Euphrates believes that healing the divide between the West and the Middle East in the post-9/11 era can only be achieved through educating Americans to know more about the Middle East, and then taking grassroots actions that will create the broad-based foundation of support needed for policy changes towards the region.
Euphrates’ Founder and CEO Janessa Gans Wilder spent five years in the U.S. Government as a political analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, focusing on the Middle East. She served nearly two years in Iraq and later lived in or visited ten other countries in the region. She has since been a consultant to the State Department on Iraq, taught political science and Middle East Issues at Principia College, and authored a dozen articles on the Middle East. She realized how little Americans knew about a region—its issues and people—that directly affect their lives, from Islam to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, terrorism and energy shortages. Her experiences over the past ten years working on these issues convinced her that the drastic changes needed to heal the divides between the West and Middle East would not come solely from within the halls of government, but rather from a citizen-based, grassroots movement.
In asserting this position, Euphrates elaborates on the following issues:
• Middle East & West Relations
• Common Ground
• Security & Peace
• Arab-Israeli Conflict
• Government & Citizens
• Taking Action
• Theory of Change
MIDDLE EAST – WEST RELATIONS
9/11 was a stark wake-up call that the relations between the Middle East and West had hit rock bottom. Improving ties to the region is important, not only because it is a source of terrorism, but also due to the region’s abundant energy resources and as the birthplace of the world’s monotheistic faiths.
The improving of relations between regions operates on similar principles to the improving of relations between individuals, namely, listening, understanding each other, and finding common ground.
Studies indicate that while both Americans and Muslims have negative images of the other, they understand little about each other. In a recent poll, thirty-three percent of Americans say that there is nothing they admire about Muslim societies, and twenty-five percent say that they do not know enough to have an opinion.
“If we are to have partners for peace, then we must first be partners in sympathetic recognition that all mankind possesses in common like aspirations and hungers, like ideals and appetites, like purposes and frailties, a like demand for economic advancement. The divisions between us are artificial and transient. Our common humanity is God-made and enduring.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower
The Polish journalist, Ryzard Kapuscinski, wrote the following quote very applicable to this age. “The typical illusion of space–the belief that whatever is far away is different, and the farther away it is, the more different it is.”
• Polls indicate that citizens in the Middle East do not dislike our values, but our actions and policies in the region.
• Majorities also believe America supports authoritarian governments in the region and disrespects Islam.
• More than our basic humanity, polls indicate there are many common values that we share, such as respect for democracy and distrust of religious fanaticism. A recent World Public Opinion poll noted that even the most divided populations – Iranians and Americans – believe Islam and the West can find common ground.
A third of Americans believe mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted in March, 2006 . If so, then one would expect the more religious Muslim societies to support terrorist actions in greater numbers. Yet, recent Gallup polling data disputes this, revealing that Muslims who sympathize with terrorist acts are a relatively small minority; moreover, the aspect about the Muslim world that Muslims themselves say they admire least is “narrow-minded, violent extremism.”
“Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians. The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbor. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbor is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity.”
- Open letter from Muslim Scholars.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems hopeless, especially with the persistent dead-end negotiations, and ongoing tit for tat violence. Putting all of our hopes in a high-level peace process from politicians, who themselves are beholden to a wide range of constituents, is not a recipe for success. The Economist describes a major problem of the Israeli political system, “Parties that are brought in to make up the coalition numbers wield disproportionate clout, so extremists set the agenda,” while Palestinian Fatah also has to contend with extremist Hamas.
Looking instead at efforts at the grassroots level offers some hope. The famous Israeli author Amos Oz wrote in his book How to Cure a Fanatic, that for the first time in 100 years, he believes the Israeli and Palestinian people are ahead of their leaders. Rabbi Michael Lerner, founder of Tikkun magazine , wrote in Healing Israel/Palestine, “It is my firm belief that lasting peace and reconciliation are not only possible but likely to be achieved in the next twenty years, and possibly sooner. The hunger for a world of caring and kindness is a more powerful force than the desire to hold onto anger and nurse old pains.”
Consider these inspiring examples:
• Bereaved Families Forum, the star of the award-winning documentary, Encounter Point, comprising about 500 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones from violence perpetrated by the other side. These families, who have been most affected by the conflict, direct their overwhelming personal losses into positive channels, determined to meet and forge bonds with the other side in an effort to stop further violence from taking more lives.
• OneVoice Movement is ”an international mainstream grassroots movement with over 640,000 signatories in roughly equal numbers both in Israel and in Palestine, and 1,800 highly-trained youth leaders. It aims to amplify the voice of the overwhelming but heretofore silent majority of moderates who wish for peace and prosperity, empowering them to demand accountability from elected representatives and work toward a two-state solution guaranteeing an end to occupation and violence, and a viable, independent Palestinian state at peace with Israel.”
• Seeds of Peace, a camp program started in 1993 for Israeli, Palestinian, and Egyptian teenagers, now has nearly 4,000 young leaders working for peace. The organization has offices in New York, Amman, Cairo, Gaza, Jerusalem, Kabul, Lahore, Mumbai, Otisfield, Ramallah, Tel Aviv and Washington, D.C.
• Peaceplayers International, founded in 2001, uses sport to unite and educate young people in divided communities, on the basis that “children who play together can learn to live together.” In addition to other global hotspots, PeacePlayers International operates a basketball program in the Middle East that brings together hundreds of children to form positive relationships, develop leadership skills, and improve their futures. The organization’s programs are led by a global network of youth leaders, including our own Euphrates Institute Bridge-builder, Brian Sigafoos.
