by H.E. Mr. Hisham Mohamed Mostafa Badr, Ambassador of Egypt
A Speech on the occasion of the Oomoto Setsubun Grand Festival in Ayabe February 3rd, 2007
Ladies and gentlemen,Madame Deguchi,Mr. Shimamoto,
I would like to express my thanks to you for inviting me this evening to speak and to attend Oomoto’s very special Setsubun Ceremony in this beautiful city of Ayabe.
I am also pleased to have been asked to speak on the critical subject of Middle East peace, as well as the peaceful nature of Islam, which unfortunately has sometimes been misapprehended in many parts of the world.
There is nothing more important than to have such a meaningful and frank exchange between cultures at a point in human history that is regrettably characterized by misrepresentations, suspicions and uncertainty.
In that respect, Oomoto’s leaders and followers are to be commended for their trailblazing efforts, very early on, to promote dialogue between various cultures, peoples and faiths all over the world.
Of paramount importance, moreover, is your commitment to the cause of world peace that is epitomized in the Ayabe Project to bring Palestinian and Israeli youth to Japan.
I have no doubt that the Palestinian and Israeli youngsters who spent one week in Ayabe in 2003 talking, playing together and reconciling, went back home with a new perspective and a new resolve to learn to live together in peace.
When peace efforts on the political level are botched time and time again, the hope for peace can be kept alive if the will for peace is created among the new generation of Israelis and Palestinians. And even a small city like Ayabe can have a big dream of helping to bring peace in the Middle East.
If we have failed to cross the divide, to realize that diversity is not a synonym of adversary and, in doing so, we have built walls rather than tearing them down, it does not mean that the new generation cannot transform those walls into bridges and walk across them.
Lasting peace cannot be constructed around a conference table unless it is deeply rooted in the minds of men. Nor can it be merely a matter of signing treaties, as history has made only too plain. It must be founded in the long term on the values handed down to young people by their families, teachers and social players and decision-makers.
Peace means building up: It cannot be invented from scratch, but it is built up, from day to day. It is a task that requires a long-term view and a daily struggle at individual, national and international levels.
What people now recognize is that wars begin in people’s minds – and are rooted in how they view other people. Put simply, people do not kill people with whom they identify.
To feel justified in killing, people must believe there is an essential difference between them, perhaps a threatening difference – a difference that overwhelms their common humanity.
In this sense, all conflict arises from a struggle between good and evil: Good is the belief that what unites us is more important than what divides us. In contrast, evil is the opposite conviction – that what divides us is more important than what unites us.
Indeed, it has become abundantly clear in recent years that if we are to create a more peaceful world, we must shoulder our global responsibility to steer the course of ship towards cooperation rather than conflict and to uphold certain key values that will determine whether ourselves and our children will be given the chance to live in peace and dignity.
Peace is a matter of great concern for Egypt – it has and will remain the cornerstone of its foreign policy.
We signed the first peace treaty in history more than 4,000 years ago and were the first to stretch a historic hand out for peace in the Middle East in the late seventies. We are committed to the pursuit of a lasting peace in our region no matter how difficult or protracted the process might be.
The Palestinian problem is the heart of the Middle East conflict. It is the mother of all problems in our region. Without solving this problem in a just and comprehensive manner, I believe it is difficult to seriously address the other conflicts and problems that plague our region, such as terrorism, the crisis in Iraq and the unrest in Lebanon.
The Palestinian people deserve to have an independent state and the time has come to grant them this right.
Although following Middle East politics is a complicated venture, at heart the problem is really a simple one. It is one of occupation. As long as occupation by Israel continues, natural resistance will continue.
The solution is therefore to end the occupation through a formula suggested by Egypt a long time ago, which is “land for peace.” It remains the best and most viable and just formula.
The Arab world presented a peace initiative during the Beirut Arab Conference in 2003 based on this formula and till now it has not been accepted by Israel.
The Arab world has extended and continues to extend its hand in peace since we firmly believe in Egypt that peace is a strategic objective. We will continue to work with both Palestinians and Israelis till we achieve this objective.
The road will be bumpy and long, but our vision of a peaceful Middle East without any weapons of mass destruction is a worthy objective and we will continue to strive for it.
We appreciate Japan’s role and hope it can play an even greater role in the Middle East peace process for it is an honest broker and its credibility is respected by both Arabs and Israelis alike.
Ladies and gentlemen,
There is so much I would like to say about the nature of Islam that the allotted time for this address will now allow me to share with you.
The judgment of Islam in some parts of the world has been grossly distorted regarding the extremes and the norm. Extremists exist in every society and must be dealt with. Yet, I am sure you agree that by no means should they be used to judge a society.
There has unfortunately been a regrettable tendency in the West to overestimate the influence of those so-called fundamentalist groups in Muslim countries.
In contrast to the negative, isolationist and anti-social attitudes of the fundamentalist groups, the main stream of thought among most intellectuals, politicians and individuals in the Muslim world is characterized by a strong belief in the oneness of the fate of mankind, in pluralism as a fact of life, in democracy as a fair and workable mechanism, in a functional approach to Islam, in a strong commitment to human rights, in the necessity to accept the “others” as partners and friends and in their role in building a new world order.
The idea of mutual respect towards humanity is not a product of modern-day liberalism in the Muslim world. It is a clear text from the Qur’an itself, which stipulates in the following two verses the respect for pluralism and diversity and I quote:
“Unto every one of you we appointed a different law and way of life. And if God had so willed, he could have surely made you all one single community; but he willed it otherwise in order to test you by means of what he has bestowed upon you. Contend then with one another in doing good deeds.”
“O mankind! We created you from a single pair of male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other!”
This is a step beyond tolerance and understanding; it entails familiarization.
The concepts of tolerance, social justice, respect and love for others are only some of the values promoted by Islam.
Religious and political tolerance, as well as humanism, is emphasized in a good number of educational textbooks and in multiple situations and contexts. Some textbooks devoted whole units or lessons to talking about these values and encourage students to adopt them.
Above all, inter-religious tolerance is emphasized in the framework of the teachings of the Qur’an and Hadith.
Egypt is known as “Umm Al-Dunia,” or the mother of the world. Its history is a result of a beautiful encounter and dialogue between civilizations.
Egypt’s symbolic and strategic importance is evidenced by the civilizations and powers it interacted with and that made it their home. This includes the Pharaohs, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Ottomans, the French and the British.
Life in Egypt demonstrates clearly the harmony and exquisiteness emanating from diversity, understanding, mutual respect and equality.
I hope that one day you will visit Egypt and drink from great waters of the Nile.