A Muslim’s Dream
By Israel Zwick, CN Publications
Author’s Note: This article was originally published for Martin Luther King’s Birthday on January 15. It recognizes that there are moderate Muslim academics, clerics, and leaders who decry violence and promote harmonious coexistence with Christians and Jews. They must be encouraged and recruited to join the battle against the jihadists. That is the only way that the Islamic terrorists can be ultimately defeated.
A frequent advertisement on the radio promotes a program for developing vocabulary skills. The advertisement claims that an individual’s vocabulary conveys an impression about his competence and abilities. Regardless of the merits of the program, there is credence to the claims about the importance of word usage. Most standardized tests of ability and achievement that are used today have a vocabulary component. The renowned scholar and historian, Berel Wein, recently observed, “Speech can console, comfort, advise, persuade, and inform. It is the primary method for educating and communicating with others. Speech can be holy and it can lead to reconciliation, compromise, and understanding between humans, even amongst former enemies. …The ability to speak wisely at the proper moment is still one of the greatest talents of human beings.” When the late Abba Eban spoke at the UN, even the opposition marveled at his eloquence and wisdom. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, presented in 1963, is still widely distributed, studied, and heralded as a call for freedom, democracy, and ethnic harmony. In contrast, the daily tabloids are replete with stories of donnybrooks, “road rage,” assaults, and even murder, that resulted from an inappropriate choice of words. Similarly, the language used by Palestinian Arabs in their conflict with Israel conveys their true intentions and goals for ending the conflict in their terms. Statements and speeches from their leaders are permeated with words such as: “aggression… intifada…resistance… occupation…jihad…holy war… liberation … martyrdom …shahid.” These are all words that have a connotation of violence, struggle, turbulence, conflict, battle, and death. When Israeli Defense Forces kill armed terrorists, the Palestinian leaders condemn the action as “a criminal barbaric act.” Yet when Palestinians intentionally target children and their mothers, they justify that as “legitimate resistance against the illegal Israeli occupation.” What we never hear from the Palestinian spokesmen are words such as: “acceptance … tolerance… coexistence…harmony …compromise… cooperation… accord.” These are words that convey a desire for a harmonious relationship between people of different cultures and beliefs. Consequently, it shouldn’t be a surprise when the pollsters tell us that most of the Palestinian Arabs are in favor of continuing the “resistance to Israeli occupation” in order to “liberate Palestinian lands and establish a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.” To accomplish this goal, many of the Arab Muslims are in favor of continuing “martyrdom operations.” Yet, despite the continued calls for violence, there is still reason for optimism. If the majority of the Palestinian Arabs are in favor of continued violence, then the data suggests that there are about a million Arabs living in the Israeli territories who want the same things we do. They just want a good job, a comfortable home, and a safe environment with access to health care, education, and recreational facilities. They want these amenities regardless of which flag is flying above them. This is evidenced by the many millions of Muslims who left the “land of their grandfathers” to live in Europe or North America. They’re just seeking economic opportunities and a better life for their families. They’re not attached to any particular flag.
Somewhere, amongst those million Palestinian Arabs, there must be an Ahmed Abu Sulam Alekhem, who will be brave and bold enough to stand up in front of his people and address them with a new vocabulary. His speech might sound something like this:
My Fellow Palestinians:
“I come to you today with a heavy heart. Though it may cause us pain to hear these words, we must finally acknowledge that our leadership has failed us. For over 30 years they have been telling us that we will drive the Zionists from our lands and establish a new State of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital. Instead, they have brought us only poverty, misery, tragedy, death, and destruction. Did our leaders really believe that the Jews would abandon the tiny piece of land that they call their homeland? They have no where else to go. We have already expelled them from Yemen, Syria, Iran, and Iraq where they lived peacefully for hundreds of years. The Jews have only one little state to call their own, they will never abandon it. Did our leaders really believe that the Israeli military would keep their tanks and planes in their garages while we blow up their buses, hotels, and restaurants? Did they really believe that we can continue to shoot rockets in civilian areas without retaliation from the IDF? Their military has a duty and obligation to protect the citizens. Why wouldn’t we expect them to fight back? Wouldn’t we do the same? Did our leaders really believe that the Israelis would pay attention to those silly UN resolutions that told them to “withdraw their forces from Palestinian lands?” Why should they? What has the UN ever done for Israel? No my friends, our leaders have led us astray. They have taken billions of dollars in foreign aid money and used it to buy weapons and explosives instead of homes, schools, hospitals, and food for our people. They have taken some of our best boys and forced them to die in “martyrdom operations,” offering them only the vulgar promise of an eternity surrounded by nubile women. The result of these vile, corrupt practices, and empty promises has been only death, destruction, and tragedy for both Arabs and Jews. We gained nothing from this violence and hatred.
