The Middle East is experiencing perilous times. The ongoing violence in Syria and Iraq has now been joined by new crises in Libya and Yemen, while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues unabated. But as bad as the situation is now, it will almost certainly deteriorate further if the peace-loving nations of the world don’t act quickly to rein in the forces of instability and violence.
When I meet with President Obama on Tuesday in Washington, as part of an official visit to the United States, my message will be straightforward: We must work together to pull the Middle East back from the brink of collapse. This will require a bold commitment based on a long-term vision of justice, security and peace for all the people of the region. And we in Qatar are ready to do whatever it takes to help achieve this vision.
To that end, our strong bilateral relationship will provide a solid foundation for cooperation between the United States and Qatar, both in the region and beyond. Indeed, our strategic partnership has deepened in recent years, in spite of the regional unrest.
Although Qatar has been a bedrock of stability in a sea of turmoil, we are part and parcel of the region, and we care deeply about its wellbeing. We have joined the United States-led international coalition against terrorism, and we are united with our partners in the Gulf to combat violent extremism in all its forms. In keeping with our role as mediators between regional adversaries, we have also been active in diplomatic efforts to solve protracted conflicts in conflict-ridden places such as Sudan, Lebanon and Yemen.
In his recent remarks on the challenges posed by the terrorist threat, President Obama stated that military solutions are insufficient to defeat terrorism and confront the monumental strategic challenges facing the Middle East and the world. In Qatar, we have long agreed with this position.
I know that many in the West look at the terrorist threat and say that the problem is Islam. But as a Muslim, I can tell you that the problem isn’t Islam — it’s hopelessness. It’s the kind of hopelessness that abounds in the Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps, and in war-weary towns and villages in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Gaza. It’s the hopelessness we see in the poorer neighborhoods of Europe’s great cities, and, yes, even in the United States. And it is this hopelessness, which knows no state or religion, that we need to address if we are to stem the tide of terrorism.
This is not meant as an excuse for terrorism, because it is not. Qatar has been forceful in its condemnation of the barbaric acts perpetrated by these extremist groups, and steadfast in its support for a whole host of regional and international counterterrorism initiatives. But bullets and bombs alone will not win the war on terror.
Addressing the root causes of terrorism will require a deeper, longer-term, and more strategic approach to the problem. It will require political leaders to have the courage to negotiate pluralistic, inclusive, power-sharing solutions to regional disputes. And it will require that tyrants be held to account.
Unfortunately, our war against terrorism is, in some cases, helping to preserve the bloodstained dictatorships that contributed to its rise. We believe that the battle against violent extremism will succeed only if the people of the region are convinced that we are committed to ending the tyrannical rule of the likes of Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who is carrying out genocide against his own people. But the responsibility for doing this should not be borne by the United States alone. Arab countries must work together to create a political solution for Syria.
We must also prepare ourselves for the long term in order to avoid the kinds of catastrophic failures we witnessed in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Our postwar efforts in Syria and elsewhere must focus on uniting people as equal citizens within sovereign states. At the same time, we must avoid deepening the sectarian divisions that have weakened governments and nations, and fueled the fires of violent extremism. This should begin with a conscious effort to combat cynical attempts to deepen and exploit the Sunni-Shiite divide for political ends.
We must also find diplomatic solutions to the protracted conflicts that deepen distrust and feed the frustration that breeds extremism. The decades-long military occupation of Palestine must end, and an independent sovereign state of Palestine must be created. It would be easy to dismiss the prospects for resolution of this seemingly intractable conflict, but as the siege of Gaza last year made clear, the status quo is no longer an option.
Over the past three years, the international community has stood idly by as the yearning of the young people of the Arab world for freedom, justice and economic security was eclipsed by contemptuous power politics. But despite all of the pessimism generated by the forces of violence and repression, the youth of the Arab world remain steadfast and committed to a better future. They continue to hope for a Middle East where human dignity is respected and justice is fair and true.
But their hopes will not endure if we don’t act, as we must, to win back their trust and support by renewing our commitment to the values they marched for in the Arab Spring.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani is the emir of Qatar.