Madeleine K. Albright
Khaleej Times (Opinion)
February 27, 2008 - 6:44pm

Doha - To act wisely, we need to know as much as possible about others and also about ourselves; one path to such knowledge is dialogue.

In that quest, we convene this year at a moment of great anticipation. Arab-Israeli peace talks have recommenced. In Iraq, signs of hope are visible amid ongoing strife. And in November, the United States will choose a new president.

America's next leader will have a chance to alter the tone and substance of US foreign policy in ways that could enhance mutual confidence between my country and the people of this region. If I were in a position to advise the new president, I would point out the following:

First, it is a mistake to conceive of this region or the world as divided between people who do no wrong and those who do no right; between moderates and extremists, secular and religious, evil and good.

Second, America's enemy is not Islam, nor any subset of Islam. In the fight against Al Qaeda, Americans of every faith and faithful Muslims of every description are on the same side.

Third, neither America nor any other country can be considered above the law. Power unhinged from law lacks legitimacy and will inevitably be opposed.

Finally, America must pursue peace in a determined and even-handed way. No US president will waver in supporting the survival and security of Israel. Every US president should respect the dignity and legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.

As an observer of world affairs, I readily acknowledge that the United States must think more deeply than it has in the past about why its intentions have been misunderstood. True dialogue is incompatible with ignorance, hypocrisy, and condescension, nor can it be based on the premise that one people or civilisation is superior to another. America has a responsibility to learn more and lecture less.

Dialogue, however, is not a solo act.

Americans are blamed for perpetuating stereotypes, and this criticism has validity. But the image of the United States that is widespread in many Muslim societies is also grossly distorted.

Though America has made mistakes, it is hardly the sole (or even primary) source of violence, injustice, inequality, and suffering in this region. It may be convenient for some leaders to deflect popular frustration caused by their own insecurities and selfishness, but it is not honest.

In this context, it is not sufficient simply to restate old positions; peace requires new modes of thinking and the courage to make history.

If we are to build bridges that will truly narrow the divide that confronts us, we must first recognise both our shared interest in finding solutions and our shared responsibility for resolving differences. Neither America nor any other government can or should try to impose remedies. All can and must pursue progress in a cooperative spirit.

By progress, I mean a genuinely viable two-state solution in the Middle East; an Iraq that is united, stable and at peace both with itself and its neighbours; an Iran — and a United States — that respect the right to self-governance of other lands; a region united against Al Qaeda and its offshoots and allies; and a future where children of all backgrounds and faiths can grow up without fear.

To these purposes, let us reason and act together, while also heeding the lessons we have learned together. From the New Testament: Blessed are the peacemakers. From the Hebrew Bible: Swords into ploughshares. And from the noble Holy Qur'an: Enter into peace one and all.


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