Moshe Sharon Explains Middle Eastern Realities
by Daniel Pipes
Moshe Sharon, professor of early Islamic history at Hebrew University, presented an analysis of some key Middle East issues to the annual conference at the Counter-Terrorism Institute in Herzliya yesterday. According to news reports, he focused on three main topics, the nature of Islam, the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I (who also cut his teeth on early Islamic history) read his analysis with great interest because it so closely parallels what I think, though with a couple of major differences.
The nature of Islam: It is a mistake to differentiate between radical and peaceful Islam. After scornfully dismissing the understanding of Islam by Western politicians, he summarized the spirit of the three main monotheisms as follows:
The Iranian drive for nuclear weapons: This goal, Sharon goes on, motivates the regime in Tehran. "This is why [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad seeks nuclear weapons." He concludes that a deep belief in the mahdi, a messiah, drives the Iranian nuclear project.
Sharon concludes: "This is a time of messianic expectation."
Israel is a side issue for the Iranian leadership, who use it primarily as a means to win support from other Muslims and eventually to dominate them. "But they cannot bluff the Saudis, the Wahhabis… the Shiites are hated by the Sunnis. The Saudis are far more apprehensive of nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran than Israel."
The Arab-Israeli conflict: "The root of the problem between us [Israelis] and the Arab world is Islam. Islam is not only a religion. It is a culture, politics… a state, Islam is everything. It has been like this, and it will be like this for the foreseeable future," From the Muslim perspective,
Comments: (1) Hats off to Moshe Sharon for presenting so clear an interpretation.
(2) My argument with him concerns his extrapolating from the past and implicitly assuming that because something has not happened it will not. On the Islam topic, he is right that there has been no "peaceful Islam," but that does not preclude its coming into existence in the future. On the Arab-Israeli conflict, one cannot say with such certainty that Muslims will never accept Israel, for things change over time. In the first place, there was increasing Muslim acceptance (however grudging) of Israel during the period 1948-93; second, there are plenty of instances where Muslims lost territories and (again, grudgingly) came to terms with these realities. How many suicide bombers or battles of reconquest have there been in Sicily since 1091, in Spain since 1492, in Greece since 1821, or in India since 1867? Things change over time, never say never. (September 15, 2006)
Sep. 29, 2006 update: A text from which Sharon's talk derives has been posted by Nativ at "To Clean Out the Stables and Prepare for War."
Oct. 5, 2006 update: Sharon provides an informative and deep analysis of Arab-Israeli negotiations in "No Peace, No Peace Plans, No Price For Peace (A Short Guide to Those Obsessed with Peace)."
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