Friday, March 11, 2011

U.S. & the Muslim World Lecture

Dr. Esposito’s lecture was somewhat scattered, but very informative. He asked very early on, “is democracy compatible with Islam? Why don’t we ask Muslims?” According to Gallup polls, vast majorities of people DO want freedoms in the Middle East. “Why, then, don’t they have them?” begged Esposito.

One problem we have with the media portrayal of Islam is our newsgathering process. American reporters often go to “experts” for their sources. The only problem is experts can have very good credentials, but have diametrically opposed viewpoints and advice. Another issue is that both experts and the media go over to talk to the elites of a country, not the common person or the opposition. To further the problem, oftentimes reporters ask those same elites what their opposition is like.

Another key issue that the U.S. is up against is this idea that they are hated abroad. The truth is, however, that most people have problems with American foreign policies, not America as a country. While most people in Middle East respect Americans’ work ethic, economy, etc., they feel there’s a double standard. In essence, many Muslims feel that Americans don’t walk the walk when they at the same time criticize and financially support certain authoritarian regimes.

Deeper even than that, is the perception that Americans view their casualties and sacrifices as more important than foreign casualties. Obama acknowledged what we already knew from Gallup data, which is that Muslims and Arabs don’t see their blood as being as highly valued as others’. Statistics about our own injuries and casualties are kept very well, but not on the other side.

Esposito ended by offering solutions for several key questions.

First, “What could have/should have been done?” He contended that there should be more promotion of technology and education instead of military equipment. Another key argument he made is that engaging in dialogue with direct opponents during future conflicts is vital to our success.

He then asked, “How should these things play out in the future? How do we respond and move forward?” He emphasized that we should embrace the things we have in common with people in the Middle East. The very things we respect and take pride in (technology and economic development) are also valued by the Middle East. Most Muslims and Arabs are afraid of the same things we are – war and radical terrorism. Likewise, they favor the same things – mutual cultural education and respect.

His final thoughts were that we must be willing to lay aside our pre-conceived notion of the perfect democracy. We need to create democracy not just as we see it appropriate, but instead how it can be shaped to best fit their needs. To do so, a few things need to be done. We must learn to accept the transition of the Middle East, to see the region differently, stay informed, and vote for politicians that don’t make knee-jerk reactions for the sake of short-term payoffs.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

US and the Muslim World

I found the lecture by Dr. John Esposito on US in the Muslim World extremely thought-provoking. He made excellent points on prejudices held by Americans about the Muslim community, and certainly backed up his argument with valid examples.

After 9/11, Americans distrust of Islamic people greatly increased. Though validated in their anger, Americans blaming an entire religion for the extremist attacks, would be equivalent to Muslims accusing all Conservative Christians of being abortion clinic bombers, according to Esposito. Furthermore, Americans have often taken issue with the culture of the Middle East people, rather than their controlling government. We have looked at cultural norms rather than foreign policy and claimed that as factors of the corruption in the Middle East. As Dr. Esposito pointed out, the reality is that the government in the Middle East is corrupted and controlled within, and the people are no more pleased with it than westerners are. This system is the way that Mubarak of Isreal and Ben Ali of Tunisia come to power.

Furthermore, according the Esposito, the majority of Middle Easterners respect America, and western culture, they just see us as having a double standard on government. I realized that from their point of view, we give money to the economic policies that support their government’s corruption as it is, while promoting self determination and democratic values in our own country.

In short, Esposito’s recommendation was that voters stay informed on issues so that when voting for America’s leaders, they will put people in power who are familiar with Middle Eastern politics. This struck a chord with me, because previously I had honestly never thought to consider candidates who was interested in needs that may not include those different than me.

In a final word, he recommended we as Americans develop a new framework for how we view Islam, and to begin to understand its core beliefs.

Just in listening to Dr. Esposito my perspective on the Muslim world was changed. I realized how uninformed I am about a group of millions of people, and was called out on my ignorance. Instead of looking at them as Islams who are people, I need to first view them as people who happen to be of faith different than my own. No one deserves to be stereotyped and one small minority of them does not represent the whole.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me

The lecture given by Dr. John Esposito was incredible. I guess I haven’t been to many lectures as this was my second but the first one that I actually paid attention to. For starters, I am going to make a comment that I have to get off my chest. Dr. John Esposito seemed to be a tanner version of Michael Douglas. The voice and the mannerism seemed exactly the same. Ok, now onto more important things, the lecture.

