Conversations in the Park

As I write this, today's scheduled Muslim/Jewish picnic in Portland's Gabriel Park seems to have become a Jewish/Jewish event; apparently there was a SNAFU in the scheduling. I'll post an update as soon as I find out more.

This is part of an ongoing series of events promoted in part by Rabbi Joey Wolf and Congregation Havurah Shalom of Portland, Oregon, as well as many members of Portland's Muslim community. Past events have been, without exception, enormous successes. All those involved in the planning and promotion of these Jewish/Muslim events deserve our unreserved thanks and respect.

Today's event started at 11am and I left about 12:30pm. I'm back home blogging now (it's about 1:30 Pacific time). I have to thank the numerous folks I chatted with (in the predominantly liberal Jewish crowd) about freedom activism and today's Mideast. This might be a good place to address some of the questions I was asked.

How can you support right-wingers like President Bush and Goli Ameri if you're advocating for human rights and democracy? This is really at the heart of a lot of the questions people ask. My answer? Funny, I thought those were LIBERAL issues! If the so-called "Democratic" Party has been lax in promoting these things in the Middle East - where they are in such desperately short supply - then that is the fault of the Democrats for betraying their own stated ideals. If, further, these same values are being promoted, effectively and successfully, by a conservative, Republican president, then liberals should demonstrate their own open-mindedness by putting principle ahead of partisanship and supporting President Bush on these important matters. (That doesn't mean you have to agree with GWB about everything; I certainly don't.)

Are the peoples of the Middle East ready for democracy? I refer you to the Iranian-American writer Amir Taheri, in an article published January 20, 2003:

'When Iraq's opposition leaders gathered in London this past weekend to discuss the future of their country, one of the few words they agreed on wasn't even of Arab origin. The word is "dimuqratiah" (democracy) which was first introduced to the Arabic political lexicon in the mid-19th century as the Nahda (Awakening) movement spread in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire. ... By the start of the 20th century the constitutionalists had won in both Constantinople and Tehran, establishing the first Western-style parliaments in the Muslim world. A Martian visiting the Islamic world in the final years of the 19th century would have noticed the almost unanimous support that the democratic ideal enjoyed among Muslim elites. ...'

Please read the rest of Democracy in Arabia, and take note of what Mirza Agha Kermani wrote in the late 19th century about the secret of the West's success: "The rise of the Western powers as masters of the world, and the decline of Muslim nations into abject servitude, are due to one fact only. In Europe, governments fear the people. In Islam people fear the government."

What about the Patriot Act? What about gay rights? I have a lot of problems with the Patriot Act; so do many conservatives, particularly libertarians. And a surprising number of conservatives also oppose legislation like the Federal Marriage Amendment, either on ideological ("small-government") grounds, or (in the case of David Brooks, who unequivocally supports gay marriage) on moral and humanitarian grounds. But please let's keep a sense of perspective here: we are talking about important civil-rights and civil-liberties issues, but millions of people in the Mideast cannot even begin to discuss such issues as these. Free speech, women's rights, minority rights, and gay rights are NONEXISTENT in places like Iran and Syria. Under the Ba'athist regime, Iraq was nothing less than a giant concentration camp; today, it promises to become the first modern democracy in the Arab world. In plain English: first things first.

So, does single-issue politics put you together with a lot of people who have different beliefs? I don't agree that the freedom/democracy movement is "single-issue politics"; in fact, in many ways I think it is the ONLY issue. The right of people to live as free beings in charge of their own destiny is fundamental; it is the basis for all politics and all social activism; and all individual issues emanate from it. "What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else - all the rest is commentary." Our responsibility as human beings, and as free citizens of the most powerful country on earth, is to help our fellow humans to achieve the same blessings we take for granted and consider our birthright: "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." How best to do this? We must learn from the insights and experiences of others - "all the rest is commentary, now go and study it." This is not single-issue politics; it is the very foundation of what we hold dear as Americans, as Jews, and as human beings. All the rest is commentary; this is the one thing that matters.

Many thanks to all those who took the time to speak with me about the freedom movement; I value your insightful and thought-provoking questions.