Friday, May 22, 2009

British Foreign Secretary offers a reasoned and impressive call for political dialogue with Muslim majority governments and organizations

David Miliband, an articulate and engaging speaker, delivered this talk to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (video excerpt). The thread that ran through the presentation was a commitment to political dialogue, including with those groups or governments that avow ideologies that may conflict with our own. He emphasized that such dialogue is conditioned upon an embrace of politics rather than a commitment to violence intended to destroy the political process.
The q+a session is not reproduced on the ministry website. Miliband was asked several interesting questions, including whether the two European permanent members of the U.N. Security Council should give up a seat to allow a major Muslim country to enjoy permanent member on the Council. He replied that if dialogue is to take place then it would not make sense to exclude the U.K. Asked about Israeli settlements in the West Bank and their long-term status he noted that the British government referred to them as "illegal Israeli settlements." He emphasized the steps that Britain has taken to insure that British imports do not include goods produced in the illegal settlements. He was reminded of colonial era British understandings with Pushtun tribes that allowed them to retain arms and he seemed to agree that these understandings added to the complexities of the Pakistan situation. When asked about Hamas he seemed at pains to color within the lines: He endorsed Egyptian efforts to pursue Palestinian reconciliation, underlined that the PA was the responsible body for conducting negotiations, and described Hamas as not accepting a two-state solution (which is factually debatable).


"What I want to argue today is that the central task for foreign policy is the creation of arenas of politics, national and international, in which different values and ideas can be argued out, and in the process recourse to violence marginalized; and that the central danger is the failure to create such arenas, with consequent strengthening of those committed to violence."


"That means being prepared to encourage reconciliation with organisations whose values we may not share but who are prepared to pursue common interests."

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