The double tragedy for most people in the Middle East is that the chronic political violence in our lives has failed to achieve its objectives. Yet as this New Year begins, I remain optimistic because each day I see the bounty and wisdom that define Middle Eastern life and societies, alongside our many sorrows.
Despite the Middle East's distortions of power, security and economy - the brutal Palestinian-Israeli warfare, Anglo-American armies poised to attack Iraq, a few police states still hanging on to power, and secular and religious strife - the strongest force that drives our societies remains the intense, indestructible humanity of ordinary people.
Hundreds of millions of ordinary Arab, Israeli, Iranian, Turkish, Kurdish, Berber, Armenian and other people wake up every morning, send their children to school, go to work, hold their heads up, look their prevailing power structures in the eye and declare that they will not succumb to the violence. They will not betray or relinquish their humanity.
Most here will not embrace savagery as a routine operating procedure, refuse to adopt hypocrisy as a foreign policy guideline, and reject autocracy as a defining value of public governance. The problem is these ordinary people do not make policy. This is why our region is so plagued by failed violence, domestic tyranny, degenerate occupations, civil wars, institutionalized corruption and mediocrity and the barbarisms of assassination, colonialism, and slow-motion ethnic cleansing as official policies. Yet no Arab, Israeli, Iranian or Turk I know would ever consciously choose violence over serenity, war over peace, or a governance system based on tyranny, exploitation and subjugation rather than equality, liberty and dignity.
I have heard dozens of proposed, sensible solutions to the ailments of our contemporary Middle East - including democracy, integration, secularism, globalization, modernization and privatization; but I would like to make another easier suggestion. I challenge the current Arab, Israeli and Iranian leaders to do something very simple: trust your people! Tap the humanity and power of your own citizens' sense of identity, faith and dignity. Put your faith and your fate in the hands of the hundreds of millions of ordinary men and women (Arabs, Israeli, Iranian alike!) who hold on to their humanity with every ounce of strength in their bodies.
They do this day after day, war after war, assassination after assassination, dead child after dead child, failed state after failed state. They will not relinquish their humanity. They will not betray it. They will not allow it to be stolen from them, ravaged or killed. The most indestructible element and untapped force in our region is the rational, compassionate humanity of our people. It has never been mobilized to drive public policy or to empower social and economic development efforts.
My personal New Year's wish is that the leaders and power elites of the Middle East trust their own ordinary people and let them define effective new policies. Unburdened by land occupation, colonialism, subjugation and tyranny, they will choose the dignity of lives lived peacefully, equally, tolerantly, productively and spiritually alongside Arabs, Israelis, Iranians and anyone else sharing these values.
The leaders of the Middle East will find in the minds and hearts of their own citizens at home that genuine stability...has never been achieved by force of arms, restrictive domestic policies or Anglo-American military armadas. Along with the Middle Eastern police states and other anachronisms of our region, these violent and failed mechanisms of the past must be discredited and sent to history's garbage dumps.
Rev. Francis F. Baiocchi
Rami Khouri is a political scientist and columnist for the Jordan Times. He writes with a powerful passion for the dignity of the common citizens of all the countries of the Middle East who want nothing more and nothing less than the common people all over the world: peace, a basic security, sufficient work, food and shelter, and the opportunity of a better life for their children.
It is our political and military-reliant leaders who betray us, who tell us that other nations are "axes of evil" populated by mobs of people that are sub-human, who portray war as a justifiable response to perceived threats, who want to maintain or increase their personal power and profit by subjugating the more vulnerable peoples of the world.
A theologian once pointed out that the more powerful any nation becomes, the more quickly it moves away from God. How true might that viewpoint be for militarily strongest nation in the world, the United States of America? Maybe we never learned to use power wisely. Maybe God is telling us that true authority rests in serving others, not in "lording it over them." In the USA, we currently spend an outrageous amount of money for "military defense." Perhaps if we began to spend even a modest percentage of this money to help ordinary people in our country and in other nations such as the Middle East realize our common aspirations for peace, health and education, the world would take a decided turn for the better! People being shot at want to fire back. People being helped don't.
We who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ have an added motivation for being peacemakers. We recognize the value of each human being as a creation and reflection of a gracious and loving God - no matter the gender, age, religious affiliation or racial origin of that human being. We treasure our common humanity as an expression of God's goodness and delight. Consequently we should pay no regard to political leaders of any nation (including our very own!) who by their programs and policies deny, disparage or despoil this priceless treasure of our common humanity.