Program Report: The Last Moderate Muslim – Sam Wazan

SamWazanWebFull disclosure: most Rotarians in our club know that I am an American Jew married to a Catholic Palestinian.  My mother-in-law’s father was killed when she was eight by a bomb blast in an Israeli market. No person I know from the Middle East (and of course I know more than most) didn’t carry a story to the US with them of violence,  sorrow, displacement, and a deep-seated desire for peace.

So it is less than ironic that it was my turn to write the minutes for our speaker for the day, Sam Wazan, author of “The Last Moderate Muslim”. It is a shame our announcements gave Mr. Wazan such a short time to speak, because how can one summarize neatly the path for peace in the Middle East, or for that matter anywhere?

I hesitate to even try to condense his story for you here, because these are stories I know personally: I only remind you that in reading the words “slaughter”, “massacre” or “rape” that they are more than letters on your screen; they are the deepest tragedies human beings can bear. And so Mr. Wazan implored that perhaps all he could do was allow us to see the conflicts through the eyes of those who have lived it, and beg an end to our apathy.

Sam sought out to do four things in his short talk: give us a new lens to see the violence through, share the root causes of conflict, how he believes you can achieve peace where there is a culture of religious violence, and to implore us to do things differently because the United States “inadvertently fuels the fire.”  Here he made reference to changes we can make such as boycotting non-profit organizations which are intent on making their enemy, ours. “The camp that I subscribe to is upholding humanity above all differences in pursuit of peace.”

Raised in a Muslim school, Sam recalls his first identifications for himself: that he was a Sunni Muslim, and that Jews and Americans should die. By the age of ten and a half Sam’s life was torn apart by the Lebanese Civil War, so he was exposed to horrible conditions: snipers, religious massacres and constant bombing. For fifteen years there was no power, water or phones. He witnessed Christians murdered, first systematically tortured to cause as much suffering as possible, and this continued back and forth between the two faiths. By 1982 the country was invaded by the Israelis, and now even trying to buy gasoline he had to maneuver past Christians, Israelis and the PLO, his heroes, who shot at his car, stole his gasoline, and stole his faith in them as well.

He remembers the Israeli army allowing the Christian militants to surround the Palestinian camps (here I believe he is referring to the Sabra and Shatila massacres, which Jean Genet wrote about, but I am certain there were more than just these that he means), and the Muslim militants retaliating against the Christians, the leaflets from the Israelis stating that any males 16-60 years of age would be considered enemies of the State of Israel and their “future was undetermined”. So in the end, he believes Peace can only come if it starts free from ancient grudges, because the damage to the people of the region, especially on their psyches and those of their children is so great, that the starting point must be one of respect. Where each side listens to the other with the intention of finding value in what the other has said.

And so Sam Wazan travels and speaks to Jews, Muslims and Christians, imploring that we forget who is right or wrong, and mostly that we are not cavalier about where our money, support or votes go, and to make certain that these things match what is actually happening on the ground in the Middle East, not just rhetoric for the status quo.

I believe all of us who listened to Mr. Wazan’s story wished we could have heard more. Much of what he said was unbearable to hear, but should be heard for the very reasons he states: our lives, our economy, all that globalization depends on peace in these regions. Or we will all suffer the consequences.

Submitted by Deirdre Haj

Editor’s note: Sam Wazan’s novel, The Last Moderate Muslim can be purchased on Amazon. There is a link on this page to his “author page” as well with some biographical info.  The book is available in paperback as well as for the Amazon Kindle. On the Barnes and Noble site, the book is available at this link as a NookBook


  1. Carolyn Aaronson says:

    I can only thank you for a beautiful article and summation to a program that i regretfully did not attend. I spent 6 months in Israel in !979-80. A Jewish New Yorker transplant to Israel, Rachel told me ” you didn’t have a summer camp experience in Israel.” I certainly didn’t. I was raised Jewish, but at the time involved with a spiritual group that embraced ALL the worlds religions. I spent allot of time with Arab-Isrealli’s non-Jews that were both Christian and Muslims while in Israel.
    I had grown up in a very Zionist environment. My grandfather had gone to Israel many times had met the famous leaders of the “new state”. I expected to love Israel too, but I came home unable to even talk about the experience for many years. Still i list my trip to Israel as one of the three top regrets in my life.
    At that time i witnessed very tolerant Arabs whose families had lived there for centuries only wanting to live in peace with the Jews. I was there just before the Sini was turned over to Egypt in an agreement with Anwar Sadat and there were hopes for peace.
    Since my trip i have never been able to understand the intolerance that exists in that country, except when i look at my own intolerance of certain political and religious groups here in America, and i see my own hate at times of those with opposing views.
    I often feel like a very bad Rotarian. I do feel that Rotary is the example to the world of tolerance and i only hope that more of that rubs off on me.
    Thank you for your wisdom and honesty, Deirdre…….and all of you in Rotary that work to make this a more peaceful world.
    Carolyn Aaronson


  1. […] for the Bulletin and the website. One of her most memorable write-ups was of the presentation by Sam Wazan about his book The Last Moderate Muslim.  Deirdre also took the load from our beloved Lois Cranford organizing […]

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