The Common Ground News Service, January 18, 2005
The Common Ground News Service, January 4, 2005
January 18, 2005
The Common Ground News Service - Partners in Humanity, brought to you
by Search for Common Ground, seeks to build bridges of understanding
between the West and the Arab World and countries with predominately
Please note: The views expressed in the articles and in CGNews-PiH are
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UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED, ALL ARTICLES ARE AVAILABLE FOR RE-PUBLICATION.
Title: Our differences simply do not matter
Author: M. Ali
Publication: The Jakarta Post
Date: January 9, 2005
"The destruction and death that came with the
tsunami was not discriminatory." In light of recent events, Ali
discusses what it means to be human and advocates preserving and
appreciating our common diversity.
Title: Cure for US-Arab tensions: more student visas
Author: John Hughes
Publication: Christian Science Monitor
Date: January 12, 2005
In this article, Hughes considers how his Arab friends have made
significant contributions in his life and the lives of his family. As
such, he is concerned by recent cut-backs in student visas for students
in Arab countries, denying individuals in both parts of the world the
opportunity to grow through better understanding and interaction.
Title: Is the World Moving Apart or Coming Together?
Author: Hazem Saghiyeh
Publication: ~ Common Ground Commissioned Article ~
Date: November 12, 2004
The seventh in a series of articles commissioned by Search for Common
Ground in partnership with Al Hayat, Saghiyeh considers the
current "War on Terror" in light of other historical movements.
Global Issues A New Look
November 20, 2004
Mohajir, an American high school student who spent two years in Saudi
Arabia, addresses U.S. perceptions of life in the Saudi Kingdom.
I remember the first time I returned to Houston, after spending the
last two years in Saudi Arabia. I was visiting with a few of my
friends, discussing with them what almost every seventeen-year-old-boy
normally talks about: cars, sports, and, well, I'll let you figure out
that last one. Then, one of my friends spotted the movie Lawrence of
Arabia in the DVD rack. He looked at me and stated, "boy, it must
suck to live in Saudi Arabia; I mean, with all those terrorists walking
around and everything, you must feel really unsafe." Startled by the
comment, I choked on my Pepsi. "Excuse me?" I said. Right then, one of
my other comrades felt it the opportune time to direct another
statement before I could rebut the first one. "Yeah, man, it must
really stink, having all those terrorists around while living in a tent
in the middle of a desert, without air conditioning." My insides
squirmed at my friend's remark. I wondered how anyone could be so
ignorant. Is this the image Americans get when they think of the Middle
East? Well, why wouldn't they, with all the hype going around through
the mass media about terrorist this, terrorist that, Al Qaeda, and
Osama Bin Laden in his cave? No wonder Americans have this image. The
Middle East through the American media has always been perceived as an
enormous, hot desert with primitive technology: a land where women
have no rights, where it is unsafe, even dangerous, and where terrorist
activities are always in the process of being planned. Many Americans
consider our country to be the best and that no other country can
compare to it. We trust that we have a reliable, objective media which
provides us with accurate information, but the reality is that Middle
Eastern countries are nothing like our media's portrayal of them. After
spending fifteen years of my life in the United States, my parents
received a phone call from Saudi Arabia with a job offer. My parents
jumped at the opportunity, and the next thing I knew, my bags were
packed and I was flying across the globe to a strange country I
knew nothing about, except for what I had seen on TV. I'll be honest, I
thought I was moving to a big desert wasteland until we landed and
arrived at my house (yes, my house, not my tent). My jaw dropped. It
had air conditioning and everything a typical modern American house
has. My compound, Aramco, was like a miniature USA. It had everything,
from rich, green grass, to beautiful schools, to golden hardwood
basketball courts. Of course, in Saudi Arabia there is going to be a
lot of desert, but nowhere else in the world can you find sand dunes as
big to go four wheeling on, and, just for the record, I haven't seen
any terrorists roaming the streets. I'm not saying the Middle East
doesn't have any terrorists, don't get me wrong, but it's not at all
what the media has portrayed it to be. I actually find it a safer place
to live than America. What's the justification behind my reasoning?
