Jewish World Review Jan. 25, 2005/ 15 Shevat, 5765

Wesley Pruden

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A little good news from the abyss | Sometimes unsophisticated people can be the most sophisticated of all.

The conventional wisdom of the chattering class at home, still in mourning over John Kerry and November 2, is that George W. Bush has been blowing smoke at the Middle East, where nobody is really interested in liberty, freedom and uprooting tyranny. The sophisticates in America have seen the insurgency in Iraq, and it works. Or it terrifies, and to the easily frightened sophisticates, that's usually the same thing.

But a lot of people in Iraq are getting excited about Sunday's elections, nobody more so than the al Qaeda operatives who are growing terrified themselves as election day approaches. It may be a day of reckoning. Over the next six days, we can expect more bombs, more blood, more bombast in a region where blood and bombast surpass even oil as the chief exports to the world.

The Iraqi politicians, new to the game, are learning. The leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance, endorsed by major Shi'ite divines, yesterday tried to reassure reluctant Sunni voters that the government that Shi'ite pols are eager to deliver is secular, not religious, and would not threaten Sunnis. Talk is cheap everywhere, nowhere cheaper than in Arabia, but this was nevertheless unusual in a region where the braggart rules unchallenged.

Not just in Baghdad. Millions of Iranians in Tehran and other cities called in sick on Thursday and stayed home Thursday night, at the beginning of the Muslim weekend, to watch or listen to George W.'s inaugural address. Skeptics all, they wanted to see what he said about tyrants, in the Middle East and elsewhere, and about liberty, freedom and all the good things democracy promises.

"The speech and its package of hope have been, since late yesterday and this morning, the main topics of most Iranians' conversations during their familial and friendly gatherings," an Iranian student Web site reported on Friday. There was a buzz in the taxis and buses, on the streets and in the coffeehouses, where groups of young Iranians gather on Fridays.

"Many were seen showing the 'V' sign or their raised fists. Talks were focused on steps that need to be taken in order to use the first time ever favorable international condition."

In Saudi Arabia, where millions of Muslims marked Eid al-Adha, one of the most important Islamic holidays, the imam of the Grand Mosque of Makkah delivered a remarkable rebuke to Islamists who preach unremitting terror against "infidels" in the name of Allah. He told Islamic scholars they have a duty to preach moderation, that it's not nice to behead Christians or blow up Jews as an expression of the religion of peace.

Muslims have a further religious duty to protect unbelievers, Abdulrahman al-Sudais told his congregation. "Militants are using misguided interpretations of Islam to justify violence. Because Muslims have strayed from moderation, we are now suffering from this dangerous phenomenon of branding people 'infidels' and inciting Muslims to rise against their leaders to cause instability."

It's important as always not to try to read a lot into anecdotal evidence of good news, but the sheik's sermon is important both because he's a prominent imam and he delivered the sermon to pilgrims returning from the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. It's the message that good Muslims have been reluctant to get caught saying in the months since September 11. The message from the White House may be making it through the static of chatter, both domestic and foreign.

The news yesterday from Iraq was, of course, grim enough to suit the sophisticated taste in the newsrooms of the mainstream American media. A suicide bomber detonated a bomb outside the prime minister's party headquarters, punishment for "agents of the Jews and the Christians."

The explosion followed closely the boast of a speaker claiming to be Abu Musab Zarqawi that al Qaeda had declared a "fierce war" on the very notion of democracy, and repeated the threat that anyone who participates in Sunday's elections would be regarded as an infidel. Since Zarqawi and his assassins teach religious doctrine with bombings and beheadings, his voice is a loud one.

Nevertheless, his is not the only loud voice. Moderation in all things may be a good thing, as the wise man said, but even a little can go a long way in a region where keeping your head is not easy when others all about you are losing theirs.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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