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The Role of Literature on the Path to Peace in the Middle East

Aired March 11, 2010 - 15:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, high-level squabbling over Middle East peace talks, while on the ground, one Israeli and one Palestinian use a tragic link to overcome hostility. And later, the cleric who's issued a fatwa against terrorism.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

In Tel Aviv today, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden implored both Israelis and Arabs to put aside their differences, but they remain still far apart on the key issues of land and settlements. And in what's viewed as a snub to the United States, the Israeli government has just approved the construction of 1,600 new homes on disputed territory in Jerusalem.

The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is predictably furious, but people are often ahead of their politicians on both sides in this land where stories are inextricably linked. Take the tragedy of a Palestinian lawyer, Elias Khoury, whose own son was killed by a Palestinian gunman.

To honor his son, Khoury has now commissioned an Arabic translation of one of Israel's most famous novels. It's called "A Tale of Love and Peace," and it's written by this man, Amos Oz, one of the country's most prominent authors. And the aim is to give peace a chance by humanizing the other, telling the stories of the history that entwines them.


AMANPOUR: Joining me now from Tel Aviv, Amos Oz, and from Jerusalem, Elias Khoury. And this is the first time they're appearing together on international television.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining me to talk about this remarkable story.

Mr. Khoury, if I could ask you first, what led you -- what is the story as we mentioned that led you to have Mr. Oz's book translated into Arabic?

ELIAS KHOURY, PALESTINIAN ATTORNEY: As you know, my -- I lost my son on the 19th of March, 2004, while he was jogging. He was a student at the Hebrew University. And he was shot by Palestinians who claimed that they were doing something heroic.

At that time, I -- I got to know a friend -- a mutual friend for me and for Mr. Oz who came to visit us at that time. And we were talking about how we can keep the memory of our son in a way that it will be kept for long, long time.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let me ask you, Mr. Oz. What did you think when Mr. Khoury asked to have your seminal work, "A Tale of Love and Darkness," translated into Arabic?

AMOS OZ, AUTHOR: I was deeply moved by Mr. Khoury's generous proposal to translate "A Tale of Love and Darkness" into Arabic at his expense. And I thought it's a very powerful way to commemorate George Khoury, the slain son of Mr. and Mrs. Khoury, because I felt this particular book, "A Tale of Love and Darkness," can open many hearts in the Arab world and can remove many prevailing stereotypes in the Arab world.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Oz, just tell me the story -- the essential story, and why you thought that it could have that effect in the Arab world?

OZ: "A Tale of Love and Darkness" is a combination of a family story, chamber music, and at the same time, also a saga of the birth of the nation, the birth of the Israeli nation. It's about the 1940s in Jewish Palestine and the 1950s in early Israel. And it renders the story of the Jews in this country in a non-heroic way and in a way that is always attentive to the Palestinian plight and to the Palestinian perspective and point of view.

AMANPOUR: So, Mr. Khoury, what was it about the tale of Jewish life in Israel that you felt was so important to translate into Arabic? Why? What was your motivation?

KHOURY: First of all, I think to know the other side is something important, whether we want to fight him or whether we want to make peace with him. And knowledge is the light, for good and for bad.

Therefore -- and in order to bridge between the two nations as possible, we have to know the other side.


Their feeling of belonging to the group, to the Jewish nation, and the way they were ready to sacrifice, I want my people to see how we can do that, how they were well organized, and how the institutions did work at that time, and how it came to the final step, when the state of Israel was born.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me put that point to Mr. Oz. Mr. Khoury is sounding a very generous spirit of wanting to learn from the other, learn from the other story. You have said about your own writing that you try to put yourself in the place of the other so that the narratives, each side can understand the other's narrative.

Let me ask you, first and foremost, when you visited Mr. Khoury in his home in East Jerusalem, what did you notice about his standard and quality of life versus yours in Israel proper?

OZ: Mr. Khoury, who lives in North Jerusalem on the edge of the West Bank, has become a close personal friend of me and of my family. He is, as you just said, a very generous man. But moreover, he is a man of vision.

The idea of translating "A Tale of Love and Darkness" and making it travel into the entire Arab world, published in Beirut, which is technically enemy territory, is a magnanimous idea.

