A PIECE I wrote two weeks ago featuring Benjamin Franklin's anti-Semitism--alleged anti-Semitism, that is, as portrayed in a repulsive 1935 Nazi forgery lately recycled in the Egyptian government press--drew a response from an editor in Saudi Arabia. He objected to my citing the work of MEMRI.org, which publishes English translations of articles from the Middle Eastern press. MEMRI, in his view, is a partisan organization "whose sole purpose is to make the Arabs look bad in the West."
But that isn't true. MEMRI actually has an entire "Reform Project" dedicated to liberal voices in the Arab and Muslim world. If you've been wondering whether September 11 precipitated any constructive soul-searching in the cultures that produced Osama bin Laden and Mohammad Atta, these snippets from articles translated by the Reform Project will be a breath of fresh air:
From an interview with the dean of Shari'a and Law at Qatar University, Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari, published in the Qatari daily Al-Raya on January 6, 2002:
"Our situation must change; there must be more democratic, social, and economic openness, more respect for human, women's, and minorities' rights. The American people does not respect anyone who doesn't respect its own people . . . The world is changing rapidly, and we must not be mere spectators.
"We must understand that Islam is not the object of conspiracies by anyone. We must free ourselves of [our] complex of hatred and hostility. We must not remain trapped in theories of global conspiracies in our relations with the West and the U.S. . . . Why doesn't the Arab community [in the U.S.] act, instead of disseminating exaggerations about the capabilities of the Zionist lobby? . . . We must know how to speak to the American mentality and convey what we want.
"Yet before all this, we must free ourselves of the hatred and hostility that rule our newspapers and flow through our television channels, ignited by the pulpits of our mosques . . ."
From The U.S. and the Complexities of the Arab Mind, by former Libyan prime minister Abd Al-Hamid Al-Bakkoush, writing in the London daily Al-Hayat, February 12, 2002:
"It is the Arab policy that sowed strife amongst Arab countries. It was Iraq's invasion of Kuwait that created the need for direct American protection.
"This is the Arab political reality that began the day some leaders instilled within us the intoxication of victory, and the fantasies of brotherhood with the U.S.S.R. and of leadership of the nonaligned states bloc.
"We should not have joined the anti-American groups when we excel at nothing. Confronting the U.S. when we do not have the means for confrontation cannot be called wise. We must rid ourselves, as much as possible, from our [present] political thought, from our fanaticism . . ."
From a letter to the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, published on December 21, 2001, under the headline "Our Culture of Demagogy Has Engendered bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri, and Their Ilk." The writer is Dr. Sahr Muhammad Hatem of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia:
"Instead of acknowledging our blunders in giving our sons a proper Islamic education, we sought out the wrongs of the Americans and of globalization to justify our children's crimes . . . Instead of offering political pretexts to justify the terror operations, wouldn't it have been better for us to be honest and to participate, with the other peoples of the world, in defending humanity from this peril, of which we are the first victim?"
Unfortunately, MEMRI's website doesn't yet offer the planned one-click access to the Reform Project, so articles like these must simply be watched for among the site's miscellaneous postings. According to MEMRI executive director Steven Stalinski, the project covers social, political, religious, and economic reform, and thus ranges from women's rights and schooling to issues of globalization. If the pro-reform postings that make Arabs look good in the West are, for the time being, outnumbered by the anti-American rants and foul incitement to hatred, that doesn't justify blaming the messenger.
Claudia Winkler is a managing editor of The Weekly Standard.