Robin Wright, correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, speaking at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, as part of the 1992 Peace Prize Forum “Striving for Peace: Resolving Cultural Conflicts”. The theme of address was “Islamic Culture and the West.” Wright has spent several years living in the Middle East. She has worked as a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Post, CBS News, and the London Sunday Times.
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I'll have to say I delighted I am to be here and how I am struck by the fact that there are two women addressing the subject of his mom. So many of my colleagues when hearing that I've lived in the Middle East Express great sympathy and say how Dreadful it must have been and I have to point out that it was I've often been treated with greater dignity and respect in the Muslim world that I have been in Washington DC. and in fact, I like and I like to point out the fact that there are today more women in Uranian Parliament than there are in the u.s. Senate. Camellia came at the subject of Islam in the west from the Islamic perspective and I bring the perspective of the West in my topic today probably was much of the baggage that many of you have felt about Islam over the past 13 years. I lived in Beirut until 1985. And two of my best friends were taken hostage. Terry Anderson had the office next door to me and Tom Sutherland was my best friend at AUB. I lost friends at the suicide bombings of the US Embassy both the 1983 and 1984 as well as at the Marine compound out of my own sense of Rage. I set out on a journey that took me a couple of years to try to find out who was responsible for these acts of outrage and the process I found out something even more interesting why it was happening. And I am struck by this when I was listening to Cheryl Crazy Bowls. I look when a dress last night at the similarities the fact is I don't unfortunately have time to go into the long history of of the relationship between the west and Islam but many of the similarity there are many similarities in the way the West approached in modern times. The Islamic world over issues as she pointed out last night of land and trade and influence United States came late into the game, but unfortunately our hands are not clean. The tragedy is the way we have treated Islam. It is an egalitarian. And it accepts the tenants is Camellia pointed out of Christianity and Judaism accepts the prophets Abraham and Moses and Christ as prophets of a single tradition, which Islam is only the latest manifestation because I go to a Ron quite off and I'm now a receiver of a most unlikely Christmas card from the Uranian intersection in Washington and every year it depicts the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child and quotes Asura or a verse from the Quran which talks about the welcome of Christ to the world. the irony is that the kind of fundamentalism that we have seen in merge over the past 13 years since the Iranian Revolution was in many ways in Courage by the West in Arab lands, even in Israel. We encouraged Islamic fundamentalism as a means of stemming of stopping leftism in communist trends But we didn't expect was that it would take root. And it did because Islam is unique among the world's major monotheistic religions in that it offers a set of laws by which to rule society as well as a set of spiritual beliefs and of the time in the world when so many societies are on a quest to find new ways to govern societies new means of bringing peace and prosperity Islam had a particular legitimacy. I think one of the things we also have to understanding and dealing with the subject of Islam. Is that its Resurgence? It's activism does not come in a vacuum. When I'm one of the most striking Trends in the world today is the use of religion and politics. There's virtually no religion in the world that is immune from this trend. If you look at the activism of Sikhs and Hindus in India, the pro-democracy campaign of Buddhist monks in Tibet, the anti-apartheid campaign led by clerics various Ministers of various faiths in South Africa. There's a common denominator here. If you look at the even the Nobel Prize peace prize in the prizes in the last few years when notice is the Dalai Lama as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa. The different movements of religion and politics have different flashpoints and tactics and goals. But in many ways they are trying to fill a void a vacuum at a crucial historic juncture a Peruvian psychiatrist and historian during the Knology for me. Once he said what do people do when there's a tornado they go to their basement and they cling to the pillars will it is the same thing during a political upheaval to go to the to their souls and clean to the pillars things like religion the Nationalist and ethnic sources of identity. What we are saying in Islam is not unique to Islam. The trouble unfortunately is I think the West has not understood the context of recent Islamic activism. And as a result 13 years after the Iranian Revolution produce the world's first modern theocracy Islam is once again being perceived as our Nemesis to little vignettes to explain to what degree this is becoming the case. The German foreign