Archive for September, 2012

MR. MORSI

Egypt as a nation predates the United States by millennia. But when Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi lectures the U.S., he conveniently forgets that Egypt as a democracy is an infant.

A week ago, Morsi told The New York Times that the U.S. should show greater respect for Arab values. “If you want to judge the performance of the Egyptian people by the standards of German or Chinese or American culture, then there is no room for judgment,” he said. “When the Egyptians decide something, probably it is not appropriate for the U.S. When the Americans decide something, this, of course, is not appropriate for Egypt.”

Morsi seconded what I wrote in “A Misleading Question” (September 14). A cultural gap exists. Take the matter of women. Morsi told The Times, “I will not prevent a woman from being nominated as a candidate for the presidential campaign. This is not in the Constitution. This is not in the law. But if you want to ask me if I will vote for her or not, that is something else, that is different.”

That Mr. Morsi believes women should not play a major role in affairs of state—what message does that deliver to Hillary Clinton?—is his business. That he believes that America and the West are filled with licentiousness also is his business. And to a great degree he’s right. But Morsi’s claims to moral superiority don’t hold water.

A September 20 article in The Jerusalem Post reported on Egyptian women calling on President Morsi to halt increasing incidents of sexual harassment. “According to a 2008 study by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, street harassment is shockingly commonplace, with 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women reporting incidents.” In February 2011, CBS TV news reporter Lara Logan was sexually attacked by a Cairo mob as other Egyptians protested for freedom in Tahrir Square. The abuse of women in the Greater Middle East is well documented.

When Morsi laments the inability of world organizations to stop the violence in Syria—he agrees that Bashar al Assad must go—he again makes a valid point. But he overlooks the inability of the Arab world—and Egypt—to police itself. Christian Copts are now fleeing Rafah, which borders Gaza, in the face of Islamist threats. Similarly, when Morsi suggests that Washington accept Egyptian values, he offers a pragmatic approach to two-party relations. But when he denies the validity of Western approaches to free speech, as he did at the UN on Wednesday, he plays to Islamists and places obstacles between Egypt and the West. I hope he read Tom Friedman’s column, “Backlash to the Backlash”. Friedman offers Arab voices calling for a major reality check—on the part of Arab leaders.

A healthy U.S.–Egypt relationship will take time. And humility. And a realization that ultimately, this isn’t about us. As Tunisian president Mocef Marzouki writes in today’s Times, “The Arab revolutions have not turned anti-Western. Nor are they pro-Western. They are simply not about the West.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Morsi would be well advised to acknowledge that when it comes to making democracy work, ancient Egypt is the new kid on the block—and barely at the toddler stage.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

TOP DECK: A FABLE

Mitch and Barry attended law school together but hadn’t seen each other for years. Still, they immediately recognized each other as they boarded a boat for a cruise on San Francisco Bay. Mitch, an investment advisor from Boston, was in the city on business as was Barry, a union attorney from Chicago. Neither anticipated the storm blowing in from the Pacific.

Both Mitch and Barry paid for exclusive seats on the top deck. These offered the best views of the city, Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito. The sky was overcast, but service on the top deck—covered and enclosed by panoramic windows—was first class. Expensive champagne and cocktails flowed. Waiters restocked the buffet with a series of elaborate dishes.

“It’s starting to rain,” Barry commented as they sat at a table for two. “Is it?” Mitch asked, focused on his plate of crab legs. Barry rearranged his arugula salad. “Coming down pretty hard, actually.”

They first heard the commotion after circling under the Golden Gate Bridge. It didn’t take long for news to reach them. As the rain poured and the wind howled, the boat—a multi-million-dollar marvel—was taking on water. Tourists on the lower deck—which cost a fraction of what Mitch and Barry paid, and offered only hot dogs and soft drinks—were scrambling to get up to the top. “Seems they don’t like getting wet,” said Mitch. A man holding aloft a plate with a slab of prime rib responded, “They won’t make it. Some of the people up here gave the crew some cash. They’re blocking the doors.”

Barry frowned. “If that lower deck fills with water, things could get dangerous.” Mitch signaled a waiter for another Scotch. Barry pushed his plate away. “If we don’t let those people come up from the lower deck, we could have a disaster on our hands.” Mitch held up a crab leg and grinned. “It’s their own fault,” he said. “Besides, half of them got rides with free tickets. We’re actually paying their way.”

Barry shook his head. “Look,” Mitch responded. “Those people down below could have sat where we are. All they had to do was work as hard as we do. They didn’t. Now they’re getting their just desserts.” Mitch’s eyes lit up. “Did you see that dessert spread?” He started to rise. A huge wave toppled him back into his seat. He recovered his balance. “What matters is, you and me… we’re safe up here.”

Barry clutched the table. “If this storm keeps up and those leaks get any worse, we all could be in trouble.” Mitch struggled to his feet. “Barry, you were always the softhearted one. What do those people down there have to do with us?” Then the boat began to sway.

For a week, the local media provided round-the-clock coverage of the cruise boat that capsized and sank in San Francisco Bay with all passengers lost. In Washington, Congress debated a resolution of condolence. After a month, both the House and the Senate tabled the matter for further study.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

A MISLEADING QUESTION

Yesterday’s Opinion Pages in The New York Times asked, “Can the United States stay engaged with modern democratic Middle Eastern countries that have sizable anti-Western populations?” The answers by the chosen debaters were reasonable. The question was misleading.