The Iraq war “may be the most partisan major foreign policy issue that we’ve ever had,” according to foreign policy scholar Michael Mandelbaum of John Hopkins University. The lens of partisanship, through which every aspect of the Iraq war is viewed, distracts individuals from the realities on the ground. It has been the major foreign policy predicament for all of America since 2002, and requires concerted attention, honest assessments, and creative solutions from all parties and backgrounds. Very often, groups on either side of the political spectrum will either pretend that Iraq is paradise, or else an absolute hellhole. What gets lost in this focus on American infighting is the most important element to winning the war - the Iraqis themselves. We are so worried about winning a domestic political argument that we don’t honestly account for the triumphs and challenges faced on the ground, which is the only place the war will be won. The Iraqi intellectual and architect of the war, Kanan Makiya, wrote recently of the predicament: “All of a sudden this raw, profoundly abused population, traumatized by decades of war, repression, uprisings, and brutal campaigns of social extermination, was handed the opportunity to build a nation from scratch.” Our biggest failure in Iraq was our inability to see events and reality from the Iraqi perspective. George Packer, journalist for the New Yorker and author of the best-seller Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, puts it this way: “The most important struggles were the ones going on inside the minds of Iraqis and Americans alike. The war’s meaning would be the sum of all the ways that all of them understood one another and the event that had thrust them together. In the end it would come down to these encounters, millions of them…”
Most Americans feel that the United States puts too much emphasis on military force and unilateral action, and say they want Congress to work to shift the emphasis of U.S. foreign policy in favor of diplomacy, multilateral cooperation, and homeland security, according to recent polls. Moreover, a large and growing majority of Americans is dissatisfied with the position of the United States in the world and believes that U.S. policies are increasing the threat of terrorist attack and decreasing goodwill toward the United States. The American public’s concerns with the Global War on Terror include too much focus on Iraq and not enough on al-Qa’ida’s leadership, failures of US intelligence to detect and disrupt terrorist cells/operations, and the undermining of the image and stature of the U.S. in the Muslim world and beyond by violating legal protections for suspected extremist Muslims.
The US military itself has been revamping and reworking its MO in Iraq over the past few years, because it learned that it cannot win through use of force alone. In today’s counterinsurgent/counterterrorist wars, it is more often about tightly targeted operations that minimize civilian casualties, winning hearts and minds, reconstruction, policing, and educating than dropping bombs.
GOVERNMENT OR CITIZENS?
Long-term peace and security are built on mutual understanding and appreciation and do not arrive at the snap of politicians’ fingers. They come one step at a time, one individual at a time. In many circumstances, politicians have agreed to settlements, but they have fallen through because they did not have the full backing of the people. Likewise, look at the broad-based environmental awareness there is today. For decades, politicians on Capitol Hill attended hearings about the threats of global warming, but did not act. It took the increasing awareness, concerns, and willingness to take action on the part of the masses that inspired changes in our policies and governmental behaviors.
Imagine the difference even one person can make on his own. Take Greg Mortenson, for example, whose story is recounted in the New York Times bestseller Three Cups of Tea. He built schools for Pakistani children in Islamist and Taliban territory, a no-go area for most aid groups, including our own USAID. The Philadelphia Inquirer writes of Mortenson, “Sometimes the acts of one individual can illuminate how to confront a foreign-policy dilemma more clearly than the prattle of politicians.” The article quotes Mortenson as explaining, “We spend billions” on military efforts, but “one dollar per kid per month would set up schools,” a goal essential to preventing a new generation of terrorists. Mortenson’s goal is “to promote peace one school at a time.” Part of our goal at Euphrates is to promote peace, one individual at a time!
Retired Army colonel and Colin Powell’s former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson noted that the entire national-security bureaucracy is outdated, is incapable of dealing with new wars, and requires massive overhaul. But today’s threats won’t wait for that to happen. We need each individual to do his/her part now. Benjamin Barber, author of Jihad vs. McWorld agrees. He describes the necessity for both an efficacious military front as well as a widespread “second front” of citizens to eliminate terrorism and assuage fear:
“Eliminating terrorists will depend on professional military, intelligence, and diplomatic resources whose deployment will leave the greater number of citizens in America and throughout the world sitting on the sidelines, anxious spectators to a battle in which they cannot participate, a battle in which the nausea that accompanies fear will dull the appetite for revenge. The second front, however, engages every citizen with a stake in democracy and social justice, both within nation-states and in the relations between them. It transforms anxious and passive spectators into resolute and engaged participants—the perfect antidote to fear.”
This is about citizen diplomacy, but also about citizen awareness and activism. Take Harold from Montana, for example, who summed it up best in an email to us:
“Maybe, the efforts of one person can make a difference. If so, then I would like to do my part as an American to promote an intelligent, informed, and humane foreign policy throughout the world, but especially with our so-called “enemies.” That may include learning Arabic. Winter nights are long in Montana, I have sworn off television, so in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “I will study and get ready and someday my chance will come.”
Like Harold, we get that this is not just about governments, policies, and politicians. The only way for both regions to improve their relationship is for citizens to get in the game. At Euphrates, we focus on the human dimension of the issues and work to promote communication and positive interactions between individuals from the two regions.
1. Inform yourself—and then others.
2. Meet the Other.
3. Heal divides in your own community.
4. Press media for balanced coverage, and leaders for policies that improve relations.
You can also visit our extensive resource page for a variety of news sources, studies, campaigns, articles, blogs, and organizations working on Middle East issues!