Violence begets violence.
A series of wars, conflicts and other acts of violence that have occurred during the 10 years since the Sept. 11 terror attacks against the United States in 2001 have forced all of us to confront this grim truth.
The United States responded to the terror attacks by launching wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. During that time, the Palestinian conflict intensified while strife among religious sects in Iraq deepened. Terrorists staged large-scale attacks in the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
After the bloodshed of the past decade, the revolutions that unfolded in Tunisia and Egypt, where peaceful demonstrations by citizens toppled dictatorships, were all the more striking and amazing events.
The wave of democratization in the Middle East, which has come to be called the "Arab Spring," has brought a ray of hope to the region by showing that the cycle of destruction can now be replaced by the process of construction.
The former U.S. administration of President George W. Bush started the war in Iraq, saying it was determined to advance the cause of democratization of the Middle East. As a result, elections went ahead in various parts of the region, including Iraq, Egypt and the Palestinian territory. Saudi Arabia held its first local assembly votes.
But no real progress toward democracy was achieved. The elections resulted in increased political strength and influence of anti-America, anti-Israel groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and Hamas of the Palestinian Authority. After these developments, the United States stopped talking about democratization of the region.
--People standing up--
Autocratic governments in the Middle East took advantage of America's silence to roll back the movement toward democracy. During Egypt's parliamentary elections last November, the authorities manipulated the vote to eliminate opposition forces.
As their authoritarian governments refused to embrace change, people in the Arab world became aware of their power to move their nations toward democracy and stood up against the dictatorships.
Libya, where protests against the regime boiled over into civil war, has started moving toward establishing an interim government.
The people are gaining political power not only in the countries where the old autocratic governments have already collapsed, but also elsewhere in the region.
Syria has been caught up in protests for the past seven months despite a ferocious government crackdown. In another sign of the sea change occurring in the region, a growing number of women in Saudi Arabia are beginning to drive cars in open defiance of an official ban on female drivers. And women have been posting images and videos of themselves behind the wheel on the Internet.
There are also some troubling moves. In Egypt, angry protests provoked by the recent killing of Egyptian soldiers by Israeli forces led to the storming of a building housing the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.
There is strong criticism among Egyptians against such violent actions. Demonstrations, when they spiral out of control, can lead to xenophobia, upsetting the balance of peace.
The country is susceptible to disturbances partly because elections have been delayed and there is not yet a legitimate parliament or government in place. It is clearly necessary to quicken the process of democratization.
If elections are held, it is certain that Islamic groups will sharply increase their parliamentary strength. We hope these groups will transform themselves from the opposing forces that they have been until now into responsible political entities that can play constructive roles in nation-building.
Egypt is facing a raft of formidable challenges, such as administrative reform to stamp out the corruption and cronyism that infested the authoritarian government. It must also tackle serious unemployment and housing problems among young people, who account for more than half of the population. The Islamic groups need to grapple with these tough challenges by proposing specific plans to promote economic and social development.
There are concerns in the United States and Europe about the implications of increased political influence and power of Islamic groups.
But leaders in the West should regard the Arab Spring as an opportunity to promote mutual understanding and cooperation between their countries and Islamic forces. They need to support the Arab people's efforts to establish democracy and build new nations.
--Despite anti-American sentiment, U.S. must serve as a fair mediator--
In May, U.S. President Barack Obama declared, "It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy."
That being the case, the United States needs to brace itself for likely manifestations through elections of the antagonism and hatred toward Americans that have grown among people in the Middle East over the past 10 years.
People across the Islamic world saw the Iraq War, which Washington cast as a fight for "liberalization," as an act of "invasion."
While the Bush administration claimed it was fighting a "war against terrorism," many Arab people supported attacks against the United States as "jihad."
Under pro-American dictatorships in the region, anti-American feelings among people were suppressed for decades.
But such public sentiment can no longer be kept in check.
It is vital for the United States to start serious efforts to build from scratch relations based on mutual trust with people in the Middle East. The country's ties with the region have been seriously damaged through the flawed war against terror.
Washington should insist that Persian Gulf states which still maintain iron-fisted rule start moving toward democracy.
It should also make all-out efforts to solve the Palestinian problem, which is at the heart of the caldron of violence in the Middle East.
The U.S. administration's Middle East policy will face an important test soon when the Palestine Liberation Organization submits an application for recognition of Palestinian statehood to the U.N. Security Council.
The Obama administration has vowed to veto the request for Palestinian statehood.
But it must remember that Obama, in a speech delivered in September last year to the U.N. General Assembly, said, "When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that can lead to a new member of the United Nations--an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel."
The Middle East peace process was disrupted mainly by Israel's move to restart settlement construction.
Washington could trigger a fresh wave of anti-American protests in the region if it only vetoes the Palestinian bid to become a member state of the United Nations without making any effort to urge Israel to take positive steps to revive peace talks.
The United States needs to convince people in the Middle East of its commitment to playing the role of fair peace mediator. This can only be achieved through explanations and actions. Its role is vital for the future of the peace process.
--Opening a new era in the Middle East--
The "Arab Spring" also requires Japan to start building new relations with those in the Middle East who have become the leading power in politics.
The region's efforts to seek cooperative ties with the United States, Europe and Japan and receive intellectual and technological support from these countries for their nation-building will help lay the foundations of democracy in the region.
We hope mutual understanding between the Middle East and the industrialized world will open up a new era of peace and prosperity in the region.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 20