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Algeria
Ambassador Idriss Jazairy
Informal Meeting With Staffers
U.S. House of Representatives
September 24, 2001

Thanks for giving me an opportunity to speak and provide an Algerian Moslem’s presentation of some key features of his faith against the backdrop of the truly international tragedy which took place in the US on 11 September 2001.

No one better than President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in his letter of September 11 to President George W. Bush could express our deep sympathy and strong solidarity with the Government and people of the United States. I will read it to you:

“Together with all the Algerian people, I was horrified by the news concerning the cruel and barbaric attacks of which the American people was the victim in both its capitals of New York and Washington.

Algeria condemns with the greatest energy these acts of violence bearing the revolting hallmark of blind terrorism which targets all parts of the world, and which, in the acts that just targeted your great country, demonstrated its capacity to harm and the danger to which it exposes humanity.

In these terrible and tragic circumstances, I wish to express to you personally and to the whole of the American people, my sympathy and that of the Algerian people which shares the grief of the families stricken by this atrocious unleashing of such abject violence and of such cowardice.

Please accept, Mr. President, the assurance of my highest consideration.”

Algeria, I believe, was one of the first countries that expressed its support and discussed immediately with the White House the further concrete forms it could take at the bilateral level. Furthermore, on the very day when Algeria was asked by the Administration whether it would join the international coalition to fight terrorism, I received instructions from my Head of State to notify the White House that we would do so. The relations of mutual friendship and confidence that were established during the visit to Washington of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in July with President George W. Bush, stood this first important test. Indeed, the test further reinforced these relations.

The outrage expressed by our Government against these heinous crimes was indeed shared by the Algerian people, many of whom spontaneously took to the streets in some parts of our own country and in front of some US Embassies abroad to denounce the attacks of September 11.

We were particularly sensitive to the wanton murder of so many innocent people of all parts of the world in this country as we know only too well, alas! what it means to be targeted by terrorism: For a whole decade, Algeria itself has had to deal with this scourge, single-handed. Its call for a world response to fight terror fell on deaf ears. Though its population is one tenth that of the United States, you can now understand what it means for us to have been subjected in a decade to the equivalent of 25 WTC attacks in terms of losses of lives and of material damage. Therefore, we feel that your blood is our blood, your ordeal is our ordeal.

I doubt that any other country in our hemisphere has had to pay as high a price as Algeria for working toward justice, freedom and democracy. It was not in fact the interruption of the 1991 parliamentary elections that led to violence but rather the violence which had broken out before these elections and pronouncements of religious zealots saying that if elected, they would suspend democracy, an allegedly alien concept to Islam, that led to an interruption of the electoral process. And the most blood-thirsty terrorists in Algeria from the late eighties were trained by the same terrorist groups as those that you associate with the 11 September attack. Yet, I have read minutes of debates in this House in 1995 to the effect that it might not be a bad idea if this brand of “Political Islam” took over political power in Algeria. This was consistent with the position of a previous US Administration in the eighties to support in Afghanistan, in order to oust the Soviet Union from that country, the very same group that is now the prime suspect in the search for the perpetrators of the atrocities in the US this month. Except that Algeria was already engaged at that stage in an approach, messy though it was, to liberalization and a market economy.

We welcome the recognition now given by the present Administration of President George W. Bush to the terrible danger posed by such radical zealot networks to the world. Yet, the particular ordeal that Algeria has suffered at the hands of these terrorists has not been acknowledged by recent official US statements which nevertheless mentioned the lesser threats posed by these groups to other Arab countries.

Our willingness, indeed our eagerness, to cooperate bilaterally has already led to important accomplishments for which Attorney General John Ashcroft expressed to President Bouteflika in July the gratitude of the Government and People of the United States.

We are happy that the earlier notion of “crusade” against terrorism, excluding by definition Moslems, and implying a clash between the Western and the Islamic civilizations has not been advocated again. We are indeed eager to foster an international coalition to fight terrorism and we hope that the UN will be able to play its proper role in this regard

My personal view is that the UN organization was set up after World War II to save Nations from the scourge of war but it was conceived to address 20th century wars of regular armies confronting one another or resistance movements seeking independence from foreign occupation. Increasingly, as we engage in the XXIst century conflicts tend to change in nature with the emergence of asymmetric confrontations between states and terrorist groups. Incidentally, the latter must be clearly distinguished from resistance movements against foreign occupation. This being so, we should ask ourselves whether current UN institutions are able to save Nations from the scourge of these new forms of “wars” or whether we should think of drawing up under its auspices an institution disposing of the right skills and forms of operations to rise to the evolving challenge.

We appreciate President George W. Bush’s statement that the projected US response targets neither a country, nor a people nor an ethnic nor a religious group but a radical network of terrorists and every or any Government that may support them. This would be close, in my personal opinion, to the mission statement of the new world institution that could be set up under the UN.

Nor should one identify radical networks of terrorists with a particular population or ethnic groups and to be specific in the present case, with Arabs or Moslems. Terrorism is a worldwide phenomenon that exists at different degrees and in different forms in many countries including the US, in Ireland, in the Basque country of Spain, in Corsica, in India, in Peru or Columbia as well as in the Muslim world. Yet, we do not equate terrorism with the US because McVeigh blew up a State building in Oklahoma. Nor will an American of Irish descent be prevented from getting on a plane on which he is booked because of the sound of his name.

We are mindful of the wave of anti-semistim targeting the Jews and which reached a pitch of State terrorism against the Jews in World War II.

Though not comparable with the former, we are mindful of the impact of executive order 9016 of President Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor and of the 110 thousand innocent US citizens or residents of Japanese origin whose internment was thereby pronounced.

