Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Clinton's Warm Eid Al-Fitr Remarks Reflect Growing Recognition of American Muslims

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Clinton's Warm Eid Al-Fitr Remarks Reflect Growing Recognition of American Muslims

Article excerpt

Clinton's Warm Eid al-Fitr Remarks Reflect Growing Recognition of American Muslims

Being an independent "Middle East expert" in Washington can be fun if you don't have to make a living at it. In American media interviews you can say pretty much what you think about the current Middle East peace process, which is generally a lot more pessimistic than what the Clinton administration spin doctor on the same program has just said or is just about to say, and 180 degrees different from what the ever-present Israel-right-or-wrong guest or host claims and may even believe.

While I'm scheming to get my magazine's toll-free number into the program, the apologist for Israel is trying to figure how to keep me from being invited back, and the U.S. government representative is hating me a little for being able to tell the whole truth, while he or she can't.

I was having that kind of day on Monday, Jan. 10, the third day of Eid al-Fitr in the U.S. and the final day of Round One of Israeli-Syrian-U.S, talks in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, only 60 miles away. That day Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was leaving for Israel, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Charaa was making preparations to go home the next day, and I was being interviewed by the Middle East Broadast Center, MBC, an Arabic television network seen round the world, at a studio used by Washington correspondents for Arab and other foreign television networks.

With foreign correspondents in Washington, the routine is very different. There is no U.S. government spin doctor and no Friend of Israel to share time with. Just a 5-to 15-minute recorded interview, which may be used in its entirety or may be reduced to a 30-second soundbite. The guest has no control over the situation so he can relax and enjoy feeling important.

After the interview, while I was chatting briefly with the cameraman and Egyptian host Thabit El-Bardici, his countrywoman and colleague, stunningly beautiful Lamia Berugi, stuck her head into the studio to ask if we would like to watch while she videotaped President Bill Clinton's White House summation of the Shepherdstown talks.

When Clinton finished, Ms. Berugi asked if I would like to see a videotape of President Clinton's talk at that morning's Eid al-Fitr program at the White House. Since I had been so carded away with my own temporary media prominence that I had totally forgotten about the White House event, I was delighted at being updated.

She flicked a switch and there was the U.S. president standing in front of a beautifully crafted backdrop made up of swatches of silk tapestries from South and Central Asia and talking to an audience of perhaps 100 Muslim activists, journalists and a few mid-level Muslim U.S. government officials whom the president named. At the president's right were Imam Yahya Hendy, the newly appointed Islamic chaplain at nearby Georgetown University, where Clinton studied, and 14-year-old Na'Imah Saleem, a young woman with a radiant smile from Washington, DC's Clara Muhammad School, both of whom had preceded the president in speaking about the significance of the Islamic holiday.

Clinton, looking remarkably rested and relaxed considering the fact that he had traveled four times in the previous seven days from the White House to the Clarion Hotel in Shepherdstown to help pick up the pace of the Israeli-Syrian interactions there, was apologizing for the absence of Hillary Clinton who, in his words, "has done this celebration for the past several years."

In fact Mrs. Clinton has hosted an annual White House Eid observance since 1996, even though after the first one she was charged by at least one widely quoted U.S. Jewish leader with "inviting terrorists into the White House." Perhaps not quite so candid was the president's next statement that his wife "had to be out of the city today and that's the only reason she's not here, because this means so very much to her."

No doubt every member of the audience wondered whether Mrs. …

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