I imagine this book read by sensitive, open-minded Arabs in Beirut, in Amman, in Cairo, and, first and foremost, in Palestine. And I think any Arab who read this book will find it more difficult to hate the Jews than before reading this book.

AMANPOUR: You know, you're talking about learning about the other. As you know, right now, the U.S. vice president has been in Israel, talking about trying to restart the peace process, and he has been delivered something of a rebuff, when the Israeli interior minister announced 1,600 new domiciles in East Jerusalem.

Mr. Oz, as you talk about the generosity of trying to know each other's side, what message do you think that sends, this -- more settlements at a time like this?

OZ: It sends the worst possible message. It is a slap in the face of Palestine and a slap in the face of the United States, and I vehemently object to the idea of building Jewish domiciles, Jewish homes, Jewish settlements across the green line.

I believe Palestine should be an independent state next door to Israel, and I believe Jerusalem should be and would be the capital city of both Israel and Jerusalem.

You know, it's difficult to be a prophet coming from the land of the prophets, but let me give you one prophecy. One day, there will be a Palestinian embassy in Israel and an Israeli embassy in Palestine, and those two embassies will be walking distance from one another because one of them will be in East Jerusalem and the other one in West Jerusalem.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Khoury, you just heard what Mr. Oz said about the future. Your son was killed in one of those settlements, running, as you said, on so-called French Hill. Your father was killed. Both your father and your son killed by your own people.

And then you've also said that your family land was taken by the Israelis. So you have had so much loss from both peoples. How do you see a future of reconciliation?

KHOURY: I think, at the moment, the situation is not optimistic. I mean, I'm not optimistic of solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict nowadays, in our time.

And I think that both sides should do their utmost in order to build a trust in between the leaders and in between the nations. What Israel had done, what the state of Israel is doing right now in the occupied territories and in East Jerusalem, does not help in building such a trust in between the parties. Thus...

AMANPOUR: So do you believe...

KHOURY: ... we have to try to find maybe other -- other ways in order to begin a new way in which maybe building the institutions of the Palestinian state and, meanwhile, trying to ease the situation that is happening in the area.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, Mr. Oz...

KHOURY: Unless it is apartheid...


AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, Mr. Oz. This translation of your book, as we've talked about, is an opportunity for Arabs, for Palestinians to learn about the Jewish story in Israel. Is there a similar opportunity for Israelis, for Jews to learn about the Arab story? In other words, has -- is there a necessity to have the story of both sides, the narrative of both sides understood by each side?

OZ: Well, there are some translations of Palestinian literature and poetry into Hebrew, but not enough. And I'm a great believer, Christiane, that translating literature is one of the best ways to remove stereotypes and to bring enemies closer to each other, because reading the other's literature is actually visiting the other's living room, the other's kitchen, the other's nursery, and even the other's bedroom. It's -- the reader is taken into the bedrooms, into the intimate issues (ph) of the lives of other people.

So I am a great believer in literary translations between enemies as a healer, as a method of removing stereotypes and replacing the hatred by more complex -- not necessarily by love, not necessarily a couple of brothers hugging one another like long-lost brothers in tears, "Oh, brother, take the country, who cares about the country, give me your love."

This is not what I expect, and this is not what is going to happen. But it will improve the ability to imagine the other, and I believe imagining the other is a moral quality.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Amos Oz and Elias Khoury, thank you so much for joining us for this fascinating conversation.

KHOURY: Thank you.

OZ: Thank you for having us, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: And next, we speak to another leading figure who's trying to also open closed minds, Islamic scholar Sheikh Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, who has issued a powerful fatwa against terrorism. He'll tell us why now, in a moment.



AMANPOUR: It's not something you often hear from a leading Muslim scholar, a fatwa, a religious declaration, that unequivocally states terrorism and suicide bombings are the biggest enemies of Islam. But that was issued by Sheikh Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri in London. As CNN's Paula Newton reports, it's a message that many have been waiting for since 9/11.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There have been other fatwas condemning terrorism. This one is different. Sheikh Qadri is a renowned Muslim scholar and has a major following. Also, his fatwa is in English, it's on the Internet, and it cites the Koran to beat terrorists at their own game, especially when they claim to be doing the work of Allah, or God.

Sheikh Qadri cites verse 205. "Allah does not like mischief and violence." That means, he says that...

