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.

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