The Gavel welcomes Rep. Keith Ellison, posting on the Congressional delegation to the Middle East earlier this month. Yesterday, the delegation including Speaker Pelosi, Reps. David Hobson (R-OH), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Tom Lantos (D-CA), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), and Nick Rahall (D-WV), briefed the President on their trip.
I have always believed in the spirit of generosity and inclusivity as the cornerstones to a more peaceful world. It goes to the very foundation of my beliefs, and is the genesis for my community activism — and ultimately, my election to Congress.
Put another way; the premise is that there is enough of everything to go around if we live with a generous and inclusive heart. It follows that if there is enough to go around — there is less cause for misunderstanding, mistrust, envy, and animosity. Generous and inclusive does not mean passive and permissive. In many cases, it is just the opposite — it demands a tough exterior with a steely determination and purpose — but a heart of gold.
That spirit of generosity and inclusivity begins in our neighborhoods, spreads throughout our communities, our nation — and if there is the right kind of leadership — it can reshape the world.
That kind of leadership epitomizes Speaker Pelosi. I have witnessed her tough and tested determination on issue after issue of accomplishment in the first 100 days that I have served under her enlightened leadership.
But I witnessed it up close and personal when I traveled recently with her to the Middle East. There I saw her negotiate the jagged shoals of Middle Eastern politics with toughness, tenacity, graciousness, class and a commanding respect.
I return from this historic trip with a strengthened belief in the real possibility of peace if the United States is willing to provide the kind of concerted leadership Speaker Pelosi exercised on our high-level trip.
This was my first visit to the region, and it was a transformative experience for me both professionally, and personally.
We visited five countries and met with the Heads of State and/or leadership in each respective country we visited. We were welcomed everywhere we went. And not just by the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Portugal — but even more warmly by the people.
In every single place we visited, I could feel the possibility for healing, for reconciliation and moving forward. I came away awed by the warmth of Syrian women toward Speaker Pelosi. When we walked in the 8th century Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, the women inside turned and waved at the Speaker and followed her outside to be photographed with her. It was obvious to me the Syrian people felt like a world leader was demonstrating humanity toward them.
Similarly, I was impressed by the intelligence of the Lebanese parliamentary leader, Saad Hariri, the leadership of Saudi King Abdullah and the candor of Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority.
Each of these leaders, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, spoke openly of their desire for peace. Of course, they have different ideas on what the obstacles to peace are and that is where American leadership is sorely needed.
Israeli Prime Minister Olmert sent word with the Speaker that he is willing to talk peace with Syria provided Syria “close their borders” to Hezbollah and Hamas. President Assad also expressed a desire for peace but doesn't admit to helping those organizations. This is precisely where we need the active engagement — such as that exercised by Speaker Pelosi — to force the Syrians to verify their claims; and to verify, we need to be talking to them.
If we fold our arms and turn our backs and say people have to meet conditions before we meet with them, things are going to get worse. You don't need peace treaties with your friends.
You can be candid — tough — and direct with your friends. If you want to make peace, you have to talk about the problems preventing peace. And we did talk about those problems with President Assad, including the release of the 3 young Israeli soldiers being held by Hezbollah.
I was honored, and humbled to be asked by the Speaker to join her and my distinguished colleagues, Chairmen Lantos, Waxman, Rahall; Chairwoman Slaughter, and Congressman Hobson.
As the first Muslim to be elected to the United States Congress, I sincerely hope my presence was proof positive that American Democracy is both generous and inclusive. As a Freshman Representative, I accompanied the Speaker and my distinguished and learned colleagues, to listen, learn and bear witness to all I could. Any contributions I made were incidental. I hope one day that I will indeed be able to use my years of experience to further the course of our democracy and the goodwill of the American people — as the Speaker so ably did.
She, in her history-making capacity as the first woman elected to the third highest ranking office in the United States, also sent a powerful message to the peoples (and leaders) of the Middle East on the strength, depth and fearlessness of American Democracy.
Whether it was the history-making state address before the Israeli Knesset, or tasting the delicacies offered by the Syrian people in the souks of Damascus, her message was unmistakable: dialogue is the key to human understanding, and peace.