Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai terrorism, Obama and Arab youth, and Thanksgiving

My journey in Qatar continues to include increasing depth of understanding about the political, religious, and other strife that seems to abound in the Middle East. The terrorism in Mumbai and the take-over of airports in Thailand represent the dynamics most often associated with the Middle East, only pushing them further into Asia. Why do these incidents continue to occur and what's the way out?

I'm not a political scientist nor an expert in Middle Eastern and/or Asian affairs. However, a letter that I received from a colleague reflected the hope that many young people around the world have as a result of the election of Barack Obama. The Center for Human Emergence Middle East issued An Open Letter on the Middle East to President-Elect Obama. Based on the enthusiasm of Arab youth, the letter proposes that one of the keys to possibility and peace is for the U.S.A. to take a more balanced role in relation to Israel and Palestine. In particular, the letter urges that the U.S.A. join with other countries (including Israel) to build the capacity of Palestine so that it can return to a position as a progessive, economically viable, and independent country. I encounter the angst over Palestine all the time in my casual interactions. Whether it's the black and white version of gotrah worn as a scarf by young Arabs or the music of activist artists, the message is unmistakable - stop privileging only one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and recognize that there has been plenty of wrong-headedness and wrong-doing among all parties.

On Thanksgiving afternoon, the U.S.A. colleagues with whom I work decided to provide a Thanksgiving dinner for our Arab work colleagues, most of whom did not know much about the purpose and nature of Thanksgiving. I was asked to provide a little background while we feasted on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, candied yams, and pumpkin pie. I focused on the thanks given by religious refugees at the first Thanksgiving of 1621, refugees who had survived in the new world at least partially because native Americans had helped them. Then I offered thanks to our Arab colleagues that as a citizen of the U.S.A. I could worship as I wished in Qatar. In addition to this freedom, I and others have to be thankful for the Arab and other colleagues who have helped us survive a place that at times seemed exotic and strange. It's certainly not as hostile as the new world of 17th century times but I/we still need support.

Strife that surrounds us in a shrinking world... Obama and Arab youth... Thanksgiving for a year in Qatar... It's hard to say if there's a relationship. The core concept that ties them together for me is the importance of working to create peace and prosperity through reaching out to share ourselves and our bounty, even when it may seem that peace is only a distant hope.

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