At Columbia University, I enjoyed reading foreign English-language newspapers in the library of the School of International and Public Affairs. They rarely covered the stories that pervaded the United States’ media. It was if they were coming from a different planet, covering stories about India and Pakistan or cricket and rugby. Rarely was there even one shared headline between U.S. newspapers and their Asian counterparts.
I realized that the way we understand the world is largely a product of the agenda that the media sets for us. The U.S., France, England and Germany appear to be the center of world power if you live in New York, but in Bombay, Beijing or Kuala Lumpur the perspective is quite different.
Partially from the perspective and sensitivity that I have gained from these other vantage points, I have been questioning the wisdom of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. In both countries U.S. soldiers have continued to die in recent weeks, while Iran, Syria and North Korea were all considered greater threats to the West.
It seems to me that as America polices the world, the hubris of America’s leaders continues to cause more enmity. They continually refuse to allow for worldviews other than their own.
Now democracy has triumphed in the Palestinian Authority, but the U.S. does not like the results. What could be a worse dilemma for the spin doctors and politicians in Washington than an overwhelming democratic victory for a terrorist organization?
There are those who say that Hamas will need to join the World of Nations if they are to survive in “legitimate” politics; that they will need to renounce terror and recognize Israel’s right to exist under the threat that the West will cut-off aide to the Palestinians if Hamas does not change their positions.
How does this honor democracy? What is the United States teaching the world if it seeks justice against Osama with the military and not the World Court, if it invades Iraq to topple a dictator excusing its actions with false claims of weapons of mass destruction and if – when it does not like the results of the Palestinian election (a revolutionary victory for the democratic process) – it extorts the winner, forcing a change in their platform?
It seems to me that such threats will strengthen Hamas in their world, among their allies and constituents.
Listening to the voices in that world, Aljazeera reports that Iran and Hamas are indeed building their relationship as “a united front against Israel,” quoting Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas political chief as saying, “If Israel launches an attack against Iran, we will expand the battlefield in Palestine.” While noting that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President has been praised by Hamas for his “courageous” anti-Israeli stance “labeling the Jewish state as a ‘tumor’ that should be ‘wiped off the map’ or moved as far away as Alaska, and has branded the Holocaust a ‘myth’.” According to Aljazeera this relationship was cemented by the Palestinians proving their commitment, electing Hamas.
As an alternative to the extortion and violence resulting in the clash of these two worlds, another perspective may be heard from voices like the Times of India which warns, ” if [the] United Nations, the Quartet, and other nations keep Hamas out, it will be seen as a signal by Islamic extremists to step up their hate campaign. On the other hand, engaging with a moderated Hamas as an elected force will indicate seriousness among the international community on finding a Palestinian solution and probably have a salutary effect on terrorist violence in the Middle East.”
Thinking of this alternative, I can hear the muezzin from the Arab village just down the road on the outskirts of Jerusalem. While the powerbrokers in the West may be too distant to hear the muezzin, I hope that they are not deaf to the voices of the Palestinians who made a strong statement against the corruption of Arafat’s legacy in the Palestinian Authority and against incumbents who did not act for the betterment of most Palestinians.
I am not happy to be living next to a state under Hamas’ control, although they will now need to be accountable for their actions as a government and no longer able to get away with terrorist acts. I am not advocating immediate peace negotiations with Hamas. However, I do see the success of democracy in these elections and feel that the consequences of not honoring their results would be much worse than the alternative.
The Palestinian people have democratically elected for a change. It is an opportunity for those who we call “world leaders” to capitalize on if they can open their minds beyond their fears. Instead of increasing resentment and hostility, alienating those who are different by forcing conformity, can they lead us to engage and accept these people, realizing that there are alternative sources of funding and power than their own?