It's Time to Build Bridges
Op/Ed by ADC President Ziad Asali

In the first year of this century -- in this millennium -- we are being tested and challenged. The attacks of Sept. 11 have put into sharp focus the conflicts of our time. The president has defined them as good versus evil, and the emerging policy is a war on terror. It is a response to that which is tribal, exclusive and xenophobic, expressing itself in religious language and violence, visited in a most flagrant way against thousands upon thousands of innocent people.

The divide is between those who call for a clash of civilizations and those who call for tolerance, accommodations and building bridges on foundations of law and justice.

It is, however, more than that. We are not engaged in a clash of civilizations at all, as many fundamentalists would have you believe. Rather, it is a campaign of well-organized and financed criminal enterprises that motivate cultists and shadowy groups to carry out acts of unimaginable violence for political gain. Sadly, these actions are camouflaged under the veil of "religion." Our recent national tragedy is the work of people bent on polarization between civilizations and religions in pursuit of mortal combat with no compromise possible between "them" and "us." It is a concept born of fanaticism, fed by victimization, and manifested in terror. It allows no room for compromise, humanity or a sense of justice.

The Taliban, the Osama bin Ladens and the occasional clerics who call for jihad share the idea of clashing civilizations with groups across the globe. In our country, these groups call for a sharp definition of "us" versus "them," of "our" religion and culture versus "theirs," and feed the same primitive impulses to the West the Taliban feeds to the East.

The ultimate conclusion these divisive groups desperately wish will be a frenzied, violent response that engulfs innocent people. If this cycle is widened globally, to include 1.2 billion Muslim people against over 2 billion Christian people and 15 million Jewish people, the century is doomed. All achievements of humanity over the millennia of civilization will be erased.

It is the time to ask where we go from here to build a better world for our children and their children. The most immediate and pressing answer is to expose this concept of a clash of civilization for its true meaning: a misguided prescription for death and destruction. Some say it is hopeless to talk and want to hit with brutal and indiscriminate force. And unfortunately for us, there is an angry minority in the Middle East and Southern Asia that views the conflict as a fuel to feed their fanaticism. In their estimation, the greater the struggle the greater the relevance --and the worse it becomes for all the rest of us.

Now, it is time to build bridges to narrow the gaps, to blur the margins, to forge alliances -- deep and wide --with those who have a vision of freedom and tolerance against zealots in every corner.

To Muslims and Arabs of the world, I say this is the time to join the world in the strongest possible condemnation in words and in deeds of the people who visited this calamity on the U.S.A. -- a calamity executed in your name. Do not yield to voices of hatred masquerading in religious garb and appealing to your own sense of victimization. It is time to build bridges with the West and the rest of the world with a tolerance of cultural diversity and an honest pursuit of mutual interest. It is time to accept a peaceful Israel with secure borders.

To people of the West, the repository of Christianity, I say do not yield the values of charity, tolerance and industry that have served this civilization so well to tribal calls emanating from certain religious extremes. Do not let Jerry Falwell sharpen the divide. It is time to look with care at the relations of the West with the rest of the world and re-examine policies. Clearly, something needs to change.

To Jewish people all over the world, I say it is time to make peace in the Middle East. A lasting peace with a secure, integrated and accepted Israel, alongside a viable, contiguous Palestinian state, with a shared Jerusalem as the capital of each. Let us drain this abscess that has festered far too long and build a new Middle East. Do not yield to the voices and calls of the Netanyahus who claim they speak on your behalf as they encourage and sharpen this clash of cultures and religions.

The president of the United States has set the tone of standing up for what is universal and right, against what is tribal and lethal. His policy of building coalitions across cultures and religions and masses of humanity, in so many countries, to uproot lawlessness and its violent manifestations, has all the ingredients of setting the right tone for this century. Let us all work together in seeing it through.

The following article by ADC President Ziad Asali appeared in the October 19 edition of the Detroit Free Press. It can read at http://www.freep.com/voices/columnists/asali_20011019.htm


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