Most people know Dr. Walid Phares as the Middle East commentator for MSNBC, NBC, Fox News, CBC, BBC, al-Jazeera, al-Hurra, and al-Arabiya. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, and professor of Middle East Studies at Florida Atlantic University.
Dr. Phares was born in Beirut, obtained degrees in Law, and political science from St. Joseph University in Beirut. He earned his Masters degree in International Law from Lyons University and a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Miami. His new book Future Jihad is on the top 12 best selling books on the Foreign Affairs magazine list.
Our recent conversation dealt with the issues raised by his new book Future Jihad and an assortment of broad Middle Eastern concerns.
Question: What motivated you to write Future Jihad and who is your intended audience for the book?
Answer: Future Jihad is the sum of two decades long research and interaction with the thinking of the Jihadist mind. Back in the 1980s, I had published a number of books and articles in Arabic out of Beirut on the war of ideas and the clash between the pluralist democratic thinking and the Jihadi ideologies. Already between 1979 and 1980, I witnessed and have been part of that war of ideas as I published my first book, Pluralism, followed by Democratic Dialogue. Both books exposed the rise of radical ideologies such as Ba'athism and Jihadism.
I wrote on the clash of civilization 14 years before Samuel Huntington. My message was basically a warning to the West that Jihadism is on the rise, and is going to hit America and the rest of the free world. In 1987, I published a book on the Iranian Islamic revolution warning of its expansionist trends.
When I relocated to the U.S. in 1990, I renewed my research and published a number of pieces, warning of the coming clash. At the time, I was analyzing a future jihad that in fact occurred on Sept. 11. After 9/11 I decided to publish a comprehensive book that would explain the strategies of the Jihadists, and their future plans. My objective with Future Jihad is to make a contribution in the education and information of the American public.
The deeper reason for the book is the fact that the academic elite misled American classrooms. It is very sad to see that throughout the 1990s, the Middle east Studies community ignored the real problems in the Middle east: democracy, dictatorship, minorities, fundamentalism, and chose instead to concentrate exclusively on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Our foreign policy suffered as a result, and we paid a great price on 9/11 and since.
Question: In Future Jihad you present the Jihadists plans against America and their future threat. You touch upon the dormant cells, and the role of the Mosques and the Islamic organizations in America. Has the US government done enough since 9/11 to forestall an attack, and are we winning the war against the Jihadists?
Answer: The Jihadists, as I argue in the book, are living off the dividends of Wahhabi activities within the US. This ideological influence was first propagated via Saudi Arabia since the 1973 Oil crisis. Hundreds of millions of dollars were invested in America as part of a propaganda campaign to strengthen the Saudi influence in this country. But it was not limited to diplomatic influence. It quickly mutated into a full fledge infiltration of U.S. universities and some media, in addition to organized lobby groups. The Jihadist influence in America is of two dimensions: One is public and militant, backed by the Wahhabi political influence and financial power. This track developed the ideological penetration of the country under its laws. It controls the overwhelming majority of the religious and social centers, hence it controls the political representation of the (Islamic) community within the U.S.
The other track is the Jihadi-terrorist, including al Qaida, but not exclusively. The network has a second generation in the making. A number of cells have been dismantled by government action. But the public remains the most important player in the homeland security strategy. If we increase public education about the Jihadists, the U.S. would be winning the war on terror in the long term. If the Jihadi ideological influence continues, chances for future strikes will increase.
From my personal observations, the pro-Jihadi current is still growing, and I assume recruiting, because the intellectual elite in this country is still blurring the vision of Americans. Imagine that pro-Wahhabi organizations are called upon to teach members of official institutions about the War on Terror and human rights!
Question: Iran poses an existential threat to Israel and a serious threat to the Arab Gulf States and the West, what courses of action do you propose in dealing with Iran? And, as a corollary, what prospect is there for Iranian minorities to bring down the regime?