Dr. John Esposito made this point very clear, Muslims are humans. They are people. They are people who want and deserve the same rights that we as American’s have. They want freedom, respect, democracy and equal rights in their countries. All in all they desire freedom which is life, especially for countries that have had dictators reigning for over 30 years. Through the peaceful prodemocracy movements, Muslims are claiming, “We want respect for Islam and respect for Muslims.” Dr. Esposito made reference to the Danish Cartoons and Fox News, as different ways through the media that Muslims and Islam are not being respected.

Another common misconception by Americans is that Muslims are anti-American. Dr. Esposito is the Senior Scientists for the Gallop polls and in 2007 Americans and Muslims (In the Middle East) were asked, “What are things that you admire about America?” They both had the same responses; freedom, democracy, etc. When Americans were asked, “What are things that you admire about Islam?” 54% of Americans said either, “I don’t know or nothing.” I will admit that I have been or are in that 54%. Not that I don’t admire anything about Islam I just don’t know anything about it. The media demonstrates that Islam and Muslims are “the outsider/the unknown” which portrays them a threat. So honestly I don’t know much about Islam, besides that it is the fastest growing religion in the world, which scares me because it is not my own.

The little part about respect which I shared was only a small part of the lecture. I do in fact feel that it was an important theme that was demonstrated throughout. I mean, really, isn’t respect the common thread that connects us as humans?

Dr. John Esposito Lecture

Dr. John Esposito was a very credible speaker that shed a great amount of light on the American-Muslim culture and how media, journalists, and our government has shaped our view of this specific group of people.

The lecture opened with Dr. Esposito addressing the Obama administration’s efforts to create a new approach to American relations with the Muslim world. He also discussed the promotion of democracy in Iraq, also known as the Pro-Democracy Movement. His view is that American people feel threatened by countries without a democracy and threatened by those that are a democratic people. For example, North Korea is a democracy and has made known that they have nuclear weapons, so American government does not touch them or title them as an ally. Iraq and other North African countries that do not have a democracy are the ones that America has sent troops into.

American Muslims, and the Muslim community, need to be seen as allies. So much of their faith promotes them as a non-violence seeking people. Americans gain from the media that Muslims are all related to terrorist threats when in reality, that is not the case at all. The front cover of Time Magazine titled, “Islamophobia” is a great example of how the media effects Americans perspectives of Muslims. Dr. Esposito reminded the audience about how most of the time, when a researcher, journalist, or publisher goes into another country to find what a population thinks about a specific topic, they seek out the majority leaders (government, educators, elites, etc.). Muslims, speaking from the minority perspective, believe in freedom, technological advancement, and rights to vote, be educated and work for women, the same values that American’s believe so much in.

It is important that Americans “engage in dialogue with mainstream opposition” as well as choose to “lead with diplomacy, rather than the military.” These two statements from Dr. Esposito greatly sum up his lecture as well as his belief of the future for American democracy.

U.S. And Muslim World: Where Do We Go From Here?

John L. Esposito was a great speaker, he really kept the audiences attention. He covered many topics but I was specifically interested in the young man he knew that was a a well-known blogger and an active speaker outside of his country, until he couldn't leave the country due to his blogging something something about his government that was not received well. He, the blogger, noted that the only president they knew was Barak. He knows the limit of free speech and the reprocussions that follow.

A Palestinian that Mr. Eposito knew had a, "message with no verbal". It was a picture of the American presidents dating all the way back to Reagan. Next to it was the same concept, but of Egyptian presidents. Dating all the way back to..well they were all Barack! This government was all that had ever been known for many Egyptians. Egyptians government is so different to the American democracy. Not to sound cliche, but it puts into light how lucky we are. While we have all of these, "problems", with how our government is being run, is there a way to continue to better our great country and to portray to all Americans how fortunate we are?