Missed Many Good Opportunities in His Jewish Debut
By Judea Pearl
ANGELES, September 28: The September 17 meeting in New York, at
which Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf addressed
the Jewish community under the auspices of the American Jewish
Congress, was characterized by many observers as "historic."
formally speaking, Musharraf's address was unprecedented in that
it was it was the first time that a leader of a Muslim nation,
which has no diplomatic relations with Israel, held a public dialogue
with Jewish leaders.
However, the signals radiating
from that meeting need to be evaluated on their individual merits,
in the context of the opportunities that the meeting opened to
Musharraf and the Jewish community.
Make no mistake about it, the
symbolic gestures produced at the Saturday meeting will have a
significant impact on the Pakistani public, to whom organized
world Jewry is generally presented as a hostile force with an
very appearance, his prayer with rabbis and imams, the standing
ovations that punctuated his speech, the praise that he received
from prominent Jewish leaders, the conciliatory words that he
expressed and his portrayal of Jews as champions of humanity,
even fighters for Muslim's rights, were all broadcast back to
Pakistan with full media fanfare. Considering that positive portrayal
of Jews is practicably non-existent in the Pakistani media (and
strictly tabooed on Al-Jazeera), these respect-building
symbols will undoubtedly lead to some re-humanization of the Jewish
image and a broad legitimization of dialogue between Jews and
Another significant message of
the event was Musharraf's acknowledgment, albeit tacit, of the
inextricable bond between Jews and Israel. Unlike so many Muslim
leaders, he did not try to drive a wedge between Judaism and Zionism.
Rather, by speaking to the Jewish leadership as a monolithic body
that stands uniformly and unconditionally behind Israel, he in
effect sent his countrymen an unspoken, hard and long overdue
message: Respect for Jews entails respect for Zionism.
the substantive level, however, Musharraf's speech was thin in
innovative thoughts. Of
course, no one expected him to make bold political proclamations
such as recognizing Israel, or even lifting restrictions on trade
with Israel. Nevertheless, there were nonpolitical, mostly ideological
steps that a leader in his capacity could have taken; he did not.
boldest explicit statement Musharraf made in his address was actually
aimed at terrorism. By stating unequivocally that terrorism "cannot
be condoned for any reason or cause," including by implication
the Palestinian cause, he bravely positioned himself against powerful
Muslim clerics and popular leftist ideologues who, through a variety
of logic-twisting arguments, labor to expel Israeli victims of
terror from the scope of moral considerations. He
should be applauded for this stance.
But going back to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, Musharraf missed a golden opportunity to make a constructive
contribution to the peace process. He knows quite well that the
major obstacle to peace in the Middle East is not Israel's presence
in the West Bark nor the final status of Jerusalem but the issue
of Palestinian refugees and the continuing Arab rejection of the
historical legitimacy of Israel.
After all, Pakistan herself voted
against the UN partition plan of 1947, which entailed an independent
Palestinian state in twice the area of the West Bank and Gaza
and no refugee problem to cope with.
Musharraf also knows that the
vast majority of Muslims today, including his countrymen, still
view Israel as an outpost of European colonialism, and that such
a rejectionist view paralyzes Israel from considering major territorial
concessions. He could, therefore, have made a bold historical
move by declaring Israel the legitimate historical homeland of
the Jewish people. Alternatively, to make things perfectly symmetrical,
he could have framed the Middle East conflict as a clash between
"two legitimate national movements."
and before an audience familiar with Palestinian textbooks, Musharraf
advocated the old theory that the Palestinians' aspirations are
limited to an independent state within the 1967 borders while
skillfully skirting the issue of Israel legitimacy.
his speech to the UN that same week, he had said: "Almost
everyone has recognized that Israel is there now to stay"
– namely, Israel is a necessary evil that others have been
forced to recognize, not an asset to the region that I, Musharraf,
am prepared to recognize.
Musharraf has thus missed the
historic opportunity of being the first Muslim leader to jolt
his countrymen from the pit of rejectionism to the height of mutual
Another missed opportunity was
Musharraf's failure to solidify his promise to "support inter-faith
and inter-civilizational dialogue and harmony" in a concrete
institutional commitment. Prior to his meeting in New York, I
requested that Musharraf consider the establishment of a Muslim-Jewish
Dialogue Center in Karachi named after my late son, Daniel Pearl,
who was murdered in Karachi and who came to symbolize the very
idea of East-West dialogue. Such a Center would have given Musharraf's
vision of open society and "enlightened moderation"
the credibility that comes from concrete embodiment.
I was disappointed that Musharraf
did not respond to my request. But I am, at least, encouraged
by the fact that Representative Tom Lantos has lent his support
to the idea and raised the issue with Musharraf at the New York
writer is a professor of computer science at UCLA and president
of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named after his son, a Wall Street
Journal reporter murdered in 2002 in Pakistan.