We must avoid that the abomination of the WTC, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania crash unleashes a further abomination in the form of killings of more innocent people across the world fuelled by a new wave of anti-Semitism. An anti-Semitism directed this time not at the descendants of Jacob, the Jewish people, but at the descendants of his brother Ismail, the Arab people. An ominous sign of this is the repeated broadcast from 3 or 4 world television news distributors as from September 12 of footage showing a Palestinian woman and a few kids celebrating, eating celebration sweets, making V signs and pulling faces at the camera. The commentator said they were rejoicing about the US tragedy thus breeding hatred against Arabs worldwide and obliterating the impact of outpouring of sympathy from Arab Governments and teaming millions in the Arab region. According to an Internet source that was broadcast across the world, the BBC confirmed this week-end that they have found copies of the same footage in their archives of 1991!

We must remember that anti-Semitism is an evil that will not bear containment. If tolerated for one Semitic sub-group e.i. the Arabs, it will spread sooner or later with a vengeance to the Semitic ethnic group as a whole.

Therefore, I wish to pay tribute to the words of wisdom that President Bush uttered in his landmark speech of September 20. For he clearly drew the distinction between Moslems and those who commit evil in the name of Allah thus blaspheming Allah, underlining that the terrorists are traitors to their own faith. I also wish to pay tribute to the vision of Secretary of State and of the Attorney General who made similar statements.

The Holy Koran indeed refers specifically to such extremists who stray from the true teachings of their religion and indicates we should not feel sorry for them when they are exposed to retribution. And I quote:

“Is he then (of those) to whom the evil of their conduct is made alluring so that they look upon it as good. For Allah leaves to stray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. So let not thy soul go out in sighing after them: for Allah knows well what they do”.

Islam is indeed the religion not of violence that is conveyed by some media stereotypes, but of moderation. As the Koran says: “Thus we have made of you a Nation of the middle ground that ye might bear witness of people”. Bearing witness means being even-handed.

The Prophet (PBUH) himself warns us against religious extremism explaining that “religious extremism has brought disaster on those who came before you” (reported by Ibn Abbas). He also said “A believer remains within the scope of his religion as long as he does not kill another person illegally” that is, outside direct military confrontation.

The Islamic religion does not recognize collective punishment as it forbids that anyone be held responsible for another person’s action. “Do not” says God in the Koran, “impose on one the burden of the other”. Retribution for murder through death of the murderer cannot be exercised by the aggrieved party itself but through the Courts on the basis of convincing evidence and the Koran recommends a settlement avoiding execution. Even in war, Muslims are only allowed to kill those with whom they are in direct confrontation.

The Prophet himself gave the following instructions to his troops before combat: “Do not be excessive, do not kill a child nor a woman or an old person or a person who is secluded in his hermitage. Do not burn a fruit tree nor cut trees, nor demolish structures” (reported by Muslim).

So if this cannot be done in war-time how could it be tolerated in peace-time?

Islam is also the religion of peace in spite of the biased translation of Jihad as “Holy War” and of its interpretations as the Islamic counterpart of the Crusades or worse. Its true meaning is “the exertion of effort”, “straining towards an objective”.

The greater Jihad is the one to be waged against our own moral weaknesses and selfishness.

The lesser Jihad which is the resort to a just war can only be proclaimed to overcome schism in faith, protect believers from oppression or in reaction to aggression. It is forbidden for the purpose of domination of one people over another, for the sake of revenge, to colonize others or to force others to change their allegiance.

As soon as legitimate objectives are achieved or when the enemy expresses a desire for peace, Jihad has to stop or becomes an unjust war.

The root of the word Islam itself is “peace” which is one of the 99 names of God. Peace is also part of the sentence we use to greet Moslems and non- Moslems alike.

As military action against the Taliban Government and the terrorist groups it harbors, seems at hand and on evidence of guilt whose publication was just announced by Secretary Colin Powell we meditate these words of the Holy Koran:

“And if ye punish, let your punishment be proportionate to the wrong that has been done to you… For Allah is with those who restrain themselves and those who do good”.

Our thoughts during this tragedy also go to the civilian population in Afghanistan and to the impending major humanitarian crisis in which it may soon find itself.

We share in the belief that fighting terrorism is a long term and complex task involving a multiplicity of instruments in the diplomatic, the financial field, in intelligence collection and exchange, as well as traditional and new forms of military action.

We must also address the circumstances which have promoted the propensity to violence of certain population groups throughout the world. To analyze this increased propensity to violence is not to seek to justify or excuse it but to eradicate its underlying causes.

In broad terms, resentment, frustration and despair breed violence. Violence then looks for an ideology to legitimize it. A lunatic fringe may emerge from the process of social fermentation.

Some causes of frustration and despair are internal and relate currently to the labors of countries whose economies are in transition. And they have to put their act together.

Other causes relate in the Moslem world to what it perceives as double standards applied with respect to the Palestinians and the rest of the world, by major world powers on such issues as human rights and the rights to nationhood. The Palestinian Intifada correctly is circumscribed to its territory but all Moslems in other parts of the world share frustration due to the stalemate and to what they perceive as blatant injustice. Terrorists count on this frustration as fuel to propel them into positions of power. So major countries also have to put their act together.

The great defeat of the terrorist attack of September 11 is the fact that despite those far-reaching frustrations, the overwhelming majority of countries, friend and foe, stood by the US and condemned those atrocities.

Let us preserve this valuable social capital to cement the international coalition as well as to put together a worldwide UN convention to combat the scourge of terrorism.

END