Well, first of all, the laws are really harsh for stealing, so if
someone robs a bank then they can pretty much say goodbye to their
hands; or, if you murder someone, then you say goodbye to your
People here fear the law, therefore, the crime rate almost hits rock
bottom. In this part of the world, Americans are considered know-
nothing twits; they are portrayed as ignorant, not knowing anything
about the rest of the world, and, when something explodes or goes
wrong, blaming other countries and wondering why it happened. But, in
my opinion, you can't blame us: most Americans are too busy with their
own lives to care, and when they go home and switch on the news, they
see the faces of Arab terrorists, and get frightened by them, but they
do not understand bvthem. The media portrays Arabs as terrorists,
making them look like
evildoers, not showing the entire story. Americans tend to believe that
most Arabs are terrorists, which causes friction between Arab children
and other kids in schools, and harassment in airports for those of
Middle Eastern origin. We, as Americans, need to start wondering why
things happen, and how to improve things before they happen. I have
only lived in Saudi Arabia for three years now, and the things I have
encountered have changed my life dramatically. My political views and
the way I look at the world have changed incredibly. I consider my
moving to Saudi Arabia as a gift from God, because living here has let
me experience the world from a whole different perspective. I can name
fifty different countries on a map without even looking at it, and tell
you where they are. I get to try a variety of Arab cuisines, and if I
get tired of that, I'll go to my local McDonald's. Yes!! We also have a
McDonald's, along with numerous other American fast food chains. It has
given me the chance to engage with other cultures and strengthen my
knowledge of other countries. All this and a bag of chips, and just in
case anyone is still wondering: no, I don't ride a camel to school.
**This article was written for Common Ground News - Partners in
Humanity and is available to reprint.
Our differences simply do not matter
Sometimes, sadly, it takes terrible tragedies, great losses or awful
pain for us to stop in our often hectic lives and think about our place
in the world and the way we are headed. We are so busy with our daily
routines that we rarely stop to consider the gift of life and our great
The tsunami that hit Asia on Dec. 26 is one of those huge incidents
that force us to consider what we can and must do; and the emphasis
here is very definitely on that little but so very important word "we".
We have a collective responsibility, and that sense of obligation
should influence and guide us all. For too long we have been focused on
the things that make us different and we have, regrettably, allowed
them to divide us. On days such as Dec. 26, 2004, differences simply do
Vaclav Havel said in his book The Art of the Impossible, "Only people
with a sense of responsibility for the world and to the world are truly
responsible to and for themselves." In effect then by helping others we
help ourselves and this help is not based on any conditions -- we must
help all of our fellow human beings.
However, there are people who will still prefer to see our differences
as divisive. They would prefer not to associate with or be responsible
for people of different races, religions, ideologies or even nations.
But this is nonsense. The destruction and death that came with the
tsunami was not discriminatory. It swept away all regardless of human
Nature does not pick and choose who it will strike. Human life has no
categorization before nature; natural disasters, famine, disease and
poverty can strike us all. And yet we have the power to do so much to
limit the damage done by nature.
Much discussion in our modern world revolves around the concept of
globalization and whether it is a force for good or evil. Like so much
in human affairs it depends on what we humans make of it; how we choose
to use it.
Again the tragedy of Dec. 26 highlights this. The disaster happened and
the global community came together to offer aid and assistance. Because
of our globalized world the victims of nature will not be left alone to
suffer the continuing vagaries and randomness of nature. Help comes to
them from all around the world.
Certainly there will be those who say that the global community could
do more and could have done more before the disaster struck, but no
small amount of hindsight would be at work in such thinking.
Surely what can and should emerge from globalization is a dignified
appreciation of our diverse world and strategies for how we may be able
to serve and protect it. Globalization does not have to spread distrust
and prejudice only, but can help to achieve trust and justice for all.
We live in a world that is full of diversity -- from biological to
philosophical we have a great gift of diversity that should be valued
and kept safe. In our biological/physical world diversity is plainly
there before us to see and appreciate. Most people would see the need
to preserve biological diversity as it is priori needed.
But human diversity is also needed in all its forms. Diverse thoughts,
systems of belief and races are all highly valuable. They are all part
of the miracle of humanity and any loss should and must be painful.
Diversity is in a real sense God's gift to us. God created difference
and as we encounter difference we effectively encounter God. God may be
seen in the face of a stranger who we encounter and maybe help.
The very soul and beating heart of humanity is instilled in the blessed
differences we have. It is our differences that make us human beings
and it is our ability to learn about and respond to these differences
that can and should make us humane; allowing us to achieve a humane
society and a humane global community.
Each human life has an ultimate dignity regardless of the differences
that may be encountered in the affairs of humanity. Globalization
offers us both threats and opportunities, but the humane appreciation
and appreciation of difference can lead globalization toward positive
Globalization can be the method via which we promote the cause of
universal justice and human rights, and this includes the right to
dignity in life even when disaster strikes.
Sometimes we are united with the challenges of survival. Dec. 26 laid
such a challenge before so many thousands of people of Indonesia and
many other countries. But no matter what country people are in or from,
they all (we all) deserve the right to dignity.
The response to Dec. 26 shows us how we can come together. Perhaps it
is tragic that such an awful event has to happen to bring us together
but we can and must learn from it.
