Immigrants Raise Voices for Democracy

Since World War II, nearly every Middle Eastern nation has been under the smothering vise of ruthless tyrants, autocrats and monarchs. Only since 9/11 has American foreign policy begun to show it understands there is a definite connection between Middle Eastern despotism and Islamo-fascist terrorism. Yet, the ones most familiar with these systemic human rights abuses in the Middle East have been silent for years. Those Americans who escaped Middle Eastern tyranny during the last 40 years have until now been incomprehensibly silent. Sept. 11, 2001 woke up America to the dangers of theocracy and despotism in the Middle East. It has also awakened the slumbering community of Middle Eastern immigrants. The reasons for our past silence are manifold. Some Middle Eastern Americans have feared retribution to family in their ancestral lands. Some fear for their own safety. But many have simply not seen any viable alternative to the secular dictatorships, because the Islamo-fascists are waiting in the wings. On the first day of this month in Washington, D.C., the first Middle Eastern American Convention for Freedom and Democracy took place. It was sponsored by the newly formed Center for Freedom in the Middle East, and included a consortium of more than 20 liberty-minded organizations of Middle Eastern Americans. This meeting was nothing less than historic. It brought together first-, second- and third-generation immigrants who share a common ancestral heritage and whose lands remain governed by these malignant despots. We shared a common love for the freedom and liberty we have experienced in America and yearned to bring these ideals back to our brethren in Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Iraq, to name a few. We also clearly identified organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaida as terrorist organizations that must be combated. We agreed that it is the duty of we who have enjoyed freedoms here to help our brethren break free of the murderous ideologies that have suffocated them for so long. The truth also is that the tribal culture of the Middle East has hijacked the religion of Islam. We see this most clearly in the case of Wahhabism and Salafism, which has been at the center of this war on terrorism. It is finally clear, at least to those of us in attendance, that the liberation of the Middle Eastern peoples will also be the liberation of Islam from the terrorist ideologies that have proven so helpful in propping up these despotic autocrats and monarchs. The conveners all agreed that our American founding principles are universal. They are not limited to any particular culture, faith or place. It became unanimously clear to all that any Middle Eastern state that wants its people to flourish must have separation of religion and state, protection of minority rights and a fundamentally tolerant and spiritual environment for its citizens. Such a gathering of Middle Eastern Americans had never happened. It sent a new collective message that the future belongs to the secular democrats in the Middle East and not the authoritarian theocrats. Our American soldiers and the coalition of the willing of more than 30 nations have been fighting for freedom in Iraq. Thousands have given their lives to free the Iraqi people. To that the conveners expressed their everlasting debt and acknowledged their responsibility to lead this effort in winning this war of ideas in the Middle East. At the center of this global confict is not “terror,” which is only a tactic, but rather a competition between theocracy and secular democracy. To those of us who know the freedom of religion in America, there is no system of government that comes close to empowering the faithful as here. No meeting of this sort could have happened anywhere else but in America. M. Zuhdi Jasser is a Phoenix physician and chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (www.aifdemocracy.org). AIFD is a member organization of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East (www.middleeastfreedom.org), which sponsored the Oct. 1 Middle East American Convention for Freedom and Democracy. This column orignally appeared in the Arizona Republic on October 10, 2004

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