In 2007, an organization called Conflicts Forum, which at the time was being funded by the European Union, issued a report intended to promote a "positive assertion of Islamist values and thinking" in the West. It essentially lays out a public relations campaign for rebranding "resistance movements" in the eyes of Westerners in terms of "social justice," specifically promoting "Hamas' and Hezbollah's values, philosophy and wider political and social programmes."
"We need to clarify and explain that Islamist movements are political and social movements working on social and political justice," the report explains, "and are leading the resistance to the US/Western recolonisation project with its network of client states and so-called 'moderates'." It claims "the progressive space of social movements [in the West] is empty" and asks, "how the West can learn from the values and the notion of society that Hezbollah and Hamas have at the centre of their philosophy?"
Conflicts Forum, which received $708,000 from the EU between 2007 and 2009, is the brainchild of Alastair Crooke, a former long serving British intelligence agent and advisor to the former EU Foreign Policy Chief, Javier Solana. In recent years he has emerged as the leading Western champion of Arab and Muslim extremists and anti-Western regimes. Conflicts Forum, in other words, does not seek to resolve conflicts but rather exacerbates them.
Crooke's most recent intervention was a commentary in the Asia Times in which he argues that the Syrian uprising is almost entirely the work of extremist followers of the late Al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and that a large majority of Syrians back the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, who they believe shares their desire for radical reforms. Crooke merely parrots the demonstrably false propaganda of the Syrian regime. In an earlier essay in Foreign Policy magazine, he insisted that Assad was uniquely immune to the "Arab Spring" because of his championing of "resistance" movements -- news, no doubt, to the 10,000 detained Syrians and the families of the 1,400 dead, who Crooke now expects us to believe are all followers of Zarqawi.
Crooke is noted for arranging back-channel meetings between Western officials and members of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. But other than the grant from the EU, the rest of his funding remains mysterious, as do his core motivations, about which he is decidedly coy.
Crooke is a strong supporter of the Iranian ruling faction and its ideology, and argues, "there's absolutely no evidence the election [of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009] was stolen." He apparently believes that the radical Shiite Islamism espoused by Iranian hardliners is the key to the future of the Middle East, as opposed to any form of liberalism or democracy, or the conservative Sunni Islam championed by Gulf Arab monarchies. He cites Hamas as a Sunni group positively influenced by Iranian notions of revolution and resistance.
Most of the publications on the Conflicts Forum website are essentially reflections of Iranian official ideology and foreign policy, including articles explaining "Iran's commitment to the Palestinian cause," attacks on the Palestinian Authority, strong support for Hamas, celebrations of the "principled foreign policy of Ayatollah Khamenei," and efforts to cast the "Arab Spring" as an Iranian-style "Islamic awakening."
Conflicts Forum strongly advocates the narrative that the contemporary Arab world is the site of a macro-historical struggle between a "culture of resistance" (which it champions) and a "culture of accommodation," meaning all moderate, secular and pro-Western forces in the region. Crooke's attachment to Assad appears to be a function of Syria's self-professed role as a supporter of "resistance" and its strong ties to Iran and Hezbollah.
Conflicts Forum's documents do not reflect Western efforts to understand the Islamist movements, but rather speak in a clearly and unabashedly Islamist voice. Its advisory board includes Azzam Tamimi, a prominent Hamas sympathizer in Britain who has defended suicide bombings. It also includes Moazzam Begg who, as Britain's Daily Telegraph recently reported, confessed in a signed statement to the FBI that he learned how to shoot guns and operate explosives at an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.
Crooke's and Conflicts Forum's activities are not only alarming from a Western point of view, but even more so from the perspective of those interested in the spread of democracy and liberal values in the Arab and Islamic worlds, above all Arabs and Muslims themselves. What they champion are in fact ultra-right wing, reactionary and fundamentally totalitarian ideologies hostile to human rights in general, and particularly the rights of individuals, women and minorities. Crooke is evidently a spy who gladly stepped into the cold.
This man, his odious views, and his nefarious organization have had a free pass for far too long. It is time to recognize them clearly for what they are: champions not of "resistance and revolution" but of violence, intolerant religious fanaticism and totalitarian ideologies. That should be enough to make Alastair Crooke and Conflicts Forum anathema to anyone even remotely interested in a decent future for the Arab and Islamic worlds.
Hussein Ibish writes frequently about Middle Eastern affairs and blogs at Ibishblog.com. Michael Weiss is the Communications Director of The Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank that promotes democracy and human rights abroad.