We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
By Virginia Cady
Communications and Social Media Intern
This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to attend the Brookings Institution event “How Arab Public Opinion Is Reshaping the Middle East”. The event focused on Brookings non-resident senior fellow Shibley Telhami’s latest book The World Through Arab Eyes: Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East. BBC News State Department Correspondent Kim Ghattas spoke with Telhami about key points he makes in his book, and Martin Indyk, Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy at Brookings, gave an introduction and comments throughout the discussion.
Although his book explores several aspects of “Arab Public Opinion”, Telhami focused on that of identity and it’s connection to dignity. Telhami said that Arab identity and dignity are key factors behind Arab public opinion on foreign policy issues. He noted that the reason Arab public opinion is often critical of the foreign policy stances the West takes is because the Arab public feels these positions undermine their sense of dignity and respect. He also cited the diminishment of identification with the state, and an increase in identification with being “Arab” or “Muslim”. As Telhami noted, this leads to the conclusion that the majority of people in the Arab world identify mainly with people outside of their state. This can be seen if one looks at the nature of the protests in the Arab Spring, citizens of countries across the Arab World identified with each other and the struggles that individuals in different countries were going through. As Telhami said identity effects the media, government and foreign policy, which is why it is so crucial to the future of the Middle East.
Ghattas noted that in this situation, context matters. She further went on to highlight the need to move past the “them vs. us” attitude that is so prevalent within discussions about relations with the Arab World these days. Ghattas agreed with Telhami that dignity is a key part of the identity component of Arab public opinion, and went on to stress that the reason it is so crucial is because dignity is a universal desire, one which we can all agree upon. However, she also emphasized that the attitudes and perception of the world that we hold are firmly established in our minds, and don’t change particularly quickly.
Telhami also focused on the role of the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict in terms of Arab identity and concepts of dignity. He said because Arabs connect the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict with their perceptions of the rest of the world, they view their current relationships with the West in the same ways they view the conflict: humiliating, never-ending, and with no control over it. These three factors lead to what Telhami identifies as the biggest barrier against a resolution of the conflict: a loss of hope and belief in a solution.
Both Ghattas and Telhami (in his book as well as at the event) stressed the need for understanding in order to move past these issues. This is where organizations such as America’s Unofficial Ambassadors come in. Now, more than ever before, it is crucial to forge cross-cultural collaboration and to educate yourself about different peoples and cultures in the Arab World.