Q: What is your evaluation of the response of the last five years of the security apparatus, both as an American and as a Muslim?
A: Well, I think we've all become much more acutely aware of the state apparatus in terms of monitoring. I don't like the feeling that I have to think about what I say when I say things. It's not healthy, and I think a lot of people feel it now in a way that they've never felt it before, and that troubles me deeply about my country. I think that there needs to be a return to some real central values about this country. I think Guantanamo Bay is absolutely an unacceptable event in American history. It's going to be looked at as a really black period in our legal tradition.
Q: At what point does this more intense, heavy-handed security become counterproductive?
A: Personally, I think the intensified security has already become counterproductive. They need to do their job, but they don't need to do it constantly in our face. The intelligence community has a job to protect. The first principle of any government is to protect its citizens. But you also protect your citizens by being just to other countries and other peoples. You endanger your citizens by reckless behavior. You endanger your citizens by hubris. You endanger your citizens by the inability to actually apologize or to ask forgiveness for your mistakes. And that's something I find the most troubling about the whole situation, because I think real security is based on having benevolent policies.
Q: So what's your prescription?
A: My prescription is that we need to dismantle the pyramid of domination and we need to rebuild a house of mutual respect.
Q: Give me that in bread-and-butter terms.
A: In bread-and-butter terms, I truly believe that we need to stop being so paternalistic in our attitudes toward Muslims, toward other countries, and begin to actually speak to them as if they were human beings, fully enfranchised, with the dignity that goes with that. To stop drawing lines in the sand, to stop dictating to people as if you have some God-given authority to do that, and to really start trying to talk to people and see what you can do. I think we need commerce that is mutually beneficial and we need to stop all of this hegemonic commercial tyranny that goes on in the Middle East, in Central and South America. I mean people forget, you know, the South Americans probably hate us more than the Arabs do.
Q: How much more difficult has it become to achieve this kind of rationale?
A: We're at the lowest ebb right now. It's going to be very difficult to get back our credibility. In the recent war with Lebanon, it was so one-sided. If you watched Arab television and then CNN, it was like two different universes. That's really troubling to me because like the Chinese say, "There are three truths. There's my truth, your truth and then the truth." If I'm unwilling to let go of my truth and you're unwilling to let go of your truth, we cannot see objectively this truth that's in the middle, between us. There's good and bad in all of us, and I want to get rid of the cartoon scenario of George Bush's world and Osama bin Laden's world, and I want to see it nuanced. I want to see more intelligence here.
Q: We know from history that wars are generally fought by young men. What are you saying to these young people to prevent the sudden explosion of this sort of negative potential?
A: You have to give them hope. And there's something attractive about war to young men. They need to see war for what it is. If Robert E. Lee in the Civil War said war was hell, what would he make of 20th-century and 21st-century warfare? I think we have to see war as the despicable creature that it is and really work for peace. They say if you don't sweat for peace, then you bleed for war.
Q: But can you pull that off from inside Islam?
A: Muslims are peace-loving people generally. Among the young, yes, there are some militant attitudes. But a lot of it arises out of chivalry-- and don't underestimate the chivalrous impulse in men. A lot of these young men see women being-- you know-- they see soldiers breaking into houses with Muslim women. It's really beyond the pale for the average Muslim man, and something rises up in them. And it can turn to deep resentment and rage. But generally I think the impulses are actually quite noble.
Q: So what do you say to the average person who sees some kind of a sinister threat under every hijab and behind every beard?
A: People have to be exposed to Muslims, just experience Muslims; talk to them. Reach out, read about Islam, try to find out about it. There are 20,000 Muslim physicians in the United States, Americans putting their lives in the hands of Muslims every day. You're going under and the anesthesiologist is a Muslim, right? He's looking out for you. He doesn't want you to die in that operation because you're an infidel. He's doing his job. As is your pediatrician who's trying to heal your child. And the mechanic who's fixing your car? He's not putting a bomb in your car. It's Abdullah, the guy down at the Chevron station, right? I mean it's one-fifth of the world's population for God's sake-- one out of five people is a Muslim.
Muslims have been an almost entirely benevolent force in the 20th century. They did not wreak the havoc the Western powers wreaked on the world. They have not come anywhere near to the environmental degradation that we've done to the planet. So I think Muslims need to be seen in the proper light. They're mostly decent, hardworking people, people with deep family values, and they want to live in peace. My experience on this planet, almost 50 years, is that if you treat people with respect, they tend to treat you with respect.