**M. Ali is a senior researcher at the Cunningham Research Center in
Source: The Jakarta Post
Visit the website at: www.thejakartapost.com
Cure for US-Arab tensions: more student visas
SALT LAKE CITY - In my holiday mail, I got a Christmas card from one of
my former journalism students. It carried a photo of her gorgeous
children, the proud product of an American mother and an Arab father.
The parents weren't in the picture and I wondered whether it was
because the Dad, an American citizen, had served in his country's
military in a noble but sometimes discreet role that made it
inadvisable to publicize his face.
It set me to thinking about the ways my life, and our society, have
been enriched by other friends of Arab descent.
As I write, for instance, my 13-year-old son is shooting basketballs
with one of his closest friends, whose family happens to be from
Kuwait. Sometimes when we take the two of them on long trips, we need
to stop at certain times so my son's friend can get out his prayer rug
and kneel in the direction of Mecca. The father in this family was a
general in the Kuwaiti Air Force during the Gulf War. The mother and
children survived Iraqi occupation. Now they live in America, moving
easily between Arab and American cultures. An older son was quarterback
in his American high school. Older daughters are scholarship students,
attired in American dress, but scrupulously observing Islamic codes.
Another good friend was the director of communications for Sudan before
an oppressive government forced his departure. He is now a professor at
a prestigious American university. He has written sensitively about
Islam and its relationship to democracy, and about misunderstandings
between Islam and the West. He talks with wry humor about the old days
in Khartoum, when the rare visiting Western reporter, sometimes ill-
informed and on a quick in-and-out visit, would seek him out because it
was "take a Muslim to lunch" day.
Another academic friend of Egyptian origin and international stature
runs a Middle East study center that attracts prominent guest lecturers
from around the world to his American campus.
Such friends as these, who in their different ways are making
significant contributions to better understanding between Americans and
the Arab and Islamic world, are not always in agreement with every
aspect of American policy. But discourse with them is healthy and
civil. Their exposure to American culture, and American exposure to
theirs, is mutually beneficial.
We need much more of this. One problem inhibiting it is the US security
crackdown on visas, particularly for the thousands of international
students who have traditionally and eagerly enrolled at US
universities. The overall number of such students is down 2.4 percent
this year, with graduate students down 6 percent. In part, there is a
perception that America is less hospitable than before 9/11, but there
are horror stories of bureaucratic delays in processing visas, and even
the granting of reentry visas to students who have studied in the US
American families are generous and kindly to international visitors and
hundreds of thousands of them return to their countries with positive
memories of American lifestyles, ideas, and principles. As Secretary of
State Colin Powell once said: "I can think of no more valuable asset to
our country than the friendship of future world leaders who have been
educated here." Half the Jordanian cabinet, for example, was educated
in the US.
More vigilant screening since 9/11 of potential terrorists is desirable
and understandable. But as Harvard professor Joseph Nye wrote in The
New York Times, it would be tragic if "in an effort to exclude a
dangerous few, we are keeping out the helpful many."
In the past, a key part of US public diplomacy was the encouragement of
thousands of journalists, artists, budding politicians, teachers, and
opinion leaders to visit America for varying periods of time, to
observe it and its people firsthand. Students, especially if they
pursue graduate studies, spend five or six or more years living in
American communities and rarely return to their homelands unchanged by
In the hidden training camps of Al Qaeda, and the angry madrassahs of
the extremist Islamic world, potential new terrorists are being given a
distorted and hate-filled picture of America and what it stands for.
That needs to be offset by the real picture. It is best communicated by
people-to-people contacts between human beings who have a real desire
to understand and appreciate each other. And we can build more enduring
relationships than "take a Muslim to lunch" day.
* John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is editor and chief
operating officer of the Deseret Morning News.
Source: Christian Science Monitor
Distributed by the Common Ground News Service - Partners in Humanity.
To request copyright permission please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is the World Moving Apart or Coming Together?
Two projects aimed at viewing the world as a unified entity appeared in
the twentieth century. American President Woodrow Wilson represented
one, by dragging the United States into the very heart of the world with
his obsession for a universe governed by all-inclusive laws and values.
The Russian leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin represented the other. He
strived toward one universality, through an international revolution led
by the proletariat that would end capitalism and imperialism.
A century later, the mission continues to be arduous. The American
project has encountered major setbacks, the most important of which may
have been the Cold War. It assumed its most vicious form in Indochina,
but no continent was safe from its repercussions. It left its impact on
the heart of America, as indicated by the emergence of McCarthyism and
the "military-industrial complex," and later, by the capture of the
Republican Party by the radical right, represented in the eighties by
The Soviet project, before its demise, gave birth to Stalinism and a
number of vicious totalitarian regimes, causing sufferings that could
fill volumes. Marxism lost its unified impetus and became widely used to
provide the ideological justification for anti-American traditionalists
and religious elements.
