Jan 04 2005

Senator John Kerry tells me: “I really think I could have brought peace.”

Published by at 12:00 am under Blogs

The invitation I received from the US embassy was very simple. You are invited to coffee with Senator John Kerry. I looked at the invitation twice to be sure that the name was correct. I was invited to meet with the former presidential candidate.

I arrived at the well guarded US embassy in Amman and was surprised about how quickly I was allowed in as soon as they found out my name which they compared to a list of invitees. They ushered me in without much of search (I walked through a metal detector that seems not to have been on a very high sensitive gauging) and was not even asked to give up my cell phone.

When Senator Kerry arrived and we were introduced, it became clear to me that we were not a big group. Flanking him on both sides was a Melkite Jordanian Christian priest Nabil Haddad and Professor Abdulnasser Abulbasal dean of the Shari’a and Islamic Studies at Yarmouk University. The remaining people included another professor of Islamic studies, a human rights activist, the head of a local charity and the head of the Jordan University student council who from his beard and short conversation with him appeared to be of Islamic leanings.

After introductions, the Islamic professor gave a general statement in Arabic explaining how Islam is misunderstood in the west. Father Haddad added a few words about moderation and the importance of moderate countries like Jordan. Senator Kerry pushed the Islamic professor to explain why moderate Muslims are silent. He made an attack to Al Jazeera, Hizbullah, Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs bridge by saying that why don’t moderate Muslims speak out against them. The initial answers were by and large unconvincing and repetitive, with the sheikh insisting that Islam is misunderstood and the father saying that the US credibility is at the point of zero, which Kerry agreed with.

I felt that the meeting was going no where, Kerry was almost falling asleep (he later told me the reason was his jet lag) and wanted to wait for an opportunity to interject a new approach. When one of the attendees explained that the crux of the problem is Palestine, and that until that conflict is solved, it will be difficult to get anywhere in the region, I realized I could make some suggestions. I first said that I don’t agree with the idea of grouping militant groups with al Jazzera, that Al Jazzeera is an independent media source that is very popular and I am surprised that he doesn’t talk about the rest of the Arab media which is government controlled. I spoke about the fact that radical Islam fills a vacuum that has been left after the exit of other ideologies. I suggested that a novel US approach could be for America to support Arab unity. I explained that Arabs like Americans would love to have a united Arab country, that colonial powers from the west have been opposed to this. And whether this is still the case or not the perception in the Arab world is that there is a strong opposition in the west to anything pan Arab. I suggested that a new approach could be for leaders like himself to declare that they are not opposed to the idea of pan Arabism and the unity of Arabs.

I explained that when the US invaded Iraq they were on the record as being opposed to Saddam, so why did they make a major de baathification effort. Many Baathists feel that Saddam deviated from the main Baath ideology which is a pan arab ideology. I again explained that when the US widened their attack not only to Saddam but also to the pan arab ideology of the Baath and others, an ideological vacuum was left and that was an easy grounds for the Islamists to fill. I explained to him that the idea of pan Arabism is very popular and that even countries like Jordan are on the record as being a leading pan arab country. I looked around for others to support me but they seemed initially to be afraid and there was dead silent for a few seconds. Kerry then spoke. I am not against the unity of the Arab world, he said. He wanted, however, to know what kind of a state will it be, will be it an authoritarian state. I explained that it should be a progressive and democratic state. We then talked about the fact that the US calls for democracy in the Middle East fell on deaf ears because of the Arab public’s lack of faith in Bush’s sincerity. A couple of others chimmed in about how the US acted against Al Jazeera offices in Baghdad which is exactly like what Arab leaders did to this media organ.

Discussion went in different tangents but at one time it came back to Palestine. Kerry implied that the problem of what he called Islamic terror and suicide attacks happened in Palestine long before the US invaded Iraq. I spoke about the dual standard of the US and gave an example of his changing position regarding the wall, you were against it and then you were in favor, I said. Not true he replied quickly, I said that there should not be any barrier for peace but I was not opposed to the wall, just opposed to its location. He continued that because of the US policy the path of the wall was changed.

Back to Iraq and the double standard. Bishop Haddad said that all Arabs see are the boots of the Americans and hear the words of Rumsfield. Kerry retorted by a question who is creating this image. I realized that he wanted to blame the Arab media, so I answered: actions- the US actions in Iraq and the US position in Palestine/Israel. I reminded him of Bush’s statement that Sharon was a man of peace and that the American government has supported Israel despite the wall and settlements.

John Kerry had a question of whether there the possibility for any reciprocation from the Arab world if a US official made a strong pro Palestinian statement. We all answered that none of us can deliver what he wants. The sheikh said that in Sunni Islam there is no religious hierarchy. The Senator wanted to know if there was any way that such an effort can be coordinated, and turned to the priest and sheikh and the US officials for support and they nodded their heads.

As we left, I walked privately with the senator and I expressed our unhappiness that he didn’t win the elections. He responded to me with what appeared to be a genuinely honest answer, I really think I could have brought peace to the region.

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