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Middle East expert offers prescription for peace

Rami Khouri: “We need to end this division between the values that the U.S. practices at home and the values that it preaches but does not practice universally around the world.”
4:25 p.m., Feb. 25, 2005--Conflicts in the Middle East can only be solved through sophisticated analysis, consideration of historical, social and cultural factors, international consensus and less aggressive tactics by the U.S., Rami Khouri, executive editor of the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper, said at UD on Wednesday, Feb. 23.

Khouri, a Palestinian-Jordanian and U.S. citizen, was the first speaker in UD’s “Prescription for the President: Policy Medicine for Global Challenges,” a series of Global Agenda lectures, which is free and open to the public, being held 7:30 p.m., every other Wednesday, in Mitchell Hall, until May 18.

“The relationship between the U.S. and the Arab world, particularly since 9/11, and partly because of 9/11, has been very worrying, very violent, very problematic, and I suspect it’s going to get worse before it gets any better,” Khouri, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science and mass communications, respectively, from Syracuse University in New York, said in a lecture titled “Making Sense of the Middle East.”

“The consequences are serious, and it demands a higher level of honesty and critical and accurate assessment and analysis,” he said. “What we need to understand is that while the world changed for the U.S. on 9/11, a lot of the problems that we are dealing with today predate 9/11.”

Khouri, whose family resides in Beirut and Amman, Jordan, and Nazareth, in the West Bank, said the complex issues in the Middle East are rooted in poverty, failure to meet basic human needs, border disputes and civil conflict, unclear definition of the rights and responsibility of citizens and governments, fragmented tribal, religious and ethnic identities, and conflicts with non-Arab states and other entities, including the presence of foreign troops in the region.

"There is a...lack of understanding, of the total picture in the Arab world," Khouri said. "These five crises are profound crises that have plagued the Arab world for the last two generations."

Khouri said decades of strife, discontent and frustration with the role of foreign powers have led to the creation of three social tiers in many Middle Eastern countries: The “palace,” ruling elite who have remained stable, content and prosperous; the “street,” mostly middle-class citizens who have grown increasingly frustrated and humiliated by internal problems; and the “basement,” middle-class individuals who have gone beyond emotional anger and chosen to respond with terrorism.

Khouri said Arab countries have plenty in common with the U.S., including moral and human values and the quest for freedom and prosperity, but he said that reality has been lost through years of turmoil and is now overshadowed by the ongoing insurgency in Iraq. He detailed in 10 points his prescription for successful U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and said that he would recommend the same for Arab leaders:

  • “Listen carefully and be humble. Understand exactly what it is that drives other people’s behavior and attitudes and sentiments.
  • "Strive for consensus--policy consensus by the U.S., Europe, Russia and the Arab world to work together multilaterally to achieve...clear and legitimate goals, rather than, as has been the tendency of this American administration, to compel people or try to convince them by the use of force and threats or to go it alone unilaterally.
  • "Grasp the common and universal values that drive people all over the world. There has been a tendency in this administration to somehow differentiate America from the rest of the world, to say that America not only has special values that are universally applicable but even to go as far as to say that...the U.S. has a divinely inspired mandate to spread freedom and democracy around the world.
  • “Practice what you preach. The best thing that the U.S. can do is to send ordinary American people around the world. Practice abroad the same values and institutional policies that you practice here. We need to end this division between the values that the U.S. practices at home and the values that it preaches but does not practice universally around the world.
  • "Consistency matters a lot to people around the world who are at the receiving end of American foreign policy. The single most frequent and most intense criticism of American foreign policy, not just in the Middle East but, I would say around the whole world, is...that the U.S. applies a double standard in the implementation of its foreign policy.
  • “Avoid simplistic analysis. Stay away from good-and-bad, black-and-white scenarios. The world does not work in a manner that lends itself to simplicity and intellectual simplicity, which is manifested in phrases like ‘You are either with us or against us.’
  • “Style matters as much substance. How you say something is almost as important as what you actually say. The style that the U.S. government has used in recent years in the Middle East and the rest of the world has been seen as inappropriately predatory, aggressive, accusatory and threatening.
  • “There should be no taboos, no red lines in our discussion of the issues at hand. We need to discuss all of the issues that are relevant to this question, issues that often are difficult for people to accept, including Arab-Israeli issues.
  • “Understand and respect the role of history in people’s lives. In the Middle East and most of the rest of the world, historical memory is not only very much alive in people’s minds but it a huge formative factor in political policies.
  • “Acknowledge the complex relationships in our societies in the Middle East and in most of the rest of the world: Formal states with borders, religions that transcend borders, ethnic identities, tribal identities and modern identities.”

Global Agenda is UD’s annual international affairs speaker series and an undergraduate course in which students meet practitioners in foreign policy and media from the U.S. and other nations.

Organized by Ralph Begleiter, UD’s Rosenberg Professor of Communication and distinguished journalist in residence, the series, part of UD's "America and the Global Community" initiative, is designed to survey potential threats to the U.S. and explore the complex framework of global relations. The series is cosponsored by UD and the World Affairs Council of Wilmington.

For more information on the speakers and their subjects, visit [www.udel.edu/global]. For general information on the series, call the Department of Communication at (302) 831-8041.

Article by Martin Mbugua
Photo by Duane Perry

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