Mideast crossroads: Moderates hold genuine power for change
As part of an effort to restore diplomatic ties with Egypt, Tehran's city council recently agreed to rename Khaled Islambouli Avenue, a street named after the assassin of former Egyptian Prime Minister and peacemaker, Anwar Sadat. On one hand, this is a positive sign of increased openness to the ideas of peace and moderation. However, the street was renamed Intifada Avenue after the violent Palestinian uprising against Israel, and a likeness of Islambouli still adorns a downtown building.
This story reveals a great deal about the conflicting attitudes and interests at work in the Muslim world - reform is possible, but old hatreds, misguided prejudices, and support for terrorism are still the norm. The Muslim world needs changes more far-reaching than street signs; it needs moderate voices to dispel the prejudices and patterns that keep peace and prosperity out of reach.
Nonetheless, recent events indicate that this is a critical breaking point and a time in which true change can take root.
Over the past few months, we have witnessed many expressions of increased openness and self-examination. Some Muslim states are beginning to realize that isolation and aggression constitute the wrong path: Libya stated a plan to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction program; the Syrian president visited Turkey for the first time; Iran and Egypt are working toward the resumption of diplomatic ties severed when Egypt established peace with Israel; and Muslims and Christians in Sudan have agreed upon a deal aimed at ending 40 years of bloodshed. But to translate these attitude shifts into real reforms, moderate voices must speak up for two essential actions.
First, they must demand that Muslim states join the international community in both denouncing and combating terrorism. Terror groups play upon feelings of fear and isolation; therefore, the powerful forces of cooperation and moderation threaten them. Consequently, they are targeting places they consider too friendly to the West and communities, like Istanbul, in which Jewish and Muslim neighbors live side by side in peace.
In December, Egypt's foreign minister visited Israel in an attempt to jump-start peace talks. When he was attacked by a mob of extremists at a Jerusalem mosque, Israeli soldiers rushed to protect him. This incident demonstrates that the common interests that bind Israel and moderate Muslim states together are greater than their perceived differences. These common interests demand that Muslim moderates stand together with Israel and the United States in the fight against terrorism. Words must be accompanied by decisive actions such as arresting terrorists and dismantling their organizations, gathering intelligence, blocking funds to terror groups, and severing ties with countries that harbor or support terrorists.
Second, Muslim states must recognize Israel. While Israel has tried to establish diplomatic relations with its neighbors, only Egypt and Jordan officially recognize Israel. Experience has shown us that moderate voices hold the power for genuine change. In 1977, few thought peace with Egypt was possible, but Israel found a partner in Anwar Sadat. In 1994, King Hussein also accepted Israel's hand in peace. Now more than ever, we need courageous leaders as dedicated to transformation as terrorists are to destruction. Only then can we hope to achieve a different future for the region and for the world.
Unfortunately, much of the Muslim world supports Yasser Arafat instead of supporting the call for true alternative leadership. By justifying terror against civilians, Mr. Arafat legitimizes and encourages violence as a political tool. This precludes peace and security for both sides. Moderates must demand leaders who focus on visions for the future rather than hatred of Israel.
The Muslim world is at a crossroads. One path - the path controlled by oppressive governments and violent extremists - breeds instability and terrorism. The other path is the path of new ideas and reforms. As a rule, Muslim moderates are commonly silenced, squeezed out, and persecuted. Traveling the path of moderation is not an easy task, but it is a crucial one. Moderates must take a stand or be defeated by extremism.
• Hillel Newman is the consul of Israel to New England.