minister was in Washington over the last couple of weeks and in a meeting with reporters, he was asked what in the New World Order is going to be the threat to the west and the first word out of his lips was Islam. At a meeting of NATO government and military officials in Germany last week looking at the issue of what is the threat in the as the Soviet Union disappears as a major Challenge and they came to the conclusion that for the NATO countries Islam is the single greatest challenge. Ironically this perceived new threat comes as he Islamic Resurgence moves into a second and very different phase. In countries such as Algeria and Jordan islamists have recently risen to power through The Ballot Box. and the former republics of the Soviet Union in Central Asia the Muslim republics we tend to give so little attention. Islamic movements are at the Forefront. Of the challenge to the last bastions of communist rule. I think the trends in North Africa and Central Asia are in fact more typical of the Islamic Resurgence in stark contrast to what we have seen in places like Lebanon and Iran over the past 13 years and places like Tunisia the outlawed Islamic Renaissance party has become the most serious opposition lie quietly recruiting in pot proselytizing on campuses and farms and factories to promote Democratic change and to avoid zealotry in Algeria. The Islamic salvation front has emerged as the country's leading political party over the past two years and both local and parliamentary elections. And the former former Soviet Republic of Tajikistan islamist have mobilized opposition to communist leadership through public but always peaceful demonstrations. These are tremendously important events and signals. They reflect a willingness by Islamic groups to work within Democratic or pluralistic systems. We must not fail to recognize those signals and to work with them rather than against them. Unfortunately the West particularly the United States may be missing the boat at a crucial juncture the during the political evolution of Islam. Most notably in Algeria. I've just come back from Algeria. I went over initially to cover the elections the second phase of a two-part parliamentary contest that would bring the first democratically-elected Parliament to Algeria since the revolution Revolutionary War and 30 years ago that brought Independence to this North African state. What is happening today in Algeria is as important arguably for the 22 members of the Arab world the 70 members of the larger Islamic world and dozens of third world countries as algeria's Revolutionary War was 30 years ago back. Then the issue was independence from colonialism and algeria's 8 year war set vital presidents that had a Rippling effect throughout the third world. During the wave of Independence that brought over half of today's countries to independence. This time around the issue is democracy since 1988. Algeria has gradually move toward. pluralism and individual freedoms in 1990 the North African state began a series of Elections to end what journalists like to call the one man one vote one time syndrome. They held around the first Municipal elections and then these parliamentary elections, but on the day, I arrived in Algeria. Unfortunately, the Democratic process was suspended. The reason was quite simple in all the local and parliamentary elections. The Islamic party had swept to Victory not only beating but humiliating the ruling party has been in power since 1962 because of fears that the Islamic front would sweep the last round of parliamentary elections, the military-backed a coup against the president forced him to resign and cancelled elections Algeria again is today a police state more than a thousand have been arrested in the two weeks since I left public Gatherings are banned journalists have been arrested. The media censored religious worship is restricted as an embittered Algerian official said to me democracy has been assassinated here. In stark contrast to Washington's outspoken condemnation of the attempted coup in the Soviet Union last summer and the successful coolest summer in Haiti as well as the recent coup attempt in Venezuela, just last week. So far we have yet to move on the crisis in Algeria. We should a simple statement saying we regretted the suspension of the democratic process. Unfortunately, we are so afraid of Islam. That we are backing away from the very principles this nation stands for. in all parts of the world as a result of our experiences with hostage-taking and suicide bombers the United States and most of our Western allies still have no tangible strategy. In dealing with Islam any more than we did when Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran in 1979. Put simply are groping mixed with our fears is much like the US quandary and what to do with Communism after World War II my warning to you today is that now during this pivotal pivotal juncture is the time to take some important steps to prevent the same kind of decades-long Crisis. We faced with Communism in Algeria. It would be very simple for us to do things such as calling for the immediate restoration of the democratic process to condemn the military Junta that has taken power to recall our ambassador simple steps like that. Will help by us credibility