I was watching Senator Jim Webb (D-Virginia) last night on the news say that our country’s intense focus on the Middle East has caused us to neglect other areas of the world. Webb had Southeast Asia in mind, and noted that this is a very important region to us economically. Of course, Webb is right, but I would argue that our Mesopotamian myopia has had some other interesting side effects, beyond intensifying the glaring hatreds and competition between the jihadists of all sides – theirs and our own.
If you look closely, some voices of reason are starting to make themselves more widely known. They’re having the effect of teaching the West something about this mysterious, complex, and misunderstood area, and some things about ourselves. Sara Robinson over at Orcinus recently posted Why People Hate America?, which was triggered by this recent Pew poll, and was largely based on the writings of Ziauddin Sardar, who is…
…an orthodox British Muslim of Pakistani parentage…one of the UK’s more visible public intellectuals. In recent years, Sardar has made a career out of explaining the Muslim world to the Brits, mediating and translating between the Western and Near Eastern cultures on the pages of the Observer and The New Statesman and frequently on BBC news shows as well. (It’s interesing that nowhere in the US media do we have a similarly trusted Muslim media figure who can help us bridge the most important cultural chasm of our times. Wonder why that is?) A iconoclastic outsider, Sardar is unsparing in his critiques of both cultures, issuing insights, warnings, and alternatives on either side that have made him indispensable to a European audience that increasingly sees itself caught in the middle.
I encourage you to read her whole post (as well as the comments). We have had the invaluable Juan Cole for some time now, and it’s good that others are gaining a wider audience, even if this is at times, only through blog writings such as Sara’s.
In a doctor’s office on Monday, I came across an aging issue of Time Magazine, which featured Queen Rania of Jordan. In typical, brief, upbeat, and to the point Time Magazine style, the Queen was asked Ten Questions, and I found some of her answers to be freshing and hopeful:
Q: Do you think that women will ever truly have equal rights in the Middle East?
A: Absolutely, I believe they will. I think that mind-sets are changing in the Middle East. Poll after poll is showing that men see the value of greater female participation and empowerment. We still have a long way to go, but Islam should not be used as a scapegoat. The obstacles that face women today are more cultural. It’s not about the religion.
Q: Will the Arab world ever be free of the kind of mindless violence occurring in Iraq?
A: The Middle East is not just about Iraq. The Middle East has both challenges and opportunities. Many countries in our region are experiencing a massive economic boom. It’s a very youthful region, and the young by nature are hopeful, optimistic and innovative. The world shouldn’t overlook our successes and achievements.
Q: What is the biggest negative about the U.S. invasion of Iraq?
A: The civilian suffering. This conflict has spared no one. It’s incredibly sad to see such a proud and great country broken.
Q: What’s the solution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
A: First, start with will on both sides–not just the political kind but the kind that comes from the conscience and the heart. To achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East takes guts, not guns.
I was so impressed with these answers, but of course it’s difficult to know how widely held they are, and how much influence people like the Queen have in this region. Her outspokenness and quiet wisdom is emblematic of the rise of the feminine, worldwide, over the last century or so. Our country is part of this, beginning with the suffragettes earlier in this century, followed by the energizing of the feminist movement in the 60s and 70s, and culminating recently in the election of women to high office, such as Nancy Pelosi, and, in the future, possibly our first female president in 2008. I hope to write more about this shortly, and I hope I can do it justice.