Now, my friends, it is time to try a new strategy. It is a strategy that may be novel and unique for us Arabs, but has been used successfully by other nations. It is time to accept the Jews as our neighbors and show tolerance for their religion, culture, and customs. It is time to sit down with the Zionist leaders and develop a negotiated compromise that will bring security, dignity, freedom, and democracy to our people. It is time to develop a harmonious relationship with our Jewish neighbors that will lead to peaceful coexistence and mutual cooperation. It is time to finally recognize that it is possible for Jews and Arabs to live together in the same land in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Harmonious coexistence doesn’t mean separation by barbed wire, concrete, and electronic fences. It means Jews and Arabs going to the same shopping centers, museums, universities, and theaters. It means a kosher meat store next to a Halal meat store. It means a mosque on one side of the street and a synagogue on the other side of the street. It means Jewish and Arab policemen working together to provide safety and security for all. It means that Christian tourists will be able to travel freely between Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. It means sharing community health resources. It means joint efforts to develop new sources for water and energy.
Last night I had a dream. In that dream, our father Abraham came to me and said, “I know that I had to drive my son, Ishmael, out of my house, but I always hoped that one day my grandchildren, the children of Ishmael, and the children of Isaac, will one day be able to live together in peace and trust. I pray that the land that God promised to me, the land flowing with milk and honey, with its beautiful rolling hills and verdant fields would bring peace and happiness to all my descendants and disciples.”
My friends, this doesn’t have to be a dream. Together we can make it happen. With faith in our common God and Father Abraham, Jews and Muslims can make it a reality. In the words of the great American, Martin Luther King, Jr., “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to stand up for freedom together.”
Working together, Jews and Arabs can turn the sand and stones of the desert into gold and jewels. We can make this land the tourist capital of the world. Where else in the world can one find the ancient and modern in such close proximity? Where else are modern recreational facilities so close to ancient historical and religious sites? Where else is there guaranteed sunshine and warm weather for eight months of the year? In addition to tourism, peace will also encourage foreign investment, commerce, and technology. Instead of poverty and despair, there will be prosperity and hope. In time, every Arab and Jew can have a chicken in every pot and a Dodge in every garage. Instead of going to the funerals of our young men, we will go to their weddings.
My friends, I thank you for listening to me. But listening is not enough. It’s time for action. One voice is not enough. We must all get up and say, “Enough of the hatred and violence. We want to live together in peace, and we want it now.” We must speak out loud and strong so that our voices reverberate from the mountains, and the echoes will proclaim liberty throughout the land.”
Such a speech today would seem as unlikely as the famous bar scene in the Star Wars movie. However, it doesn’t have to be fantasy. There are positive signs that such conciliatory words may not be far away. In a recent interview, Prof. Khaleel Mohammed at San Diego University, listed the names of about a dozen Muslim leaders living in the West who are encouraging reformation in Islam. Zudi Jasser, Chairman of the American-Islamic Forum for Democracy, recently proclaimed, “We want to take back our faith from the radicals…There needs to be a Muslim voice that speaks directly against that ideology.” Mohammed Essawi, president of Al Qasemi College, said, ““There is a huge opportunity to teach openness and pluralism in these societies.” Other Muslim clerics, academics, and leaders have shown the courage to stand up, decry violence, and promote harmonious relationships with Christians and Jews.
If Western civilization wants to win the battle against Islamic terror, then it must seek out the voices of moderate Islam, encourage them, support them, recruit them, and protect them. In time, the voices of tolerance and moderation will prevail. Guns alone cannot defeat the ideology of hatred and violence. Speech and education can be more powerful weapons.