For a week now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accompanied by a small bipartisan group of members of Congress, has been visiting several countries in the Middle East. Unlike typical visits by Bush administration officials which are usually characterized as meetings to deliver an ultimatum, a warning, a patronizing lecture, or a war threat, this visit was described as a visit for dialogue and peace.
Indeed, the visit not only included the usual meetings with public officials, but also scheduled visits to Muslim, Christian, and Jewsih religious sites, touring popular markets, and face-to-face interaction with common people on the street.
The visit projected a true image of our country that has long been overshadowed by the arrogant and war-mongering rhetoric of the neo-cons and their representatives in this Administration.
People of the Middle East were touched and amazed to hear and meet an American leader who spoke about mutual respect, dialogue, peace, and friendship. For a while, they had gotten the impression that we Americans were only interested in wars, invasions, occupation, oil, insulting Islam, and selfishly looking after our own (corporations') interests, no matter what the human, moral and economic costs might be.
Pelosi and her team reminded the world that we in America still stand for all the good things people hope for. We stand for everyone's true freedom, not only ours. We stand for peace, not war. We stand for tolerance and cooperation, not polarization and division. We stand for democracy and human rights, not Guantanamo and torture.
Pelosi's visit has dusted off from an old but effective U.S. foreign policy tool called diplomacy.
Lately, the only foreign policy tool used by this administration has been war or the threat of war. Dialogue and diplomacy undermine the radicals on all sides and help resolve conflicts. Wars, on the other hand, fuel extremism and anger.
I just pray that the Speaker of the House can hold her ground against pressure from the war mongers in our country. The present conflict is not between the West and Islam. Rather, it is rather between those who believe in peace and justice and those extremists who believe in hatred and war. The fact is that both camps include people from all faith backgrounds.
Photo captions. 1) AP - Pelosi accepting dried figs at the Souk (market) in Damascus; 2) Reuters - Pelosi praying at the grave of John the Baptist in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus; 3) Reuters - Pelosi with Syrian Muslims at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.
Below are sample comments from the Arab world. The comments were posted in Arabic on the Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya websites – the two most popular Arab news websites. I did a rough translation.
"This lady (Nancy Pelosi) has all the political experience, humanity, wisdom, and leadership skills to be the next president of the United States of America." -Abu Ahmad
"I firmly believe that Ms. Pelosi has done a great and correct act. Dialogue with Syria is crucial in order to achieve solutions that benefit both American and Syrian peoples. (President) Bush will see in the future that he was wrong in criticizing that trip." - Adnan
"Both sides (Pelosi and Assad) have to close their ears to the calls from the war mongers and they should quickly take initiatives that will stop this festering historical enmity. If there is a war then everyone will lose. If there is peace then everyone will win. Courageous decisions have to be made, even if they seem painful because the majorities among both peoples realize that peace is the solution to all their problems." - Abdul Rahman Al-Alwani
"I stand in respect for Ms. Pelosi for she is a brave person who has a great insight. We know that (to Pelosi) American interests are above any other consideration. What is important is that she came to the Middle East to learn and listen to all parties. (President) Bush resorted to war and this measure was useless. War is destruction. America should work to promote peace in the world so it can lead the world." - Anonymous
"I believe that this is a positive step on the right path towards achieving calm to the volatile Middle East. It is sufficient that this visit shows that there are wise (leaders) in America, and that the bias is not completely towards Israel, but that there are some who try to push things forward." - from Al-Mansoura/Egypt
Here is what American Muslims had to say:
CA MUSLIMS WELCOME SPEAKER PELOSI'S VISIT TO MIDEAST
(SANTA CLARA, CA, 4/5/07) - The San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SFBA) today commended House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the spirit of dialogue and mutual respect she exhibited during her visit to the Middle East.
In a statement, CAIR-SFBA said:
"We applaud Speaker Pelosi's initiative to use constructive dialogue as a tool for resolving conflicts. America's stature in the Islamic world has been harmed by the Bush administration's emphasis on the use of military force, or the threat of force, rather than dialogue and diplomacy. Speaker Pelosi's visit to the Middle East is a vital step forward in both improving our nation's international image and building better relations with important nations in that volatile region.
"In particular, Speaker Pelosi's visit to the Umayyad mosque in Damascus will contribute greatly to promoting mutual understanding between the West and the Muslim world. It is through mutual understanding that religious divisions and extremism can be challenged and reduced.
"We urge President Bush to implement the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group by working with Congress and Speaker Pelosi to formulate a new strategy that focuses on diplomacy and dialogue, not military force and belligerent rhetoric."
CAIR-SFBA also commended other Democratic and Republican members of Congress who are making similar visits to the region.