SHEIKH MUHAMMAD TAHIR UL-QADRI, ISLAMIC SCHOLAR: Terrorism is terrorism. Violence is violence. It has no place in Islamic teachings.

NEWTON: Stripping terrorists of their moral authority, he cites the Koran that even a sacred goal can never be achieved by following an evil or criminal path.

QADRI: They are leading towards hellfire.


NEWTON: Now the question is whether the sheikh's fatwa will have credibility on the street.

Some Muslim leaders are warning that government outreach programs to battle extremism aren't working.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't see it. I can't see it where, you know, where it's stopped or there's been a piece of work which has actually said, right, I stopped somebody from doing this kind of -- this kind of work.

NEWTON: And others say it won't work to just try and shoot down extremist thinking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rather, we need to have that engagement with them and need to understand exactly what their thinking is for us to be able to deal with these issues.

NEWTON: And does a fatwa stand a chance in the face of this? Radical preachers citing the Koran as they preach jihad against non-believers, or kofars (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are what? Compassionate towards the kofar (ph)? No, they are harsh towards kofar (ph). And he can never be surpassed.

AMANPOUR (on-screen): Many say this fatwa is a real start, but it will need support from other leaders if it has any hope of winning over Muslims around the world.

Paula Newton, CNN, London.


AMANPOUR: And joining me now from London is Sheikh Muhammad Tahir ul- Qadri.

Thank you very much for joining me. Let's follow on...


AMANPOUR: ... from what Paula Newton just reported. Why now? And why is this fatwa different than some of the others that have been issued against terrorism? Sheikh ul-Qadri?

QADRI: This -- this fatwa which I have issued now is not a first step which I have taken on this direction. I wrote a voluminous book on human rights soon after 9/11 which described and elaborated the same concept at that time...

AMANPOUR: So does that mean...

QADRI: ... which was published...

AMANPOUR: Does that mean people aren't listening, that you need to keep writing it? What makes this one different, if it is different, than the others?

QADRI: But this was -- this time, I took the decision to write a fatwa, as a jurisprudential ruling which should include and which has included hundreds of authorities and evidences from Koran and from traditions of Holy Prophet and classical authorities of Islamic history in order to explain that any good intention or any mistake of foreign policy of any country or any pretext cannot legalize the act of terrorism.

And terrorism and violence cannot be considered to be permissible in Islam on basis of any excuse.


QADRI: So I gave a step here (ph).

AMANPOUR: Well, you've made that very clear, but who do you think is going to listen? Is it the committed extremist, the committed suicide bomber? In other words, some are complaining that your fatwa is only going to reach like-minded Muslims such as yourself and not the people who need to hear this.

QADRI: No, this is not the case. I would divide these people whom I have addressed or those who this fatwa is going to reach into three categories. I would exclude just a very little number of those radicals who have already been brainwashed and they are not ready to listen to any reasoning, but hundreds of thousands of youth who are on the path who have potential to be radicalized, but they have not yet reached the stage of being brainwashed, they are going to listen to this fatwa. This fatwa is going to change their mind.

And then millions of other youth or Muslim ummah, they can be reached by the extremist, they can be misguided by the wrong interpretations of Islam, they can be put on the wrong track by putting the wrong concept of jihad in their minds, wrong concept of shahadah (ph) in their minds, although they are not radicals and they're not suicide bombers now, but they can be misguided in future who this fatwa is going to change their mind...


QADRI: ... by clarifying the concept.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, let me ask you about clarifying the concept. And you mentioned people's false ideas about what it meant. You used the word shahadah (ph), martyrdom, et cetera. We have this concept that's called a word cloud that we use, and we've used it to examine the words in your fatwa, and we can see very, very pronounced the words "bombings," "suicide," "fatwa," "terrorism," "Islam," and there in the middle is the word "Khawarij."


We looked up in the Hadith and we saw the word "Khawarij" looked up there. And, of course, the Hadith is the words of the Prophet Muhammad, as other people have taken down those words, and he has said there in the Hadith that there will appear within my nation differences and division, people who will perfect their speech and make evil their actions. They will call to the book of Allah, yet they have nothing to do with it. Whoever fights against them has more right upon Allah than they do.

So are you basically saying, are moderate Muslims ready to stand up against -- sorry. Are the present-day terrorists like the Khawarij?

