Broaden Perspectives On the Middle East

CHRISTMAS 1990 was reminiscent of Christmas 1950. Where thoughts should have been on peace, talk seemed always to turn to war. In 1950, it was the bad news from Korea; and perhaps because I was a college student at the time, the talk naturally became very personal. In 1990, it is, of course, the United States threat to use force to eject Iraq from Kuwait. And, unlike any recent military action one can think of, a date has been given - not by the US, but by the United Nations - for Iraq's compliance with the UN demand that it leave Kuwait. Although there has been much talk of war this Christmas season, there have also been millions of prayers directed toward a solution. There is no reason to look on the period between now and Jan. 15 as simply a waiting period. Each day the prayers and thoughts of each one of us can contribute to a solution.

In the mail in the last week has come an essay, in the form of a prayer, from a Saudi businessman. It looks beyond the present stalemate to an era of progress for that whole region of the world. We must progress, he says, from ``saying who is wrong and who is right [to] finding what is right.''

Going far beyond what his own government can say, at least openly, at this time, he sees an Israel whose right to exist is guaranteed by its neighbors. He sees a Palestine lying in peace next to Israel, all weapons of mass destruction in the entire Middle East destroyed, and Europe, the US, and Japan joining in an economic plan to develop the whole region.

``My ultimate prayer to God Almighty is that He gives us the wisdom and the heart to see all our brothers clearly, to look for the similarities rather than the differences between us....''

Given the choices that face Saddam Hussein and perhaps President Bush between now and Jan. 15, these may sound like Utopian thoughts. But they are far from that. Without a plan for peace and progress for the Middle East, the best we can expect is what we have already seen - a permanent state of siege regarding Israel, internecine wars such as the Iran-Iraq war, or land grabs such as the one Saddam has tried to pull off in Kuwait.

The West has been riding a euphoria after the winding down of the cold war, the revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989, and particularly the knitting together of the two Germanys. On Aug. 2 - the day Saddam's tanks rolled - we were again reminded that this world has become one world. We cannot remain aloof to the legitimate aspirations of people anywhere. And if it was largely an act of economic self-defense that propelled America to oppose the Kuwaiti adventure in the first place, thinking only of our own interests will not settle the matter.

This is not to suggest that there should be a quid pro quo to get Saddam Hussein to undo his act of violence against a sovereign nation. But it does seem appropriate to let all the interested parties know that the West has a balanced concern for the peoples of the Middle East that will not disappear with the undoing of the Kuwaiti invasion.

This does not mean that the West is going to try to dictate what should happen in the Middle East. As historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and others noted in recent congressional testimony, the US does not have a keen understanding of the region.

The West should be aware that the Muslim world still has a historical memory of the Crusades, which play very differently in the Muslim world than they do in Western history books. The Muslim world also knows that the main reason for the West's intense interest in the Middle East today is economic.

At the same time, the developed nations of the world expect that Arab and Iranian development will lead in the direction of democracy and greater personal liberty. It is ironic and sad that Christmas observances among American troops in Saudi Arabia had to be kept low key so as not to offend Saudi sensibilities.

It may be only two weeks until Jan. 15, but that is two weeks in which unselfed praying and calm reasoning can correct what needs correcting. Then we must continue to give the Middle East's problems a priority in our thought that indicates its importance to the rest of the nations on this very small planet.

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