crises and with that as our background, we're conducting our own global summit on religion and war, God and country.
 
So let me introduce our special guests: Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister who's held numerous diplomatic posts, including most recently as the U.N. Secretary General's special representative for Afghanistan and Iraq; Dina Habib Powell is the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Culture and one of her important missions is to try to project American values and diplomacy around the world; the veteran Israeli statesman and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shimon Peres, is currently Israel's vice premier; Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan, is an outspoken advocate for women and children's rights; the former U.S. Senator, George Mitchell, brokered peace between Northern Ireland's Catholics and Protestants in 1998; and journalist and internationally syndicated columnist, Rami Khouri, heads a department of public policy and international affairs at the American University at Beirut.
 
And last but definitely, not least, the former U.S. President, Bill Clinton, the head of the Clinton Global Initiative, which hopes to solve and helps to solve such issues as religious conflict, AIDS and poverty.
 
Thank you, Mr. President, for being here and thank you for all of you distinguished guests and players in this important issue that we're going to discuss.
 
Let's go right to it.
 
Mr. President, I would like to ask you first, you made a speech not so long ago about essentially some of the divides that are going on now between West and between the Islamic world. And you said what is the central intellectual heresy in every faith that values death over life and allows really decent people of profound faith to be turned into salivating, unthinking, storming killers? What did you mean by that and what is your answer?
 
WILLIAM CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My answer from...
 
AMANPOUR: To that, what is the central ...
 
CLINTON: My answer to that question is from a religious and philosophical point of view is that the heresy is believing that your faith is not only true, which we all believe, but that you can be, as a human being, in full possession of the absolute truth, turn it into an absolutely true political program and then decide that those who don't accept it are less than human and deserving of death.
 
So my belief is that all religious dialogue is possible if we recognize that we have something to learn from one another. Not that our faith is not true, but that we can't be in full possession of that faith in this lifetime as fallible human beings.
 
AMANPOUR: It seems though, that that is a central conundrum as you've highlighted.
 
Queen Rania, you are queen in the Islamic part of the world. You have set yourself out as a moderate and you've tried along with your husband, King Abdullah, to build bridges and try to seek peace.
 
I think most people try to seek the sensible center, but it appears that the conflict is happening on the fringes, particularly in the Islamic part of the world.
 
How does one compete for ideas, combat that fringe behavior, which is trying to wrest control and authority?
 
HER MAJESTY QUEEN RANIA AL-ABDULLAH OF JORDAN: Well, let me just begin by saying that, you know, the name of our - the title of our panel discussion 'In the Name of God' and I'd like to complete that phrase. 'In the Name of God most merciful, most compassionate."  
 
This is a phrase that Muslims all over the world repeat several times a day during prayers, before embarking on anything. So among all the qualities that we associate with God, mercy and compassion are the ones most frequently used and if they lead to anything, then what can mercy and compassion lead to but peace? And so in answer to your question, I think what baffles me most in this day and age is how little we know about each other and that has led to a great deal of stereotypes and prejudices which have pushed people to the extreme.
 
And to get to the moderate majority, I think there needs to be much more communication, much more dialogue in order to find the common ground and also we need to deal with the core grievances that have pushed people to the extreme, chiefly, supremely chief among them is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which has been left to fester for too long and has led to so much despair and as you know, the extreme ideology feeds on that despair.
 
So we have to deprive the extremists from the oxygen that keeps their fire of hatred burning and that is these - this core grievance and come to the realization that to find peace - peace will never be built on the rubble of destroyed homes or through the barrel of the gun. We have to put it on the negotiating table and deal with these issues once and for all.
 
AMANPOUR: Let me turn to Dina Habib Powell, assistant U.S. secretary of State, because there is a sense that the United States now is failing. Its moral authority around the world has been diminished because of certain issues such as Abu Ghraib, such as Guantanamo. The "Financial Times" in London has said that the battle for hearts and minds in the Muslim world has sadly, unfortunately been, quote, a spectacular failure.
 
How do you, in your role in this vital period of our history, project American values that everybody holds dear, in other words, the universal values of human rights, democracy, principal morality, plus deal with some of the grievances that the queen has mentioned?
 
DINA HABIB POWELL, U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, as her majesty so eloquently began, she talked about the important need for people to people dialogue, and that's probably one of the most important tools that we use. We actually now have a major interfaith program where we bring clerics from Saudi Arabia, rabbis from Israel, Catholic leaders from the United States and they actually come together and talk about how important each of their faiths are and the fact that their faiths are built on peace and the dignity of human beings.
 
I recently had a chance to sit with very prominent religious clerics from Saudi Arabia and one of them said to me, I was really struck today, I was in an American university and it was time for me to pray and rather than having to leave and go to the mosque, the director said, please use our student prayer room. We would be honored.
 
He said you don't just respect Islam in America, you celebrate it.
 
And I feel I do have to address the grievance issue. I think sitting with us is one of probably the most passionate presidents we've had on the issue of Israel and Palestine and President Clinton spent so many years working this issue and absolutely should be commended. But I also think that it was actually during some of those years that 9/11 was being planned and I raise that to suggest that no one can deny that we must address these critical issues that burn in the hearts of people in the Middle East. But I think that we also have to, as the civilized world, say that we need to be careful of ever justifying violence, indiscriminate killing of women and children.
 
AMANPOUR: I agree and I am sure that nobody, certainly on this panel would ever justify that kind of indiscriminate violence but you bring up a point that we will continue with, when we return. We will when we return deal with the Iraq war, consider how has it radicalized the two largest Muslim populations there and actually around the world, the Sunnis and the Shias who are now locked in sometimes mortal combat.
 
When we come back.
 
