Now that George W. Bush is fairly well placed in the White House for another four years, it is important for us in the Arab world to read through his inauguration speech and try to figure out how to deal with him.
Bush dwelt only a minute or two on the past and then spoke of the “day of fire.”
He did not mention Sept. 11 by name.
He spoke of self-government, of the dignity of man, of the blessings of God and that no one deserved to be a slave. He allayed fears of many that America was trying to impose its style of government on the unwilling.
Rather he said America’s goal was to help others find their own voices, attain their own freedom and chart their own paths.
He had a few words for tyrants.
He did not mince words.
They were punctuated with carrots and sticks.
And for reformers he had words of encouragement.
He did mention the Qur’an when he said the “edifice of American character is built in families, supported by communities with standards and sustained in our national life.”
His focus was on freedom. Iraq was never mentioned, neither was Iran, or Al-Qaeda, or Bin Laden. This was a macro speech.
As I watched him speak, I felt, as did many other Arabs who have an understanding of American politics, that Bush did not go into details because that would have created more speculation.
As this was an inaugural speech, he wanted to drive the point home that he wants to go down in history as the president who made the world a safer place.
President Truman started the Cold War; President Reagan ended it, and President Bush wants to usher in the era of human freedom.
The Arabs will welcome his speech.
No right-minded Arab man, woman or child would like to live under tyranny.
No Arab would like to be deprived of free speech, free media and the right of movement; we all aspire for it.
We want to be like our peers and counterparts in Europe and Asia.
We also have a dream — like the American Dream — of upward mobility, of bettering ourselves, of providing a better future for our children
For all this we need peace.
We need an environment that helps us produce a frame of mind that focuses on the positive rather than the negative.
We want to turn on our televisions in the morning to hear about higher stock prices, new contracts and the appointments of brilliant CEOs.
Instead we are plagued by scenes of suicide bombers, death and hordes of Israeli soldiers pointing assault rifles at Palestinian teenagers.
President Bush said: “No one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave.”
And we want to hold him to his words.
The Israelis cannot be masters of a land they occupied in June 1967, and the Palestinians cannot be slaves in their own land. It should be understandable why those who wear the shackles of slavery would want to rebel just as Spartacus did against his Roman masters more than 2,000 years ago.
The oppressed can rise up using whatever tools they have at their disposal.
They may use nonviolent or violent means to accomplish that goal of freedom. Both methods, however, tend to be long and drawn out and cause misery to the ruler and the ruled.
Bush quoted Abraham Lincoln in his speech — a man who courageously shouldered the burden of liberty. “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it.”
Bush also delivered a universal message. “Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world: All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”
Mr. President, the Palestinians have heard your words and now await your deeds.
When wiser counsels prevail, and the diehards in the Israeli government realize that the end of occupation will usher in an era of peace — not only for the Holy Land but for the Middle East — we will know that Bush’s words were addressed to all.
There is no “Axis of Evil,” but there are forces of evil, and we hope that Bush, who has a strong faith and is a religious man, will muster personal courage and call a spade a spade.
The Arab world harbors no grudge against the United States. In fact, the Muslim world was America’s ally in the Cold War.
However, Bush has to realize that his inaugural speech should be followed by a policy of rapprochement and dialogue.
Blanket accusations and threats to please only vested interests that aim to create a wedge between the Americans and the Arabs will not serve America’s long-term interests.
Yes, the spread of democracy is welcomed, but, as a French political analyst stated, “spreading democracy is not like spraying perfume or fragrance.” Solid dialogue, understanding and empathy are required.
America ought to be a harbinger of peace and progress, and it can — provided it listens to people outside its own realm and provided that it realizes that there is a just and divine power that watches not only over America as Bush prayed but also over the whole world.
The American Pledge of Allegiance contains the phrase “with liberty and justice for all.”
And Bush’s dedication to that ideal will be the true measure of his success or failure.