Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Middle East Engagement Forum a Success

On February 8th, a colleague and I hosted the first "Middle East Engagement Forum" here in Washington. We had an incredible group of over 20 individuals from various countries, regions, and religions, who contributed to substantive and constructive conversation on Middle East issues. We had the discussion "WorldCafe" style, (http://theworldcafe.com), which if you are not familiar with it, is a wonderful way of eliciting the most constructive and creative ideas and potential from a large group. In just two and a half hours, we just scratched the surface on these topics and there was a feeling of needing more!

I'm looking forward to many more forums and exploring Middle East issues and foreign policy with a conscientious, smart, and energetic group. Here are the results from the meeting..not surprisingly, dealing with the Israel/Palestinian issue was a winner.

Middle East Engagement Forum
February 8, 2007

Reason for starting the forum and our long-term vision:

To be a world-wide network of committed citizens who are bettering the relationship/policies between the Middle East and US.

World Café Discussions: (top 3 reasons in each category bolded.)

Forum Question #1: Why is the Middle East important to you?
# of Stars

Israeli-Palestinian conflict 3
US presence—because we’re there.
September 11, 2001 1
where the action is
A personal connection, my faith, my neighborhood.
philosophy of Islam that drives extremism; fundamentalism; unhealthy expression of Islam; ME culture backsliding into fundamentalism. 7
oil-energy 1
not important to others—no national movement
Religious conflict (epicenter) 1
Security issues--terrorism
Cultural misperceptions
Global/local identity (west vs. east; tribe vs. tribe; core vs. gap)
Trillion-dollar war 2
First must define the region: Arab or Muslim? Does it include Iran, North Africa?
The way governments treat their people has implications for everyone. 4
Middle East instability/radicalism affects global security.
Secularism under attack.
America and ME governments: rock and a hard place. 1
Contrast/tension between acceptance and rejection of Western liberties/values/lifestyles.
Jihad vs. McWorld—nation-state under attack 2
Question #2:
How can the US improve its relationship/policies in the Middle East?

Do not impose values. 2
Understand tradition is different than religion. 1
Interact/communicate (town hall meetings) 1
Mediate/facilitate Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Balance our support between the two. 9
Engage more /less?
Fight the ideology 1
Become energy independent
Improve US institutions
Learn more about the language and culture. 5
Improve educational institutions
Mitigate US arrogance. 1
Global community- less cultural isolation
Public diplomacy 2
New leadership-clean start
Work for basic human rights, including women’s rights. 5
Don’t support dictatorships 1
Ask what “they” can do for themselves 7
Break cycle of dependency. 1
NGO/independent initiatives. 1

Question #3: What can we personally do?

Take an interest 1
Try to get Arab news on US cable 2
Educate who we meet—talk to others 4
Travel there! 5
Share information; send emails.
Read the Quran. 2
Educate and inform ourselves. (what are the traditions, terms used, language?) 6
Be open-minded—listen.
Pray 3
Have meetings like this 1
Talk to Janessa. Janessa for President. (Very funny, guys.) 2
Lobby Congress.
Internet. 1
Marry an Arab. 3
Talk with Muslims. (Azim) 3
Visit a mosque. 1
Eat more hummus.
Go green-energy conservation 3
Networking/mobilizing. (Use technology to connect to the M.E. & to community here.
Donate time/labor/$ to human rights initiatives. 2
Political activism 1
Prepare yourself/invest in your specialty/ contribute/be an expert 2
Think critically about media coverage. Look for the positive stories and get the stories OUT. 2
Get rich and give. Follow the money—a lot comes down to resources 2

Large Group Debrief:

Things unexpected:

• Met new neighbors; surprised to learn many Arabs supportive of the US.
• Level of personal interest; so many in DC not jaded.
• Learned lots of diversity within the Arab world
• You can become an expert if you want
• Movement that can start
• Not radical; normal to be engaged and care about these issues.
• Hearing about human rights issues, (such as women not being able to get passports without male consent.)
• Learned form of US democracy may not work; not one size fits all. will take time. What is the right model to use to influence?
• Realized how difficult it is to think of how we can help.

Things that resonated/ideas especially important:

• LISTEN so you can understand the other.
• Personal connections/sharing
• More intelligent conversation.
• Awareness!
• US policy well-intentioned, but uninformed.
• Go there/ travel.
• Be open-minded.
• Use better terminology.
• Learn Arabic/Get Arabic channels.
• Learn more about Islam; go to a mosque.

Ways that this forum can help/be a vehicle.

• Should have a practical goal to work towards
• Cultural exchanges: movie night, book club, field trips, Arab dance lessons
• Networking- meet with other similar groups and individuals.
• Speakers: balanced perspectives who engage the group for discussion (no lectures!)
• More discussions
• To do vs. to be

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