e-mail us


Humanity of ordinary people is strongest force in Middle East

Pacific News Service

The double tragedy for most people in the Middle East is that the chronic political violence in our lives has failed to achieve its objectives. Yet, as the New Year begins, I remain optimistic, because each day I see the bounty and wisdom that define Middle Eastern life and societies, alongside our many sorrows.

Despite the Middle East’s distortions of power, security and economy -- the brutal Palestinian-Israeli warfare, Anglo-American armies poised to attack Iraq, a few police states still hanging onto power and secular and religious strife -- the strongest force that drives our societies remains the intense, indestructible humanity of ordinary people.

Hundreds of millions of ordinary Arab, Israeli, Iranian, Turkish, Kurdish, Berber, Armenian and other people wake up every morning, send their children to school, go to work, hold their heads up, look their prevailing power structures in the eye and declare that they will not succumb to the violence. They will not betray or relinquish their humanity.

Most here will not embrace savagery as a routine operating procedure, refuse to adopt hypocrisy as a foreign policy guideline and reject autocracy as a defining value of public governance.

The problem is, these ordinary people do not make policy.

This is why our region is so plagued by failed violence, domestic tyranny, the moral scourge of terror, degenerate occupations, civil wars, institutionalized corruption and mediocrity and the barbarisms of assassination, colonialism, and slow-motion ethnic cleansing as official policies. Yet no Arab, Israeli, Iranian or Turk I know would ever consciously choose violence over serenity, or war over peace, or a governance system based on tyranny, exploitation and subjugation rather than equality, liberty and dignity.

I have heard dozens of proposed, sensible solutions to the ailments of the contemporary Middle East, including democracy, integration, secularism, globalization, modernization and privatization. But I would like to make another, easier, suggestion. I challenge the Arab, Israeli, and Iranian leaders and power structures to do something very simple: Trust your people.

Tap the humanity and power of your own citizens’ sense of identity, faith and dignity. Put your faith and your fate in the hands of the hundreds of millions of ordinary Arab, Israeli, Iranian and other men and women who hold onto their humanity with every ounce of strength in their bodies.

They do this day after day, war after war, assassination after assassination, dead child after dead child, failed state after failed state. They will not relinquish it. They will not betray it. They will not allow it to be stolen from them, ravaged or killed.

The most indestructible element and untapped force in our region is the rational, compassionate humanity of our people. It has never been mobilized to drive public policy or to empower social and economic development efforts. My personal New Year’s wish is that the leaders and power elites of the Middle East trust their own ordinary people and let them define effective new policies. Unburdened by occupation, colonialism, subjugation and tyranny, they will choose the dignity of lives lived peacefully, equally, tolerantly, productively and spiritually, alongside Arabs, Israelis, Iranians, and anyone else who shares these values.

The leaders of the Middle East will find in the minds and hearts of their own citizens at home that genuine stability and award-winning statehood that have never -- never -- been achieved through force of arms, restrictive domestic politics or Anglo-American armadas. Along with the Middle Eastern police states and other anachronisms of our region, such violent and failed mechanisms must be discredited and sent to history’s garbage dumps -- day after day, war after war, assassination after assassination, dead child after dead child, failed state after failed state.

Rami Khouri is a political scientist and columnist for the Jordan Times.

National Catholic Reporter, January 24, 2003