The journey to peace should start at freedom

It may very well be that the roadmap to peace will lead us all to an understanding of peace and freedom and the relationship between the two, that will make it possible for us to achieve the peace that we all desire. Through this, our most recent attempt to achieve peace, we might come to an understanding of the real significance of human freedom, and a description of real freedom that perhaps we can all recognize, and accept. Could there be a reason that the better part of human history has been spent in a struggle to balance power between rulers and common men? This is not the type of power brought about merely by a distribution of wealth, since wealth does not always mean power, but rather it is the amount of freedom one owns.

There is an understanding of human freedom drawn from the Holy Scriptures of monotheism that is pretty general, and that does not require any amount of esoteric knowledge to understand its meaning. Even if one does not believe in God, these parables yield a treasure of knowledge and wisdom that might guide us to success in our mundane affairs, should we look to their meanings in an effort to learn a better, and more natural way to achieve objectives. Within the various parables of these scriptures, there seems to be a recurrent theme, and that is freedom. These stories introduce us to pharaohs, tyrants, governments, and systems, usually attempting to assume absolute power. Such entities legitimize themselves through various descriptions of blood lineage, divine authority, and even sometimes, strangely enough, they claim to be legitimate based upon popularity. Mostly it seems, the shared quality of such authorities is that they feel they should rule because t! hey have wealth, armies, and influence, or because they desire to rule so badly, they will do just about anything to acquire leadership, and to keep it, including using violence. In such parables there is always a people, weak, and meek, represented by tribes, clans, ideas, etc. These two, the people and the powerful governments, or pharaohs always come into conflict. Why? Because the people want to be free. Even though the stories of the Holy scriptures span over centuries, the basic definition, or description of this longed for freedom remains the same. It is the freedom to choose, and to determine, or judge, and to exert ones personal power in pursuit of a unique and individual destiny. Without choice, there cannot be judgment, and as an intelligent species that possesses, and is guided by knowledge, wisdom and reason, and not merely instinct, we are dependent upon judgment. We understand how important judgment is to success when we realize that only one thing can prevent! mankind from success, and that is deceit, since deceit impairs, and prevents good judgment.

The American founders recognized this freedom to choose as one of many inalienable rights bestowed by God upon mankind. They understood that without doubt, mankind will come into conflict with any entity that seeks to usurp, limit, or disturb this very basic, and compelling human desire, and justified their revolution arguing that same concept of divine authority. These men suggested that such rights are necessary if mankind is to pursue life, liberty and happiness with any hope to attain these essentials, and they were not the first to make this observation. In fact, these ideas, before they were set forth in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which is a commoners treatise on human freedom, had already been explained by prophets, who were the first champions of the common man.

The prophets of monotheism are the world’s real royalty, yet, they were champions of the common man, the poor, the weak, and the humble. The fact that many of the prophets spent some time in poverty, and in menial tasks such as herding sheep, etc., or that they spent long years in preparation for prophet hood in humbling experiences, does not diminish the truth that they were the princes of the earth, tried by God, and purified with hardships, tested and anointed according to God’s covenant with Abraham. God’s promise to Abraham was that his progeny would be the leaders of mankind, and they were. Their successors inherit from one generation to another according to this same promise, but not based upon blood lineage, as some might suggest. The promise, according to the Qur’an, is that the inheritance belongs only to the righteous from among Abraham’s progeny. Examples of such dynasty are observed in the Kingdoms of David, and Solomon, and others mentioned in ! the Bible, and the Qur’an.

The only observable deviation from this pattern of divinely covenanted authority, or vice regency, seems to be God’s punishment. When ever a people disobeyed God, or their rulers fell to corruption and disobeyed God and the people ignored their crimes, God allowed the people to become dominated by such tyrants, and to become addicted to corruption and vice themselves. Soon they begin to fear and worship other humans, as they should only fear and love God. The result of such is human bondage, and the fall of their societies.  To enslave ones own soul to false gods is unforgivable. ” Say; is it some one other than God that you order me to worship oh you ignorant ones? But it has already been revealed to thee as it was to those before thee, “If thou joins gods with God, truly fruitless will be thy work in life, and thou will surely loose all spiritual good” (Holy Qur’an 39:65).

