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A 10-year truce between Islam and the West

Obama should follow his speech in Cairo with a global conference and a call for a 10-year hudna.

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A final compact might be drafted with a bold, yet realistic, aim: to agree on a 10-year hudna, or truce. The hudna is a captivating concept inside Islam and understandable for any insurgent waging war, from Somalia to Pakistan. Obama's speech in Cairo couldn't silence those who exhort jihad, but a call for a 10-year truce could.

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The history of Islam is scattered with successful hudnas rather than unrealistic peace treaties: Truces hold better; eternal peace is just a quest. Even radical Islamic factions, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Taliban, have at various times in the recent past proposed and sometimes implemented hudnas. Let's not forget that for devout Muslims, it is a religious precept to fight any armed occupier of even a plot of Islamic land. The Muslim community is, of course, highly fractured, so not all actors would necessarily accept such a truce. And its terms and conditions would require careful negotiation. Still, history suggests that it could be a powerful catalyst for reshaping relations between the West and Islam.

Will this two-track forum be too hard to organize? Well, we can easily compare the current clash to the religious war that ravaged Europe from 1618 until 1648. The Thirty-Year War ended only when some 10 major powers plus 180 minor states of Europe found the courage to set up a large congress in Westphalia, Germany, which concluded with a series of multilateral treaties. This was unprecedented. After three decades of deadly feats of arms, it was a unique feat of diplomatic skill – and it was done with no Internet, no telelephone, nor even telegraph to help the envoys. Why should the global Islamic community not agree to such an offer? After all, the fundamentalists are killing far more Muslims than Christians or Jews. What we've seen in recent years has been closer to an Islamic civil war than a clash between us and them. A 10-year hudna would be a blessing in its own right, but it would also allow the global community to tackle far more critical challenges, from extreme poverty to climate change.

A long truce is the minimum we must long for to earn enough time to face these challenges. All of us – Christians and Muslims and Jews – live on borrowed time.

The Europeans are expecting Obama to fly high and think big. Being the son of two continents and culturally rooted in four continents, he is the only world statesman fit to straddle the borders parting Western and Eastern civilizations and lead us toward a new order, embedded in democracy.

Giuseppe Cassini, an Italian diplomat, served in Belgium, Algeria, Cuba, the United States, and the United Nations, and was ambassador to Somalia and Lebanon.