Why not talk to terrorists?
As a terrorist plot again hits American shores, the issue of how to grapple with the threat becomes all the more urgent. Middle East expert Carl Medearis offers a controversial proposal. As he and novelist Ted Dekker reveal in "Tea with Hezbollah: Sitting at the Enemies' Table – Our Journey Through the Middle East,” talking with terrorists may help us understand them and find answers for seemingly intractable conflicts.
By Carl Medearis
Several times over the years as I’ve sat in the offices or homes of those that we would call terrorists I’ve wondered what the point of my being there was. While my intent was to foster dialogue between the West and the Muslim world, maybe I was being used (as many of my friends in the States suggested) in some sort of set-up or a negotiation ploy.
In recent personal meetings with people such as the Bin Laden brothers in Saudi Arabia and the leader of Hamas for the West Bank area around Lebanon, I’ve been forced to revisit this question: Should we meet with Bad Guys and if so, why?
I am not an official representative of our government but I am a responsible American citizen seeking a positive outcome from my attempts at one-on-one personal diplomacy. My years in the Middle East (27 off and on, 12 continuously in Beirut) and fluency in Arabic have made me a unique individual in this great Arab-American and Muslim-Christian-Jewish discussion. I am often called on by leaders from both sides to “help,” typically along the lines of facilitating personal behind-the-scenes negotiations. I think I do and can continue to help. In a sense, I have no dog in the fight. I’m as impartial a relational broker as can be had. Sure, I’m American, but I’ve lived as much of my adult working life in the Arab world as I have in Colorado. So they trust me.
This was highlighted a few months ago as I sat in homes with several key Hezbollah leaders in the south of Lebanon. With pain in their voice, they asked me “why America hates them.” There were so many possible answers I could have given them, from “America doesn’t hate you, just your policies” to “Why do you say that?” to something like “Yes we hate you.”
I chose a slight variation on all three. “Americans don’t hate you, they fear you. They don’t understand you. They hear only a certain side of the story and can’t figure out why you seem to enjoy blowing stuff up and imposing your version of Islamic rule on others who may not want it. They don’t understand what you have against Israel. They don’t understand your connection with Iran – which, by the way, makes us all very nervous. So this lack of understanding breeds fear and fear leads to a certain type of aggressive foreign policy which is understandable if you understand the fear behind it.”
The Hezbollah leader in the room, possibly the most influential of all their leaders, smiled and leaned back, saying “Then we have to remove the fear, Carl. That’s where you come in. Will you help us?”
It seems that the Hezbollah, like so many other such groups, may now be hungry for open, honest dialogue. Maybe they’ve seen that the war-first policies of the past aren’t producing the results they desire. I believe they were sincere in seeking help.
I’m not very religious, though as some type of Christian I do attempt to follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, so I suggested we might consider the lessons of this man who grew up about 30 miles south of where we were sitting. They readily agreed and I quickly recounted the parable of the Good Samaritan, with which they were loosely familiar.
In many ways, the key to the story is that Jesus uses an enemy of the Jews – the loathed Samaritan – as the hero of the story who rescues a Jewish guy.
My challenge then to the Hezbollah was this: Are any of you willing to be that Good Samaritan? Do the unexpected! Be the guys no one thinks you are. Rescue the Jew. Or the Christian. Or the Lebanese non-Shi’ite. Do something extra-ordinary and surprising. If you are willing, you win. If not, it will be more of the same…
They listened, the leader smiled and reached out his hand. He seemed pleased with the direction of the discussion. We shook, embraced, said a quick prayer to the God of Abraham and he promised me that I had challenged him that day.
Will they act? Possibly.
We have seen some small, but encouraging signs since that meeting. They are increasingly willing to meet with any and everyone that comes from the West for honest dialogue. No rockets have fallen in a while. Maybe God still dwells in the Middle East.
Steven E. Levingston
May 6, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Guest Blogger | Tags: Hezbollah, Tea With Hezbollah, talking with terrorists
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