AMANPOUR: Welcome back. Iraq has descended into chaos and some would say it is on the brink of civil war between the Sunnis and the Shias there. They are killing each other at alarming rates. Often sometimes there are dozens of bodies that were found on the streets every day.
 
So let's talk about Iraq, because it is, when we talk to many people around the Islamic world even in Muslim populations in Europe. It has been the single most radicalizing influence in recent years.
 
You mentioned the business of justifying indiscriminate killing. I want to go to Rami Khouri. Iraq has been a -- let's say, hasn't turned out the way everybody hoped. People hoped that it would spread democracy, promote a different reform in this region. But some people also say that this has launched a clash of civilizations between East and West.
 
Do you accept that theory or not?
 
RAMI KHOURI, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF BEIRUT: I would say that very few people in the administration in the United States probably thought it would spread democracy and human rights and very few people around the world shared that view.
 
The result, what we see today in Iraq, has been a catastrophic combination of two of the most deadly traditions in modern Arab history, which is Arab dictatorship and western unilateral militarism, joined together to give us what we have, which is a country in deep trouble and much violence.
 
It has acted now to be a new prod or spur to anti-American terrorism and terrorism against Arab regimes and Arab societies and Arab people. So it is about the worst of all possible worlds and we need to understand how we got into Iraq to be able to get out of it and most importantly not to repeat that same kind of mistake.
 
AMANPOUR: I want to move to Israel's vice premier, Shimon Peres.
 
Again, we've talked about grievances. The Arab-Israeli conflict, the ongoing, festering conflict as you know, because you've devoted your life to trying to solve it, is still the underlying grievance. It's an old conflict but do we need new ideas?
 
SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I believe we can find a solution because while politics divides, economy unites. What really brought changes since the Second World War in our time was an economic change, not a military invasion. In China there wasn't any military intervention or in India, it changed.
 
And it's not a clash among civilizations. In my judgment it's a clash among generations because in every religion we have a different generation and you can see how everything has changed and they refer to the Lord of all is, we say that every person was created in him image but none of us has a right to become a God, to become superior.
 
And we must understand that the problem of today is not how to separate states from religion but how to separate religion from terror. Our problems are not differences but differences that are being supported to use with arms and death and killing. That is the greatest problem.
 
I do hope that in the not far away future we shall find a new approach with the Palestinians. We will not give up. Our enemies are not Muslims, are not Christians, are not Arabs, are not Palestinians. The enemies of all of us is the use of terror all over the places unnecessarily and without any hope for the future. They don't carry a message. They carry protest, hate and a lack of vision for the future.
 
AMANPOUR: Can I turn to President Clinton on that issue?  
 
AMANPOUR: You tried really hard and there was, for various reasons, failure, or not total success at the end of your administration on trying to forge a peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Since then there's been nothing. It's sort of dead in the water. Shimon Peres mentioned terrorism.  
 
The question that a lot of people are increasingly asking is, is it sufficient to lump all violence as one enemy and to call it all terrorism? Or do we have to distinguish between terrorism for terrorism's sake, the Al Qaeda terrorism, and those who have legitimate grievances despite their illegitimate means? And what can we do now to restart this vital area of peace?
 
CLINTON: Well, first of all, I think you always have to ask yourself, in the face of any kind of protest, where is the legitimacy to the grievance? But the essence of any free people is the distinction between means and ends, and a limitation on power. The essence of any democracy is not just majority rule. It's minority rights and the recognition of human rights. But I think, to go back to the Palestinian issue, I think that first the effort has merit. I want to emphasize that. In the first -- after the Intifada started and the peace process basically collapsed, in the next four years, after we left, there were three times as many Palestinians and Israelis killed by violence as in the previous eight years. So, even though we didn't get to the end of the agreement, the effort kept more people alive, because people had a sense of hope, a sense of process, a sense of movement.  
 
And the economic distress of the Palestinians has deepened in the midst of this. Now, my view is in a funny way, all this trouble we've had, between Israel and the Lebanese, and the coming of the U.N. force there, the uncertainties about Iraq, the intemperate statements and uncertain designs of the Iranian government and the continuing misery of the Palestinians, actually gives us a new opportunity to try again.  
 
President Abbas is trying to get a national unity government. If that national unity government says, OK, we accept where we are and the commitments of the past. Then that's pretty much like where we were -- and you can ask Senator Mitchell this -- with the IRA and the Sinn Fein. In other words, the IRA didn't actually disarm and let its weapons all be destroyed for 10 years after we started this peace process. But they accepted the legitimacy of the outcome. In other words they said we're prepared to embrace politics over violence.  
 
That's what -- that's what this unity movement among the Palestinians does, then I think the Israelis, the United States, the Europeans, everybody else, we could get behind this thing and we might be able to get an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  
 
Everybody knows what the deal is going to look like within five degrees. It is just a question of how many people are going to die before we get there?  
 
AMANPOUR: And on that note, we're going to take a break. And when we come back, we'll ask the assistant secretary of State about that and also we'll talk to Lakhdar Brahimi and George Mitchell about Northern Ireland and Iraq, Afghanistan, trying to forge peace where it doesn't look possible.  
 
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's referred to as "The Troubles"; Northern Ireland's violence and riots that span four decades, starting in the 1960s. Reasons behind the conflict? Ethnic, between British and Irish and religious, between Protestants and Catholics. 36,000 were injured and over 3,500 people died, most of them young men in their early 20s.  
 
In the mid-1990s, the British and Irish governments began all- party peace negotiations. Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell worked as a peace envoy to help guide the talks. In April 1998 the Belfast Agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement was signed, creating a Northern Ireland Assembly that gave shared power to both Protestants and Catholics. But even eight years later, getting both sides to work together continues to be a struggle.

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