By Kazim Alam
HAMDEN: Senator Joe Lieberman said Monday the political exploitation of Islam was born in prisons of Egypt.
In his hour-long guest lecture in front of a 100-plus audience at Quinnipiac University, Conn., the former Democratic candidate for vice president described the recent wave of uprisings across the Arab world as a “transforming event in history.”
“To me, it was an uprising led by young people, educated people, middle-class people, frustrated by years of suppression. It has the capacity to dramatically change lives – theirs and ours.”
The senator, who’s also chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, recently visited Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Palestine along with Senator John McCain.
“We went there to gauge how the United States can help peaceful transition to democracy.”
Referring to what he termed the “momentum of history,” Lieberman said that for a long time the west had only two choices in the Middle East. “We had either secular dictatorships that were friendly toward the west or Islamist dictatorships that were hostile.
“But now we have a third choice – democracy, modernity, through peaceful change.”
He said what motivated the protesters was not the chanting of Ayman al-Zawahiri, but the driving values of American societies. “It’s about political freedom and economic prosperity.”
Praising the “revolutionaries” who followed peaceful ways and used tools of modern communications for change, he said, “Although there was a sign of ‘down with America’, it was really ‘down with Ben Ali’ in Tunisia’s case, or ‘down with Mubarak’ in Egypt’s.”
Lieberman said Israel had an “uneasy peace” with Egypt. “The Mubarak regime tolerated, and even encouraged, anti-Semitism in Egypt.”
Lieberman said he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his recent visit to the Middle East. He quoted the Israeli premier as saying, “Senators, you need to have a Marshall plan for the Muslim world.”
“The future of the Middle East should be determined by the Arab world itself. We have a moral and diplomatic self-interest to be supporting to these transitions,” Lieberman said.
The senator said there were many possible ways in which the United States could help post-Mubarak Egypt. Foremost among them, according to Lieberman, is to help the Egyptian interim government ensure that the general elections are held in a free and fair manner.
Lieberman also talked about American investment and trade preferences to support the democratic Egyptian government. “Egypt owes America $3.5 billion in debt. There could be legislation to forgive some of that based on their achieving transition to democracy.”
He said he’s in favor of student exchange programs, which will enable American students to witness history firsthand. “Young Americans assisting in transition to democracy – be part of it – shape it, write it.”
“In Tunisia, people told me, ‘Senator, if there was one American we’d love to visit Tunisia, it’d be Mark Zuckerberg’.”
Zuckerberg created the social-networking website, Facebook, which helped organize successful protests against dictatorships in various Arab countries.
Lieberman also shared a joke with the students he had heard in Egypt. “Poisoned or stabbed? Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar el-Sadat, Mobarak’s predecessors, asked the recently overthrown president of Egypt in the hereafter.
“Facebooked, Mobarak replied.”
The “Weird” Qaddafi
Referring to Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi as “weird,” Lieberman said the dictator got frightened by the Iraq invasion and investigations into Dr. A.Q. Khan’s network of nuclear proliferation.
Dr. Khan is the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear program. In 2004, he admitted to selling nuclear technology to Libya, North Korea and Iran.
Lieberman said he wondered what Qaddafi would do to his countrymen and -women had he made nuclear bombs.
“Events in Libya are different because governments in Tunisia and Egypt didn’t use violence against their own people,” he said.
The Muslim-American Question
Lieberman said since 9/11 America has faced a serious threat of Islamist extremism and terrorism.
He said that once he asked a group of Muslim-Americans which federal agency they believed acted in the “most positive” manner. They replied they have had the best experience dealing with the F.B.I.
“(But) where is the voice of moderate Muslims? We know that an overwhelming majority of Muslims is not extremist.”
Senator Lieberman also took questions toward the end of his lecture.
Responding to a question of this correspondent about the arrest of an alleged C.I.A. contractor in Pakistan on charges of murder, Lieberman said the situation was “tragic.”
On Jan. 27, American national Raymond Davis shot dead two Pakistanis in a crowded bazaar in Lahore, Pakistan. He worked for the U.S. consulate in Lahore as a “technical advisor.” The U.S. authorities claim he has diplomatic immunity.
“It’s an awkward situation. He’s an employee of the U.S. embassy. He has diplomatic immunity,” Lieberman said.