by Barbara Black
Distinguished Professor Emeritus Henry Habib has been speaking and writing
about the tensions of the Middle East for many years, but never more so
than over the past two weeks.
His message has been a wake-up call on a crisis of values and identity
on a global scale. I say that its a crisis of civilization
that goes much deeper than people may think, Habib said.
A phenomenon is taking place not only in Islam, but in all religions,
in which extremist groups are trying to take over. You see many manifestations
of this, as people try to figure out where society should go. An
example is U.S. moral majority preacher Jerry Falwell, who
called the World Trade disaster divine judgment on immoral
For many years chair of Concordias Department of Political Science,
Habib retired two years ago, but he is currently teaching in McGill Universitys
Institute of Islamic Studies.
As recently as last spring, he gave a six-week course to a group of Jewish
senior citizens on terrorism. In the days since the U.S. attack, he has
heard from some of his former students who wanted to talk to him about
the attack and what it meant.
He refers to an influential book, The Clash of Civilizations by
Harvard professor Samuel Huntington (1996), as a a book of the future.
In it, Huntington points to the Western, Judeo-Christian character of
the U.S., and the danger of imposing its values on non-Western societies.
There are two currents in the world today, Habib said. One
is fundamentalism, in which people are looking for a lost identity, and
the other is moving the world closer, the global village phenomenon.
This trend, driven by technology, commercialization (the McDonaldization
of the world) and popular culture, is unstoppable, he said flatly.
However, he has always been optimistic about the conflict between Israel
and the supporters of a Palestinian state, although his optimism was shaken
by the past year of violence. One contributing element to the unrest was
the end of Bill Clintons mandate as U.S. president, which took the
steam out the peace process and let the extremists on both sides move
into the vacuum.
Habib has developed his own peace plan aimed at addressing the outstanding
issues on the table, and he feels its more relevant than ever.
His plan calls for a declaration of mutual recognition and non-belligerence,
and an administration of Israel and Palestine Territories by a loose confederation
of the two entities.
Jerusalem, which both sides see as exclusively theirs, would become a
co-capital. The settlers on the West Bank would continue to
be Israeli citizens, and Palestinians would have free passage to and from
home if they worked in Israel, as free as moving between Ontario
This would settle the problem of frontiers; the other issue, of the right
of return for four million Palestinian refugees, would have to be settled
through compromise, probably involving financial reparations.
Habib even sees a glimmer of hope as a result of the shocking attack of
Sept. 11, because it seems to have brought the leaders of both sides to
a renewed realization of what they stand to lose.
For the first time, these horrific events have pushed the negotiation
process. Both Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat have just unilaterally declared
that the talks would start again. They seem to want to get back together.
They could make of that land a great country, building on the special
qualities of both peoples.