down the road when the islamist do win and I think we should have no doubt. They will now Jerry is case. They have gained and credibility since the coup in large part because many of the votes that were for the Islamic party originally were against the ruling party. This was an opposition Force. This was a way of saying no, but now since the coup the Islamic party is seen as the only Force fighting for democracy. Practically algeria's decision to Outlaw. The Islamic front is already backfiring the movement is now gone underground. It's creating cells. And ironically it's fighting the same kind of war against the former ruling party that the former ruling party did against France 30 years ago. The longer The Clash's go on the higher the death toll becomes the greater the danger for more embittered and potentially militant brand of Islam to emerge the coup May ultimately spawn, even the worst alternative the re-emergence of Islamic extremism. Needless to say that does not bode well for the west, but if we are seen as on the side of democracy from an early stage than the islamist relations with the United States after this crisis is over may be far better than they were between the u.s. And Iran after the Shaws ouster. The fact is that many Muslim countries admire the United States tremendously and Algeria, for example, a young senator in 1957 who spoke about the revolution in 1957 is a Great Hero and his picture is is found all over Algiers. The young Senator was John Kennedy and at the time In France was a a grade in great Ally and close friend of this country. He said it was time for Algeria to become Independence to become independent. We need to have the same kind of vision today and not only because of Algeria or other parts of the Arab world in Central Asia where I spent last fall five new states with a total population of almost 60 million are now in political limbo together these former Soviet colonies with tongue twisting names like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan form an important new geostrategic block. We tend to associate Islam with the Middle East but in fact, there are more than 70 countries of the 184 nations of the world today that are considered part of the House of Islam one in every five. Human being is a Muslim. They come they live in country stretching from Morocco across North Africa and the Middle East through the Persian Gulf in at the southern former Soviet Union South Asia into China and as far east as Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim state. Many of these countries are struggling to Define their new place in this new world order. The danger is that some societies may not even tried the difficult transition to democracy because of the failed Algerian experiment and its broader messages some societies may feel that the West will only support Western forms of democracy in the trying to adapt democracy to their own cultures and beliefs will not be acceptable. Another country's Islamic movements May believe that it's not even worth trying to work within Democratic systems because if they should ever win it will be outlawed or excluded. On a broader level what is it steak? Is the issue of whether democracy and Islam can work within a single system? I can't n they can there's nothing anti-democratic about Islam and in the end. It's always much better to have any party including Islamic parties lawfully elected in Parliament and therefore accountable to people than to have them left to operate as clandestine and subversive cells. The challenge of understanding societies that elect to blend Islam and democracy also reflects another broader challenge to the West in the 1990s and Beyond. Since modern democracy first took root in the 18th and 19th century. It has evolved according to Western ideals. Now that democracy is taking root and other kinds of cultures. We are almost certain to see its evolution in new and often very different directions. Islam will be only one of many. Some of them will be difficult and awkward for us to deal with we won't like it Tech yearly, but I think we in the west need desperately to demonstrate that as long as these new forms of democracy are true to the basic principles of freedom and political pluralism. Then we can and will work with them. We don't want history to look back on us and say we had a double standard on democracy. to conclude I would say that throughout the Islamic world to principles should guide both our foreign policy as well as our individual thinking. First as Islam emerges as a political and social Force Outsiders should have evaluate the various movements on their own terms and their own environments and on their own merits. All Islamic movements shouldn't be lumped together and acquainted with our experiences in Iran and Lebanon. There are today as many shades of Islamic activism as there are two communism and liberalism and conservatism. Second and finally, we should accept the results of any honest free and fair election in which the Democratic process is followed. Whatever the results. In so doing we implicitly say a lot of important things to Muslims around the world while staying loyal to our principles. It's a way of showing that we can coexist with his mom and that we don't want confrontation. I think you