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Return to Reason, Mr. President

“Your friend is he who tells you the truth,” goes an old Arab saying, and that is why I am sharing with you, President Bush, these lines echoing the sentiments of millions of Arabs around the world.

Your first “crusade” remark immediately after 9/11 spawned apprehension, later amplified by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the subsequent unfortunate incidents at Abu Ghraib, rendition, Guantanamo and other acts deemed by many in this part of the world and others as openly hostile to Arabs and Muslims.

Let me reiterate to you that we believe no cause in the world justifies the murder of 3,000 people on a September morning. Those callous and inhumane acts are condemned by all who believe in God and humanity. The overwhelming majority of the Muslims were saddened and pained by this, but unjustly accusing all Muslims of being partners in and accomplices to those dastardly acts added to that pain and sadness as did statements that the Muslim people “hate” Americans.

By applying the principle of collective guilt on all Muslims, great divisions between the religions of Christianity and Islam were created. Reckless reporting and even official statements heightened tensions and began another cold war, of sorts.

Partners in the previous Cold War, the US and the Muslim world confronted the menace of godless communism. From Casablanca to Jakarta, the majority of the Muslim countries were allied with the US. America’s moral values, principles and defense of the oppressed appealed to Muslims, and there was no animosity toward America. Indeed, it shone as a beacon of liberty and reason that hastened the end of the Colonial Era.

American spy pilot Francis Gary Powers took off from a Muslim country on his fateful U-2 mission over the Soviet Union when he was shot down. An angry Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, threatened to bomb the city of Peshawar, where the flight began in retaliation. The Baghdad Pact, CENTO, SEATO had Muslim countries — not as vassal states but as allies that joined because they believed in the US.

The America an older generation knew did not harm Muslims. On the contrary, America gave aid, provided support and helped administer programs that enhanced the quality of life in Muslim countries along with many other countries around the globe. The ingredients for a long and lasting friendship have existed, and we long to return to that amicable partnership.

Take my country, Saudi Arabia, as an example. Experiencing a heavy barrage of unfair criticism, one should note it remained a strong ally of the US during the blunted attempts at communist expansion in the Gulf. It maintains stable oil prices and acts as a swing producer to ensure the global economy is unaffected by market shortfalls.

Yes, 9/11 happened, and fingers were pointed at us, but it is clear that Al-Qaeda selected only Saudis from its deviant ranks to drive a wedge between the American people and the Saudi people — a scheme that cannot be allowed to succeed.

Among international aid donors, we stand tall giving to everyone — regardless of creed — through several international programs. Yes, we have differences, and as friends we air them. We believe that a meaningful dialogue between us will contribute to peace and stability, not only for the region but for the whole world.

It is your foreign policy that has resulted in all the chaos in the region. Therefore, it is important that America pushes for a complete solution to the Palestine issue. Many Arabs noted with satisfaction your call to end the Israeli occupation. We believe that implementation of UN Resolutions 242 and 338 will help resolve this issue.

In this respect the Abdullah Peace Plan, submitted in Lebanon by then-Crown Prince and now King Abdullah, represents a just solution. It is a bold plan and, if implemented, would usher in lasting peace for the region and improve America’s standing, erasing any suspicions about its role.

“The US image remains abysmal in most Muslim countries,” the US-based Pew Research Center found last year. This should not be the case. The American people are highly respected, and people admire this society where anyone with talent, grit and determination can be anything. Only in America can any ordinary person achieve any status. You can be a Bill Haley, Bill Gates or Bill Clinton.

That’s why America is admired; however, the support for Israel despite its occupation and suppression of Palestinians has upset many people who see new walls going up instead of coming down.

It was the great American President John F. Kennedy who stood before a wall — the Berlin Wall. “Icht bein ein Berliner,” Kennedy said in tribute to the resilience of the Berliners against heavy odds — against the background of a divided city splitting families and separating fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.

That wall came down, just like the Apartheid wall in South Africa collapsed. People exercising their inalienable rights of freedom and self-determination are the hope of all just and freedom-loving peoples of the world. This is what the Palestinians seek, and this is what their brothers and well-wishers want.

They don’t want to see defenseless men and women mowed down by Apache helicopters or children in schools bombed by F-16s. They do not want to live in Bantustans, and they don’t want to travel for seven hours just to cover two miles of road because a huge wall engulfs them. Mr. President, they want a life; they want to be free.

However, Israel’s policy of “comply or die” has erased all hopes of a life of dignity. They resort then to the only weapon they have — their bodies — and blow themselves up. I once asked a Palestinian man why they resort to suicide bombing. He gave me a John Wayne look and said: “Provide us with helicopters, M-16 assault rifles and a couple of tanks, and I promise you there will be no more suicide bombings.” I had no words to say.

Therefore, it is important that we don’t allow a minority in our lands to subvert our larger interests and prolong the agony and misery of millions of Palestinians. It is important that you and your followers look at America’s interests, which lie in good relations with the Muslim world. The US should be seen as a force of good, rather than a country that overlooks the oppressive behavior of an ally. This was the case till the end of the 19th century when imams in the Ottoman lands prayed for America because they thought, and rightly so, that America was the force of goodness and moderation.

People are now angry and skeptical. They have seen many visits from officials and politicians, but they want an end to occupation, an end to suppression and an end to the volley of bullets and bomb blasts. As negotiations drone on for decades, hate, misery and despair build up to volcanic proportions. We do not want that to happen. We want peace with justice and equality. The horrors of war can only be imagined by those who have lived it.

The United States can push for peace. The last American president to stand up to Israel, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, knew what occupation would cause. Therefore, Israel was pressured to vacate what it occupied during the Anglo-French invasion of Egypt in 1956.

It was the same Eisenhower who, when once asked whether he hated Germans, replied: “I don’t hate in plurals.”

So, Mr. President, while we may have some mean desperadoes among us — they exist all over — let me assure you that we don’t hate in plurals. Terror mongering, jingoism and saber rattling all are nerve-wracking, and we all hope that there will be no more wars — not in this region or elsewhere.

Media reports of strikes against Iran and references to World War III cause alarm and anxiety. We believe that dialogue and political goodwill can bring rapprochement and progress, but it is important for all to see what has caused these grievances to build up and, then, work to remove them.

It is important, Mr. President, to know that America’s largest interest is to have good relations with a billion people. You just cannot wish them away.

And it is important that America portrays itself as the country that it really is — one that lives up to its Jeffersonian and Lincolnian principles. As for the Palestinians, set them free and prevail upon your friends and the Israeli lobby that Israel has no choice but to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza — not to indulge the Palestinians but to save itself.

The solution to the Palestine problem will go a long way to bring peace. The world is changing; America is changing. The Palestinians want freedom and they should get it. America can play a great role. We in the Gulf want to progress and, here too, a US role is important — not by intolerable military assault but by economic and diplomatic means.

Mr. Bush, the time has come for you and America to play a historic role in letting down the curtain so a new act can follow, that can bring peace and prosperity for all.


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