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Scott Harris: Lincoln, Churchill — Who’s Next?

Incremental change has not improved the Middle East and African crises, and it's clear that we need a man or woman with the vision and courage to make real changes.

In recent centuries, a small handful of remarkable men successfully stood against the tide of public opinion, against conventional wisdom, against naysayers and appeasers. They had visions of greatness — not for themselves, but for the world.

Scott Harris

Abraham Lincoln stood against the united South and the majority of northerners in fighting, literally and figuratively, to end slavery and keep the union together. His vision and his courage led not only to the end of slavery in the United States, but were the last serious internal challenge to the union.

In the early 1930s, one voice stood alone against Adolf Hitler.

Long before he was prime minister and long before Neville Chamberlain (still the poster boy for appeasement) capitulated to Hitler to buy a temporary reprieve against the inevitable, Churchill articulated the danger of Hitler and Germany, not only to Great Britain but the world.

Only when events proved him tragically correct, Churchill was elected prime minster, his courage and leadership keeping the Germans at bay until the United States finally entered the war and turned the battle.

Today’s world faces two crises that are as dire as those faced by Lincoln and Churchill.

The first is the Middle East crisis. The volatile combination of Israel, oil and Muslim terrorism, combined with tremendous wealth, religious fanaticism and weapons of mass destruction have taken a
previously regional problem and elevated it to a world crisis.

United States, Russian, United Nations and Western European efforts to defuse the region have all failed. With the growing influence of Muslims worldwide, the increased hatred of the United States, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, nuclear threats from Iran, the never-ending struggle for the existence of Israel and the increasing cost and decreasing supply of oil, we cannot continue to simply hope that the problems of the Middle East will go away.

The other crisis is Africa. Nearly 1 billion people live in the world’s most underdeveloped continent, more than one-third of them on less than a dollar per day. Unspeakable poverty, diseases (especially HIV), slavery, civil war, corruption and tribal conflicts combine to keep the birthplace of mankind in perpetual infancy.

The United Nations 2003 Human Development Report showed that most of the world’s bottom 25 nations are in Africa. If not already, virtually all of Africa soon will be desperate, and desperate people have very little to lose and much to gain. The world ignores the plight of 1 billion people at its own peril.

Incremental change has not improved or reversed either the Middle East and African crises, and it is clear that we need a man — or woman — with the vision and courage to make the real changes. It is my belief that that person must come from within the region, a Muslim in the Middle East and a black in Africa. In recent decades, we have had two men who risked everything and stepped to the forefront in a courageous effort to change the course of history.

Anwar Sadat was the third president of Egypt and launched the 1973 Yom Kippur War against Israel. Yet, only four years later, he was the first Arab leader to officially visit Israel, spoke at the Knesset and in 1979, against tremendous pressure from within Egypt and from every Arab country, signed the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty. Although the treaty steadily gained support within Egypt, the country was eventually expelled from the Arab League. In 1981, Sadat was assassinated.

In 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected as the first black president of South Africa. Mandela — who, like Sadat, won a Nobel Peace Prize — spent a lifetime fighting apartheid (both Gandhi-inspired nonviolent and armed guerrilla activities) and attempting to bring South Africa into the 21st century. Although he retired recently (he just celebrated his 90th birthday), he continues to speak out.

While the courageous Sadat and Mandela were successful in making change and progress, they came up short in transforming a region and a world. Somewhere inside the Middle East and on the African continent is a young man or woman who will one day join the highest order of historic change agents — Lincoln, Gandhi and Churchill.

Until then, while more than 1 billion Muslims and close to 1 billion Africans struggle, the rest of the world must do more than wonder and pray. Our job in the United States and throughout the rest of the world is to foster an environment that encourages this person to step forward, supports them when they do and ensures every opportunity for transformation.

Scott Harris is a political commentator. Read his columns and contact him through his Web site,, or e-mail him at [email protected]


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