Sen. Joe Lieberman says that America must support moderate Muslims if it is to win the global war against terrorism.
The former vice presidential candidate (and potential future presidential candidate) also firmly insisted that the U.S. war against terrorism is the same as Israel’s military actions against Palestinian suicide bombers.
"The suicide bombers that wreak horror and havoc on the streets of Israeli cities are cut from the exact same cloth as the terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on Sept. 11," said Lieberman (D-Conn.), speaking via video conference from Washington as the keynote speaker for the 10th anniversary dinner of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding being held at the United Nations.
Lieberman said the suicide bombers "dishonor the historic and legitimate cause of Palestinian statehood. They disrespect the people they claim to represent."
He also criticized PLO chairman Yasir Arafat while insisting that the United States "must stand in solidarity with Israel as it roots out the machinery of terrorism, just as we did in Afghanistan.
"In my mind, the question now is whether Chairman Arafat (who time and time again has failed to prepare his people for peace) will now make it clear that his goal in this conflict is Palestinian statehood … and not the destruction of Israel, which, of course, America could never accept."
But Lieberman also said that military force against the al- Qaeda terror network isn’t enough and that the issue of Islamic fundamentalism must be addressed head on.
"The Islamic world is beset by political, economic and cultural circumstances that over the last generation have limited freedom and increased isolation, repression, and anti-American anger."
He said these include vast income inequalities, economic and political isolation, and little or no democracy.
"Islamic terrorism grew in this context: not in a vacuum. We in America are its favorite target: not just because we are large and powerful, but because our cherished values of freedom, opportunity, tolerance and democracy are its antithesis."
But Lieberman said the tradition of tolerant and moderate Islam, which he personally witnessed during a recent tour of Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Oman, is also a target of Islamic extremists.
"It would be not only a military crisis if virulent, anti-Western Islam were to eclipse this moderate strain that believes in peaceful coexistence. It would be a moral and spiritual crisis as well. Those are the stakes of our current war," he said.
To encourage moderate Islam he called for more trade, diplomatic efforts and foreign aid.
"We cannot leave Muslims with a choice between their religion and ours. We don’t want to force them to choose between their culture and American culture. We simply want the 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide to coexist in peace alongside the Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and the rest of humankind."
Lieberman briefly addressed the public controversy over what the U.S. government knew before Sept. 11 about a possible terrorist attack using planes against buildings.
"… In the last week, we’ve seen that many gnawing questions remain. We must try to answer them thoroughly and honestly," he said, noting his call for an independent, non-political, blue-ribbon commission (similar to those formed after Pearl Harbor) "to investigate what institutional gaps, overlaps, and oversights failed to connect the dots."
Also speaking at the event for the group named for the late interfaith leader Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum was Judge Abdel Rahman Zuabi, the first Arab to become an Israeli Supreme Court Justice.
Guest of honor was Alan Slifka, a New York investment manager, who as co-founder of the Abraham Fund has pioneered groundbreaking programs to foster coexistence between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens. Slifka called for teaching religious coexistence in schools, like computer education.
"You can educate young people to respect other religions and overcome demonization of others."