QADRI: No, I'm not saying (ph) the normal Muslims to stand up against anybody or to start any kind of armed struggle. I am totally condemning the arms struggle of any kind.

The basic -- I am trying to clarify the concept that Holy Prophet, as you explained -- when Holy Prophet said that the Khawarij is a movement, this movement and the people who were Khawarij in the beginning and they will continue until the day of judgment at the appearance of anti-Christ. And Holy Prophet said they will appear and they will emerge and re-emerge at least more than 20 times in the history.

And they will believe in terrorism. They will believe in mass killing. They will believe in enforcing their ideology with arms. They will believe in any kind of torturing the people so that they might bring their age and true force (ph) forward...


QADRI: So these Khawarij people, they are declaring the whole Muslim ummah non-Muslims, and they are declaring the non-Muslims as their blood is lawful to be shed, their bloodshed is lawful.

AMANPOUR: Right. So...

QADRI: So this was the Khawarij ideology, which is continuing until today.


QADRI: And I think that terrorists of today, no doubt about that, that they are -- this is the continuity of Khawarij movement.

AMANPOUR: And are these terrorists of today, are they the infidels? You know, because mostly many of them call the rest of the Islamic world and others, they call them the Kafirs, the infidels. Are you saying now that the terrorists are the infidels?

QADRI: I would differentiate between the two. Those who are extremist in their views, I don't say them as Khawarij. I am declaring Khawarij those who are committing suicide bombings...


QADRI: ... against humanity.

AMANPOUR: All right.

QADRI: They are committing the -- yes, yes. They are committing mass killings. And their ideology and their faith is -- that they consider mass killing lawful, they consider the peaceful or civilian population of non- Muslim countries, killing of them they consider lawful. This is the Khawarij ideology which Holy Prophet mentioned.

AMANPOUR: OK. I want to ask you a personal question. A friend of yours, a cleric, Mr. Naimi, was a close friend of yours, and he also spoke out against extremism and terrorism. There we have him on the screen. He was assassinated after issuing a verbal fatwa on national television.

Are you afraid now that you've come out and made this very powerful statement -- are you afraid for your own life?

QADRI: I am not afraid of any human being on the surface of Earth. I am working for the good cause, for pleasure (ph) of my lord, my creator. I am working for a peaceful atmosphere for humanity. I am working to bridge up the east and west and Muslim world and the Western world to remove the hatreds, to remove all misunderstandings, and I am working and striving the peace, bringing the peace back to the minds of people, to the spirits of people, while fighting against every kind of divisions and clashes.

AMANPOUR: All right.

QADRI: So this is a good cause. I am not afraid of anybody. It depends upon whatever my lord wants. If I have to live, I will live. Otherwise, I'm not afraid of this (inaudible)

AMANPOUR: And on that note...

QADRI: Anybody's who's afraid of this situation, they will never like these kind of fatwa (ph), they will never declare this kind of -- truth is truth. One has to -- one have to live for truth and to die for truth, yes.

AMANPOUR: And on that note, Mr. Sheikh ul-Qadri, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us from London.

QADRI: And thank you very much, too.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

And up next, we look at another side of the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world. That's when we return.



AMANPOUR: And now our "Post-Script." We want to take another look at overcoming hatred and bigotry, this time in Pakistan.

Azhar Hussain is a Pakistani American who's fighting to modernize the country's madrassas, and they are Islamic religious schools. He frequently travels to the dangerous frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan, as I found out in my documentary, "Generation Islam." His goal is to teach madrassas to teach a tolerant form of Islam.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): The latest polls show the people of Pakistan have turned against the militant extremists and overwhelmingly support the government's full scale war against the Taliban. Azhar says the demand for his workshops is now so high that he's received requests from 5,000 madrassas in Pakistan, but the local Taliban don't like what he's doing.

(on-screen): Have you had threats?

AZHAR HUSSAIN, INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR RELIGION AND DIPLOMACY: Yes. Yes. Oh, many. And our partners get threats all the time. If you go through these programs, they will harm you or kill you.


AMANPOUR: Azhar, like our guests earlier, is prepared, he says, to take that risk to promote peace and tolerance.

And that is it for now. Thank you for watching. We'll be back tomorrow with a special interview with singer and AIDS activist Annie Lennox. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.