The two-day conference, "Radical Islam: Challenge and Response," was attended by senior brass from the Israel Police. It kicked off with an array opinions on the current global state of Islamist threat, as well as ways for the West to counter the menace.
Speaking to Ynetnews, Professor Martin Kramer of Tel Aviv University’s Middle Eastern and African Studies department warned that Egypt in particular is at risk by Hamas’ ascension to power and the increase of al-Qaeda activities in Gaza and Sinai.
“There are lots of signs of convergences,” Kramer said.
“Over time Egypt has to step up its security umbrella to include what is happening in Gaza. If Gaza itself turns into a kind of mini-Afghanistan, with Taliban-like formations, then Egypt will feel it before Israel,” Kramer said, adding that tourism and Egypt’s economy would be the first casualties of such a development.
Kramer said that local Islamists in Egypt and Jordan were keen to exploit “the opening created by the democracy push of the United States to take power, in the same way that the Hamas took power.”
“Jordanian Muslim Brothers are looking forward to the 2007 elections, as an election in which they will take parliamentary power,” Kramer warned. “There’s a paradox in the US position. The first to come in (to democratic reforms) are the Islamists. They’re taking advantage of it.”
Kramer added that the democratic opening meant that local Islamists did not need to use violence to attain their goal of taking power.
“There’s no reason to knock down the door, if someone is about to open,” he explained.
Addressing the conference, Kramer said: “Why do they hate the US? …It is not because of what it is, or what it does, but because of what it has: Overwhelming power.”
He added: “To the Islamists’ minds, power originates from God, who configures an inexhaustible energy source. Muslims tap that source through their belief.”
Dr. Thomas Hecht of Bar-Ilan’s Begin and Sadat Center for Strategic Studies told the conference that the Islamist ideology had to be studied because it had the power to “turn a mother into a launching pad for death, by making a son and daughter go on a suicide spree.”
Hecht quoted Winston Churchill, saying: “Mohammedanism, besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy.”
He added that “tolerating evil is a crime. Appeasing totalitarian societies does not buy protection.”
'Distinguish between Islam and Islamism'
Syrian-born Professor Bassam Tibi of Cornell University, however, disagreed, saying: “I am a Muslim, and a German citizen. I am reaching my hand out to peace. We must distinguish between Islam and Islamism. Is Islam a belief in god, a faith or a political order? If a person says it is a faith, this is an ordinary Muslim. But if they say it is a political order, you are talking to an Islamist.”
Tibi rejected the Islamist understanding of Islam’s relationship to power, saying: “The term ‘state' does not occur a single time in the Koran. The term Sharia occurs only once in the Koran. It is morality.”
Tibi also distinguished between two forms of jihadists: Those who work within a country, trying to Islamize the state, which he called institutional jihadists, and revolutionary jihadists, or those who seek to accomplish their goal through violence.
“Hamas blurred the line between these,” Tibi said, noting that “it is a jihadist movement which was voted in.”
“Arabs need to recognize Israel and live alongside it.” Tibi said, before speaking of his ideal of a Jewish-Muslim alliance.
“I’m a realist and I have no illusions. At the moment, this is not in reach, but it should remain an ideal,” he said.
Tibi also blasted the European and German Left for seeing jihadist movements as complimentary to their own anti-American views.
He characterized the ongoing battle between terrorist organizations and states as an era “of irregular war. “Part of the war is the war of ideas,” said Tibi.
Israel Police Operations Commander Bertie Ohayon reminded the conference of the more practical threats dealt with by the security forces.
“The police are facing unending threats. In the past 24 hours, police prevented a planned terror attack,” he said.