All in Moderation

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak opines in today’s New York Times that peace in the Middle East is “within our grasp.” He says he’s been working to “turn the dream of a permanent peace” into reality ever since his predecessor, Anwar el-Sadat, was assassinated in 1981. Mubarak claims that “the biggest obstacle” to a deal is “psychological,” and writes that any agreement should be embedded in a larger “regional peace between Israel and the Arab world.” He calls Jewish settlements “incompatible” with peace, and finishes by offering Egypt as host for further negotiating rounds.

Thomas L. Friedman follows up with a column on President Obama’s “two Mission Impossibles”: the Israeli-Palestinian talks and soothing the Shiite-Sunnni conflict in Iraq. He says extremists on all sides are “doubling down” to prevent progress, and it will only get if deals can be brokered. But this is “a reason to succeed,” and, Friedman hopes, if Iraqis can “write a social contract for the first time in modern Arab history,” then “viable democracy” is possible anywhere in the Middle East.

The Times editors praise Obama’s remarks in Tuesday night’s Iraq speech for paying tribute to U.S. soldiers, but said—the president’s graciousness toward George W. Bush notwithstanding—“it is important not to forget how much damage Mr. Bush caused.” And Obama is such a great speaker, the editors “wish we heard more from him on many issues. Why doesn’t he speak directly to Americans more often, they ask. (You can find Paul Pillar’s thoughts on the president’s speech here.)

On the flipside, the Wall Street Journal is less impressed, saying Obama’s speech would “do little change” perceptions, “especially abroad.” In fact, the editors think the leader of the free world spent too much time on the war’s costs and burdens, rather than on the troops’ accomplishments and today’s “strategic opportunities.” And they weren’t convinced on Afghanistan, where the president reiterated his promise to begin drawing down U.S. forces in less than a year, and found his “rebuke to the straw man of ‘open-ended war’” to be the speech’s “oddest note.”

Finally, the Journal gives a whole page to “six leading thinkers” answering the question, “What is Moderate Islam?” Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim calls on “mainstream Muslims” to “be at the forefront of those who reject violence and terrorism.” Princeton scholar Bernard Lewis reminds everyone that “moderation has been a central part of Islam from the very beginning.” Author Ed Husain asks people to replace the term “moderate Muslim” with “normal Muslim.” Former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht says it’s up to Muslims living in Islamic countries to learn to peacefully coexist alongside what they believe to be infidels. Tawfik Hamid, a reformed member of an Islamic radical group, proposes defining moderate Islam as a movement that is not passive and forcefully rejects “violent and discriminatory edicts.” And former Pakistani Ambassador to Britain Akbar Ahmed warns that the term moderate is judgmental and “creates more problems than it solves.” Instead, Ahmed proposes categorizing Muslims into three broad categories, and says the “outcome” of the struggle between the three groups “will define Islam’s fate.”