This week's Forward reports on a new and unique relationship. "The American Jewish Congress has opened an initial discussion with a Muslim group associated with the main Islamist party in Pakistan and is considering deeper contacts."
One of the most vocal critics of such outreach efforts is Stephen Schwartz, director of the Islam and Democracy program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington and the author of "The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'Ud from Tradition to Terror."
"The Wahhabis, al-Qaeda, Ikhwan [i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood], Taliban, all have declared war first on the rest of the world's Muslims, and they seek first to control and dominate the rest of the world's Muslims," Schwartz wrote in an e-mail to the Forward. "To some extent this is with the idea that they can then launch the world's Muslims into jihad against everyone else, but in the short term terrorism against Israel and the United States is intended as much to intimidate and mobilize Muslims to the Wahhabi cause as it is to directly inflict harm on the U.S. and Israelis."
Efforts to lump all Islamic fundamentalist groups together have been criticized by several observers, including Ami Ayalon, a former head of the Shin Bet, the Israeli general security service. "We need to see the nuances of fundamentalist Islam in order to understand it and deal with it," Ayalon said. "I have had to deal firsthand with those groups, and I can say there is a huge difference between Hamas and Al Qaeda. Hamas hails from the Muslim Brotherhood and has red lines it will never cross, for instance the idea to kill other Muslims to advance the cause. But for Al Qaeda, killing other Muslims is perfectly legitimate."
The debate has policy implications in the way Israel handles Hamas, which is considered the Palestinian offshoot of the Brotherhood. While the Israeli government has apparently decided that it is not worth engaging the group and is now committed to dismantling it, Ayalon believes Hamas should be given a chance to eschew terrorism and become a political party.
It's surprising to me that Ayalon would advocate giving Hamas the opportunity to morph into a political party. Still I can't see dialogue as a bad thing... appeasement is a very bad thing, but not discussion.