Answer: The Iranian regime is above all a threat to the Iranian people, Persian and non-Persians as well. Since 1979, the Khumeinist regime massacred up to half a million people. The opposition is claiming a higher number. Human rights, particularly of women, youth and minorities have been reduced dramatically. In addition, the Teheran Mullahs have developed Hezbollah in Lebanon as a worldwide terror threat since the early 1980's. Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas have formed an axis of Jihadism threatening democracy and peace in the region. That Axis targets not only Israel and the US, but the Gulf states as well. In the current escalation as a result of Ahmadinejad's quest for nuclear weapons, Iran and Hezbollah are posing a grave threat to the West, including the U.S., Europe, and moderate states in the Middle East.
A wise course of action to contain and roll back this threat would be to increase support to the democratic movements within Iran. However, the international community should also focus on Iran's capacity of preemptive strike against targets in the region, including Iraq, the Gulf, Lebanon and the West. The Hezbollah threat, as a military-terror force with global reach has to be addressed, probably prior to applying strategic measures against the Khumeinist nuclear threat.
The minorities in Iran are a very important factor. Arabs in Khuzestan, Kurds, Azeris, Baluchis, and others are being suppressed by the regime. Along with the masses of students, women, and democratic forces, the international community should support this trans-ethnic coalition. In the long run, the people of Iran are the ones to create the change.
Question: Professors Walt and Mearsheimer's study titled "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" concluded that the Israel Lobby runs US foreign policy. To what extent do you think this anti-Israel document has been influenced by Saudi Prince al-Walleed's $20 million gift to Harvard University?
Answer: Wahhabi influence has infiltrated the US academic world, and Middle East Studies was taken over by pro-Wahhabi money, and grants. This resulted in increased levels of political anti-Semitism and anti-democracy trends in Middle Eastern Studies. The genocide in Sudan, the persecution of such minorities as the Kurds, Copts, Assyro-Chaldians, Berbers, the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, the human rights abuses, and Middle East dictatorships were silenced as areas of study. Instead, Wahhabi influence concentrated solely on the Arab-Israeli conflict, taking one side in it. Hence, you can see the trends among many academicians who blame Israel for all the problems and ignore the massacres, bad governance, human right abuses. I am surprised that prestigious institutions such as Harvard and Georgetown are accepting millions of dollars from Wahhabi sources, five years after the massacres of New York and Washington.
Discussing the Middle East with Dr. Phares would be incomplete without addressing his native Lebanon and the recent Israeli and Palestinian elections. I also wanted to know if Lebanon's Christian community could reassert itself and whether Lebanon could sign a peace treaty with Israel in the foreseeable future?
"In 1990 Syria fully invaded Lebanon and controlled its politics and economy," he explained. "The Christian community was suppressed politically because of its resistance to the Syrian invasion since 1976. During the 1990s, Lebanese-Christians were subjected to significant pressures from Baathists and the Khumeinists. The politicians selected to represent the (Christian) community were Syrian appointed. The combined efforts by the Diaspora, the US and France resulted in the passing of UN Security Council resolution 1559 calling on Syria to withdraw. Assad pulled out his troops from Lebanon but left behind intelligence networks. The pro-Syrian president, and Hezbollah's terror networks are still confronting the Cedars revolution."
The international community must help Lebanon free itself from the remnant of Syrian domination and disarm the Hezbollah. "Lebanon," he said, "Will have to regain its independence as a condition to regulate its diplomatic relations with its neighbors, including Israel.
According to Phares the elected Hamas government has two choices: "it could recognize Israel and thus address the peace process, its economic situation, and its relations with the international community," or it could resume its alliance with the Iranian regime and form "part of the regional Jihadi axis" and join Iran and Syria in their confrontation with the international community.
The Kadima party victory in the Israeli elections that was based on its promises of unilateral withdrawal and definition of Israel's future borders "will have to," Phares posited, " take into consideration the global and regional war on terrorism and Hamas' response to these policies."