The Palestine/Israel conflict is a conflict that finds its definition in freedom, who owns it and who wants it. The conflict between the opposition movements and the status quo in the Middle East is about freedom, who owns it, and who wants it. In Iraq, the growing discontent with the U.S. presence might be about freedom, who now owns it and who still wants it, and the same might be true in Afghanistan.

If we are honest, we might admit that there is little difference in the scenario that was created by Oslo and that being created by the present roadmap except that Oslo did not contain an express promise of Palestinian statehood.

The status quo of the Middle East bids to continue the domination of the people of that region with an iron hand, and threats of violence because they desire power and refuse to share power with their people. US capitulation to their brand of tyranny is the carrot that wins their fealty. They pledge to bring peace to the world through what they call a war against terrorism, that is actually a war against human freedom, and ironically, only freedom can lead to peace, and not war. The US might believe that the war is against al-Qadea, but in the Muslim world, the war has been going on for centuries, and the war is against freedom, and vice regency. Those US policy makers who feel that the people of that region are too ignorant, or backwards to understand freedom, or to have freedom, are wrong. Such polemicists promote oppression over freedom because human freedom is a threat to their definition of stability, which means nothing except that the same people remain in power forever, their cronies, in spite of the fact that many of them are illegitimate usurpers of power that rightly belongs to righteous people, who desire to serve humanity, rather than enslaving humanity. Over and over again one hears that the people need to be involved, to participate, to cooperate with the powers that be, and this is perhaps the people’s desire. The problem might be that the trade off , it seems, is that in return for the people’s cooperation, these kings will allow the people some amount of freedom, to be determined by their mood at any given point in history, or rather, “let them eat cake,” and that is not likely to be accepted.

If the roadmap to peace is to succeed, it must begin with freedom. It has been obstructed because the people still have not been allowed to vote, and to select their own leadership, and so the leadership, once again is challenged as to its legitimacy, and is weakened by its lack of popular support. If we impose the roadmap through force in such a scenario it will likely cause civil war, or revolution, take your pick. There is also the problem that a freeman and a slave cannot honestly negotiate, and the people know that. The Palestinians know that they have no coercive power over Israel, while Israel owns their freedom, and has demonstrated its ability, and willingness to reclaim ownership at will. It might be difficult, if not impossible to achieve trust in such a scenario, even among the Palestinians themselves without some amount freedom being given prior to an agreement. The people might need to understand what power they will earn in exchange for g! iving up their right to fight back, even though they may not articulate this question in this same way. If they already have some demonstrable freedom, they can negotiate the exchange, if not, what else can they do, simply believe? Is it reasonable to expect that amount of trust?

There may not be a need for the Palestinian people to declare independence at this juncture, even though it seems to make sense that independence should be the precursor to negotiations in that situation. Still the Palestinian people should at least have been allowed to vote, to select their own leadership, and to ratify the roadmap. Their acceptance would be a covenant between the Palestinian people who must cooperate, and implement the negotiated terms, their leaders and the Israelis. The Muslim understands covenant, we don’t understand promises. Allowing the people to vote would have also perhaps represented the first step towards democratization and the establishment of democratic institutions in Palestine.  

No one wants to instigate discontent, or to foment hate, or violence. Yet, it would be folly for us to ignore the fact that the road is being set now for another, and more violent intifadah, that will serve as an excuse for Israel to once and for all time, eliminate its opposition in Palestine, and take complete control of the territories with the world’s full consent, since the world is weary of war, and almost out of answers for peace.

We might now have a chance to have peace, if we can get the so-called leaders to get over their own lusts for power, and commit to human freedom, and allow their people to vote, and to choose their course, and to shape their own destinies. The people must be involved in peacemaking, and the dialogues and processes must be transparent. The people must understand what is at stake, what they are being requested to do, what they will achieve,  when and how, and they must agree and commit to the process, and its sacrifices and compromises. When we ignore the people, and seek to dodge them, it causes suspicion, and suspicion undermines agreements, and cooperation.

While the intent, the language, the goodwill, and the terms of the roadmap might lead to peace, it doesn’t matter where it leads if no one will take that path, which makes it very important that the people, and not merely their appointed governments, also choose that direction and embark upon that journey.

The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women and host a weekly internet radio program at IBN.Net, named “A Civilizational Dialogue.” (1-2 PM each Wednesday). The author is also head of the International Assoc. for Muslim Women and Children, an accredited NGO with the UN Division on the Rights of the Palestinians.