Modern democratic Middle Eastern countries don’t exist—with the exception of Israel. Now let’s be clear: Millions of people in the region want their nations to move into the category of “modern democracy.” But millions more don’t share that desire. The recent attacks on American embassies in Egypt and Yemen—and the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya—reflect real differences with the modern democratic West that can’t be papered over. Kings? In the Middle East, they rule as well as reign. Ayatollahs? They run Iran. Autocrats? Syria’s makes headlines daily. Elected presidents? Yes, even those—but men ruling over fractured states where the rule of law has yet to be established let alone extended to all citizens.

Emotions in the U.S. are raw now. That’s understandable. So it’s time for a reality check, which I’ve reduced to three salient points (although I welcome you to add more).

1. Societies in the Middle East really do have different worldviews. Take free speech. In the U.S., we cherish it. Sometimes we abuse it, but still we uphold it even when we fault the abusers. The Middle East? Someone—not Washington—made a hateful film about Muhammad. Most Americans condemn and dismiss it. Egyptians and Yemenis stormed our embassies. Sudanese forced their way into the German embassy. In Tripoli, Lebanon, one person has been killed in a protest. These stories are still unfolding. Political dissenters? I can yell “Screw Obama!” ‘til the cows come home. In the Middle East, dissenters face intimidation, imprisonment or death. Iranians and Syrians, among others, can tell you.

2. American power to foster change is limited. (Read Slick! for a satirical take on that.) The world is not a machine that can be repaired by a competent mechanic. In part, our options are restricted precisely because the Middle East is not like us. What we believe to be rational, progressive arguments often fall on deaf ears. Moreover, we’re condemned when we don’t step in (Egypt) and reviled after we do (Libya). Does anyone really want to send U.S. troops into Damascus?

3. The Middle East will remain a political and religious powder keg for a long, long time. Europe experienced centuries of bloodletting before achieving peace. The horrors of World War Two and the Holocaust are less than seven decades behind us. In the Middle East, the forces of Islamism (by which I mean theocratic dictatorship, not Islam) battle those seeking modernity, with or without a Muslim flair. Add to that Islamists battling among themselves. And stir in age-old clan, tribal and ethnic animosities. Can you say “Iraq?” With prudence, we can contain the fire. But only the people of the region can extinguish it.

Should we then turn our backs on the Middle East? No. The world is far too interconnected. Moreover, those of us who support Israel’s right to exist cannot risk a second Holocaust through disengagement. Let’s hope those in power or seeking power in Washington will adopt both perspective and patience. Because as we also saw this past week, a shot from the hip often lands in the foot.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

YOU’RE WELCOME

Periodically, a Muslim shares in the media a particularly wonderful bit of wisdom. So it was last week. Yet the speaker or writer always seems to remain unaware of that wisdom’s source. It’s borrowed from Judaism. Such recognition might help to eliminate the hatred that many Muslims exhibit towards Jews.

The Quran (Sura 5:32) states: “That  was why We laid it down for the Israelites that whoever killed a human being, except as punishment for murder or other wicked crimes, should be looked upon as though he had killed all mankind; and that whoever saved a human life should be regarded as though he had saved all mankind.” (The Koran, Translated and with Notes by N.J Dawood, Penguin Books.)

This wisdom first appeared in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5) edited by Rabbi Judah HaNasi from oral sources around 200 CE—over four centuries before Muhammad received ongoing revelations from the angel Jibril (Gabriel). It’s worth noting that the Quran makes no claim to originating this thought. Indeed, the Quran states that Islam is not a new religion at all. Rather, it represents a return to the original monotheism of Abraham from which Jews and Christians strayed. Sura 2:135 relates: “They say: ‘Accept the Jewish or the Christian faith and you shall be rightly guided.’ Say: ‘By no means! We believe in the faith of Abraham, the upright one. He was no idolater.’”

How interesting that while the Quran views Judaism as corrupted—the Torah may have come from God in some form but Jews wrote and thus distorted a good part of it—the Quran nonetheless includes a teaching from the Oral Law—corrupt by definition—enumerated 1,200 to 1,400 years after Moses. This poses an intriguing question: If the Oral Law regarding destroying or saving the world through a single individual is valid, how much else in the Mishnah also is valid? Muslims need not practice Judaism, of course. But should they condemn it?

I don’t bring this up to argue against Islam. If I believed that Muhammad received the Quran from the angel Jibril, I would be a Muslim. (If I believed that Jesus was crucified to cleanse humanity of original sin, rose from the grave and ascended to heaven, I would be a Christian.) Clearly, Islam is not part of my belief system. But I find no need to discredit Islam or denigrate its practice other than to point to facets of Islam that may pose a clear and present danger to my freedom to live unmolested as a Jew.

Sadly, ignorance of the source of Sura 5:32 shrouds the similarities between Islam and Judaism, as well as Islam’s rich Jewish roots. Both Judaism and Islam are monotheistic religions sharing a core theology: God is one and indivisible. Jews and Muslims take different paths to the same destination.

In God’s Others, I cite Rabbi Elliot Dorff: “The claim to absolute knowledge of God’s will, then, accounts to a theologically improper egotism and/or idolatry.” For both Jews and Muslims, idolatry represents the ultimate abomination. May the coming years free all religions from claims of exclusive truth.

And if Muslims recognize in Judaism much in common, I offer a simple and heartfelt response. We worship the same God, and you’re more than welcome to share.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.