- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009



By Jehan Sadat

Free Press, $25, 209 pages

Peace in the Middle East is possible! Arab Muslims are against terrorism! They do not condone the indiscriminate killing of civilians! So says Jehan Sadat, the widow of the former president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated for actually bringing peace to Egypt.

In her new book, “My Hope for Peace,” Mrs. Sadat focuses on what she considers the defining goal of her life: peace in the Middle East. It is certainly possible she states, and points to the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty which her husband initiated and which has lasted more than 30 years.

Her husband, she writes, realized Egypt was a desperately poor country and simply could not afford wars no matter how limited nor how free the arms were. What funds existed, he felt, should be used for investment in infrastructure and schools that could aid the country’s economic development rather than for unproductive weaponry. Peace with Israel was imperative because if peace there could be achieved, a general area peace which included Israel and the Palestinians could follow for the betterment of everyone involved. The Camp David accords were originally designed to accommodate a Palestinian-Israel agreement, and with the exception of Jordan’s late ruler, King Hussein, there were no other Arab leaders whose statesmanship equaled Anwar Sadat’s.

Mrs. Sadat has her own recipe for peace that she feels occurs on three fronts. The first is on the governmental and organizational level where international agreements are reached. The second is on what she calls an interpersonal level. It must include the media and involves our behavior and actions toward our presumptive enemies. This calls for vision and skill, not always in great supply.

The third front she cites is within ourselves, in our intention. Muslims, she writes, call this niyya. In Islam, as in other religions, it is not only our deeds that are important but also the contents of our hearts, our intentions, our motivations that direct our actions. She writes, “Peace is always treated as a utopian dream, but if regular people can cultivate the intention of peace - toward ourselves, toward the planet on which we live and the people with whom we share it - then God willing, we can achieve it.”

Mrs. Sadat, who has 20 honorary doctorates in addition to the one earned, does what she preaches, whether in small things such as walking over to a visibly uncomfortable Middle Easterner in a U.S. government office and simply offering a warm hello, or in larger efforts such as her position in the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. There, she has helped bring together a class of Palestinians and a class of Israelis who study together and learn from each other with the end objective being peace in the Middle East.

These efforts are extraordinarily helpful, and if strengthened by repetitions by others may bring the peace everyone seems to desire. If it is in our hearts, it is possible.

Mrs. Sadat writes as an Egyptian woman to an American audience. As such, she attempts to explain Islam and a woman’s role in it. She is religious, finds being a woman in Islam comfortable, describes in detail the Egyptian feminists of the early-20th century, who in many ways were similar to their American counterparts of that era, and writes of them as her role model.

Perhaps aware there is little she can do about it, she avoids referring to the Taliban blowing up girls’ schools in Afghanistan and the coercive moral police in such states as Iran and Saudi Arabia. She continues to be a feminist but prefers to write about things she may actually influence.

She also goes to pains to describe the peaceful nature of her religion. For example, for a Muslim, suicide bombing is doubly abhorrent. First, suicide is against Islamic law; it is forbidden to throw away the life God gave you. Secondly, it is against God’s law to kill the innocent whom you do not even know.

She points out that the Arabic word for peace, Salaam, and the word Islam derive from the same root, quotes the Koran and the sayings of Muhammad and describes the tolerant nature of many ancient Muslim kingdoms. She maintains that those Mullahs who promote bombings of any sort are perverting the message of Islam. She notes that, since for the most part they are killing other Muslims, they have become widely unpopular.

In her account of events in her book, she takes, of course, an Arab point of view. which many could say is less than truly objective.

She also misquotes, perhaps unwittingly, another courageous and religious woman, the late Prime Minister Golda Meir. She has Mrs. Meir saying the Palestinian people do not exist - a distorted perception of what was actually said.

For this reviewer, at least, these failings should not obscure Mrs. Sadat’s basic message of “if peace is in our heart it will come, God willing.”

Jehan Sadat is an intelligent, religious, thoughtful woman who not only prays for peace, but works hard for it. The world can use more like her.

Sol Schindler is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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