SAN FRANCISCO – Middle East studies scholars say the fundamental Islamist movement won’t end with the capture or killing of suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants.
“Those networks will still be there. Their diffuse military goal will still be acted on,” said Ann Lesch, a professor of political science at Villanova University. “Their elimination won’t put an end to the movement or the apparent grievances on which it’s based.”
Lesch spoke to a crowded room Sunday of academics gathered for the annual Middle East Studies Association conference, held this year in San Francisco. About 1,500 people are attending the conference, which runs through Tuesday.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, conference organizers added a panel on the implications of the attacks on international relations and a roundtable discussion of Afghanistan.
Prof. Bahgat Korany, from the University of Montreal and the American University in Cairo, outlined some of the key challenges facing Arab nations in this conflict.
He said Arab countries’ support for the U.S is marked by reservations, because there is an Islamist threat to their own regimes and public denouncement could lead to political repercussions.
Korany also reflected on the perception of the al-Quaida network in Arab nations.
“In contrast to the forces of globalization and corruption, they look like symbols of protest and resistance,” he said. “They seem like mountain warriors — the original Muslim desert troops.”
Georgetown University Prof. Michael Hudson called the conflict in Afghanistan the first postmodern war. However, he said the U.S is fighting the war with modern techniques against an enemy that doesn’t want territory, but more followers. Hudson said terrorist networks gain more ground through the use of propaganda.
“The alleged horror being perpetrated by the U.S. appears on their T.V. screens,” Hudson said. “The other side can play the terrorist card too, and I regret to say that are doing it well.”
Prof. Larry Goodson, of Bentley College, said one of the keys to a more stable Middle East is the rebuilding of Afghanistan following the current war. Afghanistan has a strong influence on neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and Russia, Goodson said.
“The conditions that are present now in Afghanistan are in real danger of returning to the anarchy and war-lording that was present from about 1992 to 1995,” he said.
Goodson said the elite of Afghanistan — the Taliban — hijacked modernity and eliminated it as an option for the nation and its people.
“Afghanistan’s culture has been killed,” Goodson said. “Its modern media, ancient monuments, popular culture are gone — women have been denied all freedoms. It’s unclear what of the original culture will re-emerge after the war.”
Goodson said that a central authority from the outside should be involved in rebuilding the country.
“We should involve countries that are not interested in occupying Afghanistan, but that want to rebuild its roads, its schools, its resources,” he said.