The Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), which educates the American public and Washington policy makers about Israel’s strategic importance to the United States, honored “Speakers of the Truth” on June 20th on Capitol Hill. Those honored included, in the words of EMET founder and President Sarah Stern, “five uniquely courageous Arab-Americans who have risked their lives to tell the truth about radical Islam.” Also honored were two pro-Israel members of Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehitnen, (R. Fl) and Eliot Engel, (D. NY), and the award winning, counterterrorism investigative journalist, Steven Emerson. Frank Gaffney, founder and President of the Center for Security Policy, emceed the awards ceremony.
The Arab-Americans who were recognized (in addition to myself) were:
-Nonie Darwish (author of Now They Call Me Infidel; www.arabsforisrael.com)
-Brigitte Gabriel (author of Because They Hate and Director of American Congress for Truth; www.americancongressfortruth.com)
-Dr. Zhudi Jasser (Director of American Islamic Forum for Democracy; www.aifdemocracy.org)
-Dr. Ali Alyami (President of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia; www.cdhr.info)
As one of those honored, I began to reflect on my Syrian Muslim grandparents and what a long road it has been from their village outside Damascus to this extraordinary night on Capitol Hill. Here was Sarah Stern, an Orthodox Jew, honoring Arab-Americans for speaking out against radical Islamic terrorism. And here were Arab-Americans such as Nonie Darwish passionately condemning Sharia law, and Brigitte Gabriel, of Lebanese Christian background, openly praising Israel’s democracy and overall humanity. Dr. Jasser identified himself as an American first and a Muslim second, and thanked all Americans for the freedom to practice his religion in the way he chooses. Dr. Alyami called Saudi Arabia “the real enemy” and called on Americans to support reform of that country’s draconian laws that would include real rights for women.
By the time it came my time to speak, I was moved beyond words. I was raised in an atmosphere in which I had been taught that the Arab world had two main enemies: Israel and America. And various family members taught me that Jews in particular were the most cunning of villains. As I got old enough to think for myself and question those sorts of views, I met a lot of very stiff resistance from the Old (and in some cases Young) Guard.
And then, of course, I did the unspeakable when years later I met, fell in love with, and married a Jewish-American woman. We have a daughter who is being raised Jewish. Yes, the sound you’re hearing is that of my grandparents rolling in their graves. That is their problem. Everything must change, even traditions as old as Arab anti-Semitism.
Still, if someone had told me when I was a child that my partner and greatest friend would be Jewish, that I would celebrate Passover with her family, as well as various other Jewish traditions, I would have told them they were crazy. And, if someone had told her that she would one day marry someone whose middle name is “Karim”, she probably would have told them the same. But love, as Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, and millions of others can attest to, doesn’t care about religious, political, or familial differences. Love goes where it’s sent, and that includes some very strange, unlikely places and pairings.
And when it comes to the great historical crisis now in front of us—the Islamist threat to democracy and freedom-loving people all over the world—the core values of love and liberty, as well love for liberty, will ultimately defeat the dark forces that seek world domination. It is why all such fascists wind up, as President Bush put it after 9/11, on the “scrap heap of history”, because hate, as powerful as it can be, is no match for mankind’s desire to overthrow tyrants, whether they call themselves Nazis, Communists, or Al Qaeda.
Right now, it may seem farfetched to think that Arab countries throughout the Mideast will one day in the not too distant future be free, prosperous, and living in harmony with the US and Israel. But not that many years ago, the Berlin Wall looked immoveable, China was a locked door, and much of the world bowed to Moscow, whether they wanted to or not. All of that changed.
And the other night, hearing the free voices of other Arab-Americans calling for freedom throughout the Arab world, I realized that things are changing again. And to all those in Damascus, Teheran, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, and throughout the Mideast clamoring for change, but afraid to speak out, we hear you, we know your struggle, and know as well that once you begin your march toward liberty, there will be no turning back to the old, dark road.