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Meeting George Bush for Lunch

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Former President George W.Bush at Ground Zero three days after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in NYC
Former president George W.Bush at Ground Zero three days after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in NYC (Photo: FEMA Photo Library/ Thomas R. Roberts)

 

Islamic history is something we do not debate or discuss. We accept it as handed down to us. So we have villains who have been made into heroes and heroes who remain unidentified.

Case in point: Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was a ruthless and merciless ruler who had no qualms about assassinating his brothers or imprisoning his father. He is celebrated as a hero.

On the other hand, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s son Dara Shikoh had a pluralistic vision but was put to death by Aurangzeb and his good works are hidden in history.

When today’s world becomes history, I wonder how George W. Bush will be remembered. Muslims have pre-conceived notions about him due to the war in Iraq and the incursion into Afghanistan.

I, too, have been guilty of such thoughts.

However, I had the pleasure of meeting ex-president George Bush (yes Dubya or GW as he is fondly called) at a luncheon where he was given an award by a local foundation.

I realised that when a politician stops being a politician, he or she becomes human. This is what I saw in George Bush – an entirely different person who is warm, compassionate and full of humor.

President Bush was interviewed by Canadian Senator Linda Frum for one hour in which she asked him very pertinent questions. I was so impressed that I had to make notes. Although much of what he said was “quote worthy,” I note here a few points that particularly touched me.

He said, “I will not use the platform of my previous position to criticize my predecessors.” When asked about the current situation in the U.S., he said that more important than the president is the institution, and that there is a need for the U.S. to reject isolationism and tribalism.

He talked about his wife Laura and his daughters, saying that he could not have done his job as a “war-time president” without Laura’s support.

He said that his time as president was a great challenge, and he had to make some very quick and important decisions which he felt were best for his country. “When you’re leading a country you have to have a vision, a strategy and a focused effort to achieve your goal.”

However he added, “The further we get away from 9/11, the further people are getting away from the lessons learned from 9/11.”

He called Iran “the most destabilizing force on the earth” and said he did not agree with the sanctions being lifted. “Nothing changes in Iran unless the regime changes, so we have to continue to put pressure on them.” He added that the decision-makers in Iran have not changed.

When asked about Russia, he said he knew Putin way back when he was a different man. “Putin’s changed due to oil and power, and although he is strategically very smart, he has a chip on his shoulder.”

On Israel, he said that anti-Semitism is dangerous, and it’s the role of the U.S. to reject anti-Semitism at home and abroad. “The Middle East must know that the U.S. is solid in their support of Israel, and they will forge their foreign policies accordingly.”

Bush mentioned NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and said the U.S. has to tweak the treaty and fix it because the U.S., Canada and Mexico can learn to work together. He rejects the notion that NAFTA is bad for the U.S.

President Bush went on to speak about how much he enjoys spending time at his ranch where he mountain bikes with vets who he very much admires and supports. He also plays golf with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

His biggest regret? Going for social security reform instead of immigration reform. He said, “What’s going on is un-American because immigrants renew our spirits and hopes.”

Today at The George W. Bush Institute he dedicates his work to the betterment of humanity. He quoted Darwin, who said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives but the most adaptable.”

At various times he laughed at himself and how people said he couldn’t speak or write properly. “Well then, they should read my book!”

While the man has changed, the only thing that hasn’t changed is that he still says “nuc-you-lear.”

 

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Raheel Raza

Raheel Raza is ​an adviser to Clarion Project. ​She is an award-winning author, journalist and filmmaker on the topics of jihad and sharia. She is president of The Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, and an activist for human rights, gender equality, and diversity.

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