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During his return to Batavia, Terry Anderson sees hope for the Middle East

By Howard B. Owens

It's an auspicious time for Terry Anderson to return to Batavia to dedicate a peace garden.

Anderson, who grew up in Batavia, was chief Middle East correspondent for Associated Press when he was abducted on March 16, 1985, in Beirut following a game of tennis. Anderson was held in captivity by Hezbollah for six years and nine months.

As Anderson returns to his boyhood home, the Middle East is exploding in a way it never has before. Governments in Tunisia and Egypt have been toppled by pro-democracy demonstrators. Even the Iranian government, which backs Hezbollah, is facing youthful opposition.

Anderson is cautiously optimistic about what he sees happening.

"I watched Yasser Arafat and Isaac Rabin shake hands on the White House lawn," Anderson said tonight during a meet-and-greet at Batavia Downs. "It was one of the most optimistic days of my life, because I covered that conflict for years, and (look at) what has happened since.

"It doesn’t always turn out for the best. But yes, I see something new in the Middle East. I see something that promises something hopeful for the future."

One of America's most acclaimed and recognized journalists, Anderson was invited to return to his former hometown to help raise funds for a War of 1812 Peace Garden planned for a plot of land adjacent to the Holland Land Office Museum.

Anderson will have a busy day Friday, starting with an 8 a.m. visit to Batavia High School. He will also have lunch with GCC President Stuart Steiner followed by a public lecture at noon at GCC. At 2 p.m., there will be a press conference with Anderson at the Genesee County History Office, 7 W. Main St., and at 5 p.m., the main event -- a dinner at Terry Hills ($25 per person), where Anderson will be the featured speaker.

Thursday night, Anderson arrived at Batavia Downs shortly after 7 p.m. and he was warmly greeted by a few old friends as well as people involved in organizing the peace garden effort. Anderson also took a few minutes to talk with members of the media who where there.

Anderson -- who recently finished a teaching stint at the University of Kentucky and is now contemplating a return to residency in Upstate New York -- was animated as soon as the topic turned to the turmoil in the Middle East.

He recalled that he was in captivity when Marcos fell in the Philippines, and that was followed by the regime falling in South Africa and then, of course, the toppling of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Soviet Union.

"It just proves again what we knew then – you can have all of the police and secret police and guns and thugs in the world, and when your people stand up and say, ‘no, we’re tired of you,’ you’re gone," Anderson said.

He added, "Every country is different, but there is something going around that they all seem to have in common: They are tired of dictators and corruption and denial of human rights."

A Vietnam veteran, Anderson said that as a 19-year-old Marine, he visited the most famous peace garden in the world, the one at ground zero in Hiroshima, Japan. So when he was invited to return to Batavia to help bring about a new peace garden he thought, "who's not in favor of peace?

"Why would I miss a chance to dedicate a peace garden? It may be on a smaller scale, but why wouldn't I support it?"

Photo: Jim Owen gets an autograph from Terry Anderson on one of his books.

Peter O'Brien

You forgot Bahrain.

6 killed as of yesterday, the government using force to end the protests, Sunni vs Shiite, the King (who's family has reigned for over 200 years) saying that this Iran influencing the uprising, and all the while Saudis are getting anxious that they won't be able to go over and drink and enjoy the "escorts".

And lets not forget that Iran is sending ships through the Suez to sit in Syria to screw with Israel.

Libya's government is also in danger of being toppled.

The area is a powder keg. I think the fact that Obama is so weak when is comes to foreign affairs has a lot to do with this.

Bush kept pressure on Mubarak to encourage change towards democracy. Obama immediately stopped that, then bowed to the Saudi King. Bush pushed to liberate Libya and reduce Kadhafi's power, while Obama has been silent.

Obama has put no pressure on Iran to stop their nuclear ambitions, Thank god for Stuxnet.

We don't need to throw our military weight around to influence the world. We give enough in foreign aid that limiting that can be pocket aces in the Texas Hold 'em game of world politics.

And if you think we have no ties to Bahrain, think again. All naval operations in the area get their orders from US Naval Base that is there. We have many sailors who live off base and they are constantly dumping money into the economy of Bahrain. I know, I lived that life.

This country needs a strong President with a backbone.

Feb 18, 2011, 7:42am Permalink
Howard B. Owens

I didn't forget nothing. There was no need to write paragraphs explaining what's going on.

And you're right, if Bush were still president, none of this would be going on. Thank God Bush is no longer president. And if these pro-democracy movements are proof that Obama is weak, more of that weakness, please, faster.

Feb 18, 2011, 8:11am Permalink
Dave Olsen

We need to pull our military out of the Middle East and stop getting involved in their politics. Stop ALL foreign aid. They can keep Hilary Clinton. The people there will do what they have to and we should butt out. I'm sick of us propping up these scumbag dictators and royal families. We have our own problems.

