Sunday, April 27, 2003

What Does America Want? What Do We Want?

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

When asked by the Australian ABC Radio if I thought the war on Iraq was a Christian crusade against Islam and Muslims, I said no. In my opinion, this was a war led by an American administration driven by greed, religious convictions, ignorance and arrogance.
The trouble is, not every Muslim and Arab understands matters this way. Unlike the last Gulf War, the soldiers who fought in Iraq were mostly Protestant Christians. I try to explain things to my audience. Fortunately, I am helped by the millions of anti-war Christians who demonstrated en masse and made their stand known to their leaders and the world.
An Australian lady called the same day the interview was broadcast. She obviously did some research to get my office number. What she told me touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. “Not in my name!” she said. “Not in my children’s name, and certainly not in my religion’s name was this war conducted. Thank you for telling your fellow Muslims and Arabs this truth. Please, in the name of God, keep fighting to spread this message. I know it is an uphill battle, but I promise you I will protest in every possible way, and you promise me to tell your people about us, the good, decent and peaceful Christians of the world.” I promised.
But all this is behind us now, and what is done is done. America is here now and I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. After all, we did get rid of a dictator, the Iraqis are liberated from an oppressive regime, and some of our worst fears were not realized — prolonged war, masses of refugees, and environmental catastrophes. These balance the realized fears: That we are unprepared for a power vacuum, lawlessness and ethnic-religious tension.
Now that we are neighbors, we need to be on good terms. We need our stronger neighbor to maintain peace and stability, and our neighbor needs us to help out with the advertised project of making the region more democratic, advanced and peaceful for the benefit of its people, the US and the world. If we agree that we need each other for a better future, the question becomes: What do we want from America, and what does America want from us?
I will start with what we want from America, since I know this part better. Next, I would like to hear from my American friends, readers, and officials what the US, country and people, want from us. This communication line will be my two-cent contribution to better Arab-US understanding, trust and friendship.
First: We need peace. You can’t have freedom and democracy, investment and prosperity in a war zone. What we know about the road map to peace is good enough to demand immediate publication and implementation. The Palestinians accepted the plan “as is”; the Israelis want to fundamentally change it. We expect the US to prove its good intentions and impartiality by demanding full acceptance and implementation from both parties, and rigorous supervision from the plan’s sponsors (the UN, the European Union, the USand Russia).
Second: We need reforms. Iraq is a test America cannot afford to fail. If Iraq can be modeled into a prosperous democracy while preserving its cultural heritage, territorial integrity, and racial cohesion, other countries could learn and follow its lead. Other explicit and implicit promises must be kept as well. The forces will leave as soon as a mission is accomplished and there are no more wars and hidden agendas, Iraqis will not be forced to ally themselves with Israel against their fellow Arabs, or with consuming countries against producers, and its natural wealth will not be used to finance war bills and hungry US contractors.
Third: We need good partnership. America has a lot to offer and benefit from. It needs a stable region, oil flow and prices; we need technology transfer, access to US markets, and economic cooperation. Over-cautious security measures while understandable in the past should now be reassessed. Arab-Americans as well as Arab students, businessmen and visitors have been under strict watch for too long. Visa barriers and stories of FBI harassment made many choose other countries for their education, business and vacations. That is a big loss, since we need more understanding between our peoples that will only come with direct contact, over and above media misrepresentation and misinformation. Those who lived and worked in America are its best ambassadors to the world. Families will believe their kids’ reports about the good Americans and the inspiring American dream more than the media. Such human exchange is our best hope of overcoming the misunderstanding, defeat the dark forces of hate and war, and build a “civilized” bridge between our civilizations.
Fourth: Hyper-power requires hyper-awareness, sensitivity and modesty. Naturally, people are apprehensive of the powerful. To calm a world in shock and awe of mighty US, it needs to balance military might with civility might. Now that the war on Iraq has ended, the war for hearts and minds should restart in earnest.
Finally: It is not true that Arabs and Muslims have always been angry at America. The US has no colonial history, and except for the blind support of Israel and the Cold War propping-up of dictatorships and Arab dictators. We really have no issue with America — less so with the American people. Therefore, addressing the above will certainly eliminate the rational concerns, which feed irrational suspicions and give credence to misinformation and conspiracy theories. America, then, will be what it really is about — global peace, freedom and cooperation. Now, this is a war worth waging, and a victory worth fighting for.
Arab News Features 27 April 2003

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