When the Cold War ended, the need for a facade for modernity, which
claims it builds nations, liberalization and development, crumbled, and
the only players left were religion and ethnicity. The responsibility of
the "super powers" was colossal, but the "third world" did not respond
effectively to the challenges arriving from the West, either. It is not
sufficient to say that colonialism bears responsibility, despite the
partial truth in such an evaluation; communist parties, though they were
very active in opposing imperialism, never made any popular progress
worth mentioning in the third world. Those communist parties who
achieved influence and assumed authority used nationalism and the
rhetoric of the peasantry as a tool to gain power, with no real
connections to western Marxism. The same is true regarding regimes that
supported the West during the Cold War: their
support was restricted to political and strategic dimensions, without
being attracted by the western way of life, the culture of
enlightenment or the true meaning of liberalism (and the West, in its
concentration on the Cold War, did not give much attention to this side
of the matter, either). "Non-European" societies did not produce any
worthwhile methods for adopting liberalism in politics and culture.
Dictatorial and totalitarian regimes succeeded, through the
confiscation of their societies and the atomisation of their groups and
individuals, in drying up social vigor.
Despite all this, some progress was made. Parties throughout the world
began to accept some international and comprehensive legal standards,
and modernist elites formed in all regions. Fascism, at least in its
Hitlerite version, became no longer an option in the West or anywhere
else. Meanwhile, Russia and Eastern and Central Europe veered towards
some shade of democracy.
But economic and cultural transformations are not, by themselves,
sufficient to empower modern elites, particularly in some third world
countries, where they continue to survive as enclaves, surrounded by an
ocean opposing modernity. These groups need much courage to proclaim
their identity and prepare to confront primordial and backward values
and relations that oppose enlightenment. For this, it is essential that
they attain encouragement from the West, which should do its part
through fairer economic policies, and by helping to sort out complicated
regional problems, especially the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yet there is
serious doubt as to whether the West will undertake this challenge. The
war on terrorism has started to obliterate almost everything else, and
grow at the expense of attention to issues of poverty, the environment,
development, disease, education and nations' independence and freedom.
The war between Russia and Chechnya is a recent strong example.
Add to this the growth of the more religious and reactionary elements in
the US, and the fact that the war on terrorism has weakened some
democratic rights, and you have a dangerous, self-propelled dynamic. In
addition to its devastating human and economic effects, what is
happening in Iraq and Palestine contributes to enlarging the gap and
intensifying the fever of animosity towards the US. There is also a real
danger that few recognize: the lessening of sensitivity regarding racism
and anti-Semitism. Some now oppose racism alone, and ignore
anti-Semitism, while others oppose anti-Semitism and ignore all other
forms of racism.
The third world and in particular the Arab world is forced to face to
the new realities brought on by the 9/11 tragedy, in addition to the
challenges of modernity in general. In some cases, this is causing
people to dig-in behind the barricades of ethnic or religious
identities. The loudest voice today is that of unity among brothers in
faith and ideology; it is loud enough to decrease the numbers of those
willing to condemn terrorism and suicide operations, if not actually
enlarge the circle of supporters. The space for tolerance becomes ever
more thin, and groups previously secular and leftist join ethnic and
religious forces, justifying their actions as "acts of opposition to
The Lebanon case is an example of retreat. That country, which was, at
the outset of the final chapter of the Cold War, a middle ground between
progress and underdevelopment, today is annexed by Syrian military
policy at the expense of its democratic evolution. After that country
produced both a parliament and the largest middle class in the region,
and nurtured a number of unionist, partisan and media freedoms, its
foremost function now is to produce "martyrs" and literature for
martyrdom and resistance.
Wars are factories of morbid thoughts, where "destinies" prosper as the
most wanted commodities. As soon as World War One ended, the ideas of
Spingler and the histories of Toynbee shone brightly. And as the Second
World War came to a close, the anthropology of Levi-Straus and the
existentialism of Sartre reigned supreme. The question today is whether
the ideas of the "neo-conservatives" and the ethnic and religious
fundamentalisms, old and new, are the offspring of the Cold War, or
whether the issue is more complicated and intricate.
What causes concern is that the distance separating ideas and policies
this time seems shorter than it was before. And if this is one of the
aftereffects of globalization and democratization, then the distance
between policies and prevailing death is, in itself, shorter than what
it was before.
Should we, then, be optimistic about the future of peoples coming
together because ideas and concepts have become more influential while
ideas are cosmic by definition, or should we be pessimistic for the
same reason, because local identities have captured the process of idea
Source: This article is part of a series of views, commissioned by
Search for Common Ground, that address the relationship between the
Islamic/Arabic world and the West. They are published in partnership
with the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and are available for
The Common Ground News Service - Partners in Humanity, brought to you
by Search for Common Ground, seeks to build bridges of understanding
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