There has been so much discussion in this country about what this election, your election, our election, signifies for America. May it be that it signals the healing of our racial wounds. Yet this is not just about us. It is also about the world, and our place in the world community, and a return to an ethic of sharing and generosity. I will focus my comments on the area that I know best, the Muslim world.
Iraq: We have inflicted a great violence upon Iraq, and as you have recognized, this was an unnecessary war. Getting Iraq right will be key. You are familiar with Martin Luther King Jr's famed April 4, 1967, speech in Riverside Church. You can look at virtually everything that King said about Vietnam and apply it to Iraq. The first step in getting Iraq right is to begin by publicly admitting to ourselves -- and more importantly, to Iraqis, and the world community -- that we made a horrible mistake, that our error resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and the wasting of untold hundreds of billions of dollars.
Iran: Iran is a complicated society, and it is not 1978 anymore. Since the revolution, Iran has been home to the most sophisticated Islamic reform movement in the world. Today, 70 percent of the Iranian population is under 30, and the overwhelming majority of Iranians want to normalize relations with the United States. President Bush alienated most Iranians by labeling Iran as part of an "Axis of Evil." Instead, engage and acknowledge the subtlety and nuance of this ancient civilization.
Palestine/Israel: For Muslims worldwide and Muslims in the United States, this is and has always been foreign policy issue number one. The creation of Israel is seen by hundreds of millions of Muslims as the result of colonial interventions in the Middle East, going back to the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Israel has remained the single largest recipient of US foreign aid over the last thirty years. Every scholar knows that the current situation in Israel/Palestine is not tenable. No group of people on Earth would voluntarily agree to live in the situation of occupation and second-class citizenship that the Palestinians have had to endure for over forty years.
There are no easy solutions, for there is such a discrepancy of power between the two sides. Yet if we move from being an ardent supporter of Israel at all costs to stating that the dignity and well-being of both Palestinians and Israelis and the security of both communities will be equal priorities for us, that will be the beginning of the road toward healing. A two-state solution presents serious challenges, none more important than the dozens of illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied West Bank. A one-state solution (one person, one vote) is ultimately the fairest solution, maybe the only fair solution, but it would mean giving up on the notion of a Jewish state, over that of a secular democracy. Either way, dealing with significant issues like the fate of Jerusalem as the symbolic capital of both peoples, the right of Palestinians refugees to return, and the guarantee of exactly and identically the same set of rights and responsibilities for both Jews and Arabs will be mandatory.
Afghanistan: The attention of much of the world community is focused on Iraq, but Afghanistan might present the more serious long-term problem. The re-Talibanization of Afghanistan is already underway, and it is vital to confront that. The last bits of al Qaeda will have to be uprooted.
The solution begins when we realize that we need to change not just the impression of the United States, but also the reality of our presence in the world community. This was one of the great errors of the Bush administration. Immediately after 9/11, they hired a Madison Avenue advertising executive (Charlotte Beers) to serve as an undersecretary for public diplomacy. They simply do not understand that the reason much of the world came to hate our government is because of the policies of our government. They do not hate us (pace the pundits post-9/11) because we are "free," "civilized," and "democratic." No, they hate our policies, because we have become synonymous with aggression, privilege, militarism, support of dictators, unilateral action, disregard for civilian life, and ultimately, Empire.
How to fix it? Change the impression of the United States by changing the policies of the United States. Take between 10 percent and 20 percent of the military budget, and redirect it toward building schools and hospitals worldwide, fighting poverty, training people in skills for a new globalized world, and providing relief from HIV/AIDS. Every penny of that money will give back dividends hundredfolds. Unlike in Iraq, where billions of dollars went to no-bid contracts for Halliburton and other companies, invest the money in local businesses. Follow that up with the largest deployment of American peace activists in history. Come up with a revamped version of the Peace Corps, where our best and brightest will want to devote two years of their life in going for paid internships to places around the world where our help is needed.
President-elect Obama, now is the time. Now is the time to build on the good will of the world community. The "fierce urgency of the now" that you spoke about so eloquently indeed is now. Lead us, and we will follow. Cross-posted from Beliefnet's Progressive Revival blog