Open letter to America

Pro-democracy Lebanese doctor and professor laments Bush policies.

I have had a long and fruitful association with American academic centers. All my studies from elementary school through university were at such institutions and helped forge who I am. My two years of specialization at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Mass., and Massachusetts General Hospital reinforced my belief in the American principles of fair play, intellectual integrity, courage, and the importance of human rights.

Throughout my life I have pushed my personal friends and family as well as my students and peers to follow the principles I was taught at your academic institutions. In fact, at one time in my life, I was as much an American as a Lebanese. Now I watch helplessly as those principles that were so much part of me are bulldozed mercilessly in Iraq and the Palestinian territories by the present US administration. Daily I listen and watch in horror as the current administration distorts the meaning of democracy from "voice of the people" to "voice of the mighty,"

More than a decade ago, the US was instrumental in abolishing the Berlin Wall, and now it only pays lip service to democracy while watching silently as Israel puts up a cement wall around an occupied people in a giant ghetto. Such a sight without any seeming redress by the US, aside from a verbal rebuke, has never before been witnessed in a "democratic" world. I remember when the US cheered on Nelson Mandela and denounced apartheid; and yet now, every day more and more stones are piled on in an effort to contain a whole population as though it were in a zoo.

Please let me make one thing very clear: The entire world, whatever their political or religious beliefs, watched in horror and shared in your sorrow on that fateful day in September 2001. Muslims, Christians, and Jews in our area of the world were stricken by that horrible act and we all condemned it. That it was a premeditated act by a small group of Muslim extremists did not diminish its atrociousness. However, through the use of this horror perpetrated by these extremists, the current administration generalized its anger toward all Muslims and Arabs of the world.

Please understand why most Muslims consider you the ally and sole protector of Israel and why Iraqis categorize you as occupiers and not liberators. The US attacked Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein was dangerous due to his weapons of mass destruction. The world has watched as this claim has been belied time and time again, yet the administration backs Israel, knowing full well that this country has devastating weapons at its disposal. Please understand why this administration has given 1 billion Muslims reason to consider the US unfair and unjust.

I close this letter with one sole plea: Do not force me, and others like me, who were educated and brought up by our American peers in the real heyday of American principles and democracy, to now classify those same people as the enemy camp. This pains me greatly, both as a Christian and an Arab, particularly after having so long believed and practiced the principles you taught me, and now seeing a parody of these very same beliefs dragged down into the mud of Iraq and the occupied territories.

Munir Shammaa, practicing physician and clinical professor of medicine at the American University of Beirut

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