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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Dr. David Liepert

Muslim Author, Leader, Spokesperson, Host of "The Optimistic Muslim" on webtalkradio.net

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men (and Women), deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Pretty words from America's Declaration of Independence, echoed by France's Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, Britain's Magna Carta, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms among others, but are we ready to apply those principles to people living elsewhere?

Because a hundred years of political manipulation in the Middle East has done little but aptly demonstrate the "law of unintended consequences".

A hundred years ago, according to Johns Hopkins' University's pre-eminent Human Rights Quarterly, the Ottoman Empire "accorded extensive rights to the individual, Muslim and non-Muslim alike."

And Islam's Holy cities of Mecca and Medina were ruled by Sherif Hussein of the Hashemite line, whose son Faisal even made a pact with Chaim Weitzman of the World Zionist Organization, promising Muslim support for a Jewish homeland in Israel.

But then, in a politically motivated bid to diminish the Ottomans, the British threw their support behind Abdul Aziz of the House of Saud, who quickly conquered Mecca and Medina with English bullets, forever altering the path of the Arabian Peninsula.

And after the French sacked Damascus and deposed King Faisal?

Suffice it to say that things in the Holy Land haven't been the same since either.

Seventy years later, who could have predicted that al Qaeda, and later on the Taliban would turn on their CIA masters after America's proxy war with the U.S.S.R., and wage war against the entire world?

Except that in politics, the "law of unintended consequences" is the only one that always comes true.

But similarly, who can say what the world would have been like if the leaders of those times had tried to make the world a better place in a better way?

What if we're right? What if all men and women are created equal, equally pursuing the same ideals of life, liberty and happiness, albeit in different ways?

When faced with humankind's diversity, for centuries our nations have consistently tried to suppress or coerce the "other", and manipulated world events for our own supposed benefit, and look what it's got us.

A Middle-East quagmire that last year looked like it could go on forever.

But now suddenly this year, things are beginning to change.

In Tunisia, last month authoritarian -- and until recently Western-backed -- President Ben Ali was ousted by a popular revolt demanding freedom, democracy and human rights, and leaders around the Western world took the side of the Tunisian people.

And since then many of those same leaders have come out in support of the people of Yemen too.

However, in Egypt Hosni Mubarak is a more difficult conundrum, because as Tony Blair put it to Piers Morgan, how you feel about him depends on whether or not you've dealt with him on the "Inside" -- meaning what it's been like living under him in Egypt -- or on the "Outside" -- meaning what it's been like working with him everywhere else.

But the truth that's only now coming out is that the man has ruled Egypt for 30 years, supported by foreign governments with billions of dollars a year in military aid, for what is turning out to be a war against his own people.

Is it any surprise that those people eventually said enough is enough?

As democratic change comes to the Arab world, the first question before all our leaders is deciding exactly which side we're on, and how firmly we're on it.

And while our own self-interest will inevitably play a major, and perhaps even the major role as our leaders make that decision, I hope the lessons of history help us avoid re-making the mistakes of the past.

Because as the peoples of other nations stand up and demand their own rights, they inevitably do so looking at the shining beacons of Britain and France and America and even my own Canada's past accomplishments, and the free and wonderful society we have each founded as examples of what works.

And although there is a strong and compelling moral argument for all our countries to support the same rights for others that we have claimed for ourselves, there is also a very pragmatic reason for us to conduct ourselves in that fashion going forward.

It's simple: If we want "Them" to stand up for the life, liberty and happiness of their own "Others" tomorrow, then it works better if "We" stand up for those same things for their sake today.

Because when you read all our world's religious revelations -- in historical context, looking for the meaning those words would have had when they were first delivered to the culture that received them -- it turns out that the Creator the American Declaration talks about has been saying all along that there really isn't such a thing as a "Them" anyway.

And the take home message from all this God-given diversity?

That "We" are all "Us".

Perhaps let's all try living that way for a change?