I like the "Peace Garden" idea. Thanks to Mr. Anderson for wanting to be a part of it.

Feb 18, 2011, 8:21am Permalink
Howard B. Owens

Peter, maybe they will, maybe they won't, but like Dave said, we have no business being involved in their politics. The U.S. has no legitimate say in the matter.

Feb 18, 2011, 8:26am Permalink
Dave Olsen

When are you right wing statists going to get it, Peter. The terrorists hate us because we enable the corrupt totalitarian regimes that brutalize their own people. If one gets replaced by another, they can't blame us if we stay out of it. Young democracies are like children, sometimes you have to let them make mistakes even when you can see it coming, or they will never learn to think ahead for themselves.

Feb 18, 2011, 8:37am Permalink
Peter O'Brien

Dave, when are you going to get it that we need to influence that region to keep our enemies out of power.

They attack us because of our freedom, not our meddling.

Feb 18, 2011, 8:50am Permalink
Peter O'Brien

"The U.S. has no legitimate say in the matter."

How about helping to protect our allies? Allowing a group like the Muslim Brotherhood to come to power in Egypt creates a great threat to Israel from a nation that was the most accepting of Israel in the region.

As for Bahrain, we have a huge stake in their politics with our Naval base.

The people of Egypt asked Secretary Clinton for help months ago and she did nothing in her diplomatic power to prevent what has happened.…

Feb 18, 2011, 8:56am Permalink
Howard B. Owens

Peter, you clearly don't know what you're talking about. The modern Muslim Brotherhood -- and this is something Terry spoke about last night -- is not a radical Islamic group. It's political arm is quite secular. They have quite clearly played a supporting role -- and spoke in favor of democracy in Egypt -- during the protests.

How naive are you to blame Clinton for not putting pressure on the Egyptian government. That's what we do: enable dictators to brutalize their people. We've done it for 50 years and it's time to stop.

And stop with the shallow canard "they hate us for our freedom" Bunk. They hate us because we enable their petty, brutish, evil dictators. They want our freedom. They don't hate it.

Feb 18, 2011, 9:03am Permalink
Peter O'Brien

Really Dave? Then explain that to all the civilizations that have fallen over the centuries because of the Muslim belief of kill the infidels.

Hadith 9:4 "Wherever you find infidels kill them; for whoever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection."

Now you can say that not all Muslims are going to follow that, and I believe you. And you can find violent sections of the Bible, fine. The difference is, ones that do believe that are trying to kill us.

Feb 18, 2011, 9:04am Permalink
Peter O'Brien

The Muslim brotherhood is not benign like you think. Unless the US backs the pro democracy movement and helps to keep the brotherhood out of power, you will see another enemy on the horizon, not a potential ally.

And just to make a point. I can't go to the Muslim Brotherhoods english webpage from work because it is filed under "Militancy and Extremist"

But I can get to the arabic one, though I can't read it. But Google Can!…

Man that sounds PEACEFUL!

Feb 18, 2011, 9:45am Permalink
George Richardson

Dave, I'll see your hooey and raise it to a double hooey. Peter is holding a pair of threes and trying to bluff us into folding a straight flush and a full house. Real facts and conjecture presented as fact, are two different things.

Feb 18, 2011, 10:28am Permalink
Howard B. Owens

I fear no man or political party elected and governing within the will of the people, meaning the rule of law, fairly elected.

If a stable democracy is ushered into Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has just as much a right to participate as any other group.

The U.S. should never stand in the way of the will of the people in any country. It makes us hypocrites. Worse, it makes us targets for terrorists.

Feb 18, 2011, 11:23am Permalink
Howard B. Owens

Further, it's doubtful the Muslim Brotherhood could win a majority in parliament in free and fair or the presidency (which they've said repeatedly, they won't even seek).

Spread Fox-inspired hate and fear all you want, Peter, I'm not buying it.

Feb 18, 2011, 11:25am Permalink
Tim Howe

Peter the sad sad fact is simply this: Its going to take another terrorist attack or two on american soil to wake these sleeping sloths up and to get them on the side of Team America again.

We WERE a country of smart, diligent, wide-eyed patriotic citizens who would do anything for the greatest country on earth. Unfortunely, some of our citizens have taken our safety given to us from Bush for granted and its going to take nothing short of a tragedy to unite us again. Some americans just suffer from senior moments and senility.

For the sake of keeping this post on topic, I graduated in 1992 from good ol' Batavia, and it was a real honor to have Terry Anderson deliver our commencement.

Feb 18, 2011, 4:28pm Permalink

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