What the Arab / Muslim world can learn from the United States and Israel

It would be difficult to find a more serious critic of our policies in Iraq than me. Likewise, it would be difficult to find a more critical observer of the follies of the Israeli government than me. But for today, I must highlight what the Arab/Muslim world can learn from America, Israel and Jewish lawyers.

First Bush. President Bush’s actions are often disastrous. I will write at greater length later this week on the embarrassing withdrawal of Paul Bremer from Iraq. But Bush often speaks the truth, and he did so in Istanbul on Tuesday. I believe Bush is a man of goodwill, even if he receives and relies on bad advice.

Bush told the Arab/Muslim world that the days of dictatorship are over. The days of imprisoning Arabs, holding them hostage to ignorance and peonage, are over. The days when Arab leaders could talk freedom and repress their people are over. The days when Saudi leaders could take America’s oil dollars and turn them over to radicals plotting worldwide destruction are over. Bravo President Bush.

We must partner with the Arab/Muslim world for prosperity and freedom. The two cannot be separated. Arabs who come to America prosper and succeed. Yet the young people who are imprisoned in Islamic countries are falling steadily behind (the hijackers had to come to America to learn how to fly; they could not do so in their own country.] Followers of Islam are becoming a significant economic block in America, because they work hard, save, educate their children and pay attention to virtues and values. President Bush wants their home countries to follow the same standards and offer the same opportunities. Again, bravo Bush.

Now, Jewish lawyers. No one has commented on the fact, but it bears commenting on. Jewish lawyers won the great U.S. Supreme Court victory for imprisoned Islamics at Guantanamo. Bravo for them. When "corporate" law firms were afraid to defend the Constitution, scrappy Jewish lawyers took to the field of battle, and won. And they won a great victory on behalf of prisoners who probably badmouth "Jews" and claim they are committed to the destruction of Israel.

Jewish lawyers were once discriminated against. They suffered indignities that today’s new Muslim immigrants cannot image. But the Hebrew tradition of service prevailed.

Jewish lawyers defended their clients, but above all they defended the U. S. Constitution. That document stands supreme, even over the "most powerful man in the world," President Bush. Bush claimed power and authority he did not have. He lost. "Big time," as Vice President Cheney would say.

In America, we value the law and we value democracy. That is why we sometimes naively try to export our values. Because they work. The legal system works slowly, and sometimes it is mired in technicalities, as it was this week for Jose Padilla, who must start over again in court. But the rule of law is powerful. And the Supreme Court protected the rights of people who most Americans intensely dislike: the suspected terrorists at Guantanamo.

No Arab country has a functioning judicial system that can stand up to executive power. Egypt is slowly developing such a system. No other Middle East nation comes close. And so, while we may criticize the bad policies that have caused young Americans to die in Iraq, we cannot ignore and we cannot forget the strengths of our system, a system that has endured because it has the "checks and balances" to restrain improvident officials.

We value our Constitution so highly that even Jewish lawyers can stand up and defend suspected Muslim terrorists (I know some of the prisoners are not evil, but they stand accused in some form or fashion). America can be justly proud of its government, all three parts. I can only hope that others throughout the world will stop disparaging America long enough to see what a strong nation can do, and understand why we are a strong nation. We value the rule of law.

This week was a powerful antidote to the horrors of Abu Ghraib.

Now to Israel. Israel has tried to copy the American system with three branches of government, an independent judiciary, etc. This week the Israeli Supreme Court stood up to the crazed dictator Ariel Sharon and told him he could not build his apartheid wall where he wanted. The rule of law governed his actions. It was not a big step, but it was a small step on the road back to sanity for Israel. An independent judiciary took that step.

I believe this first step will lead to more steps towards peace in Israel. Against all odds, I am still a believer that before long we will see a Palestinian state and Israel as peaceful neighbors.

And so, while there is a great deal to criticize in the Israeli government, there is also much to be proud of. Every day brave young Israeli "Refuseniks" stand up to the military monsters who seek to prolong the occupation of Palestine. Israeli judges stood up to Sharon.

I can only hope that Arab/Muslim states will work towards free and independent institutions, so that the great potential of their people can be realized. Even as I criticize and oppose our policies in Iraq, I can only pray that the goals Bush set out to accomplish will be achieved. Yes, I am a pessimist. But no, I am not a defeatist. I have known and loved the Iraqi people for almost fifty years. They have been colonized, dominated, exploited, manipulated, imprisoned and murdered and all of this before a single American soldier ever set foot in Iraq. Now they have the opportunity to succeed.

I don’t know how long the soldiers and Marines will stay. I hope they come home sooner, rather than later. And, in the meantime, I hope Iraqis will strive to build a nation were criticism, independent thought, freedom of religion and tolerance for unconventional and opposing views are all protected by law, and by a Constitution than enshrines an independent legal system to defend these rights. I hope Iraq ends up as a land where Shia and Sunni, where Christian and even Jew are free to believe and practice their religions without fear.

This has been a great week for American and Israeli democracy. I hope it is a precursor of better days ahead for Arab and Muslim freedom and democracy. Inshallah.