News / Middle East

America and Arab Spring: One Man’s View

James Zogby, author and Arab American activist, says American perceptions of the Arab world are still flawed.

James Zogby speaking on American perceptions of the Arab world and his book on the subject at a gathering in Washington, DC, May 10, 2011
James Zogby speaking on American perceptions of the Arab world and his book on the subject at a gathering in Washington, DC, May 10, 2011

Multimedia

Audio
David Byrd

How has the so-called “Arab Spring” changed the way Americans perceive people of the Middle East and North Africa? What about how people in that region look at the United States? American author and activist James Zogby says change is needed in both camps and cautions that many Americans still don’t understand the region.

Zogby, a son of Lebanese immigrants who is also the head of the Arab American Institute, has addressed some of the existing mutual misgivings in his book: Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us and Why It Matters. But so much has changed in the Arab world since his book came out last October that he is writing an epilogue for the paperback version.

Unchanged perceptions

He discussed both his book and the recent Arab uprisings at an informal gathering this week in Washington, D.C., maintaining  that much of what he wrote in his book’s first edition still remains true today.

“My sense is that we haven’t changed to a great degree here [in the United States], either in our understanding of the region or even of the need to close the growing gap. To the extent, in other words, that perceptions about the Arabs are based on this received knowledge or are derivative of other factors, we still haven’t changed all that much.”

Zogby seprately said that Arab leaders are listening to their people more than before, and American leaders need to be sensitive to that change. The author said that even support for a no-fly zone over Libya was not a ringing endorsement of U.S. policy in the region, and the United States should not think it was.

“The kind of behaviors of simply ratifying what America does that occurred in the past, that’s not going to be as easily forthcoming anymore. Libya is an exception in large measure because Libya is Libya. And Gadhafi is somebody who alienated just about everybody, and so, frankly as an embarrassment people were willing to take advantage of any opportunity to get rid of him.”

Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden

Bin Laden

The author gave credit to President Obama’s handling of the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden by U.S. Navy SEALS in Pakistan. He said the president’s reserved demeanor was more appropriate than what he called the drunken frat party atmosphere that broke out near the White House and in New York on May 2.

But Zogby added that even the Obama administration didn’t get everything right by giving different versions of bin Laden’s death in the first hours after the assault.

“I think the aides that botched [the story] really dealt a blow to credibility that was already at risk in the region. There’s a distrust for us and that’s unfortunate that we didn’t get the story right and an event as momentous as this ended up not providing closure in the region but rather opening up the door to more conspiracy theories and more questions about what we did.”

The Damascus-based leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal, right, gives a speech as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, sits next to Egypt's intelligence chief Murad Mewafi, 2nd left, during the reconciliation meeting in Cairo, Egypt, May 4, 2011
The Damascus-based leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal, right, gives a speech as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, sits next to Egypt's intelligence chief Murad Mewafi, 2nd left, during the reconciliation meeting in Cairo, Egypt, May 4, 2011

Palestinian reconciliation

During his talk, James Zogby told the gathering that the recent Palestinian reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas are a step in the right direction, if the agreement is implemented properly. But he cautioned that Americans need to realize the central role the Palestinian issue plays in many Arab minds, causing similar reactions to the ones felt by American Jews during the Holocaust.    

Zogby said that even Wael Ghonim - an Egyptian Google executive who became an international figure after police detained him in February - has said he wants to “do something” to help promote reforms for Palestine.

Zogby called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that Palestinians could choose either reconciliation or peace with Israel a false choice because Palestinians need both [reconciliation and peace].

But James Zogby sees reasons for hope. He says the central role the Internet and free sharing of information played in revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt will help change many people’s perceptions.  He added that the increasing number of U.S. college students who are focusing on Middle East studies and learning Arabic is another reason for optimism.  

The author called President Obama’s speech to the Muslim world in Cairo two years ago a roadmap for American leaders. But Zogby cautioned that much work is needed if the United States wants to deliver on the promises of Obama’s speech.

News reports this week said that President Obama is planning to renew Muslim outreach in the coming days, in order to appeal to the Muslim world after the death of Osama bin Laden. A senior U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal that the President will argue that the Muslim world is at a crossroads, with bin Laden representing the old way and the democratic uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere representing the future. James Zogby has argued that America is also at a crossroads - whether to stick to old models of dealing with Middle East or to embrace new thinking.


Follow our Middle East and related coverage on Twitter @VOAMiddleEast and join our community on our VOA Middle East Voices Facebook page.

You May Like

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelteri
X
Scott Bobb
July 30, 2014 8:16 PM
Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video A Summer Camp for All the World

VIDEO: During workshops and social gatherings, the Global Youth Village summer camp encourages young people to cooperate and embrace their differences, while learning to communicate with people from other countries. VOA's Deborah Block has more.
Video

Video From Cantankerous Warlock to Incorruptible Priest, 'Harry Potter' Actor Embraces Diverse Roles

He’s perhaps best known as Mad Eye Moody, the whimsical wizard in the Harry Potter franchise. But character actor Brendan Gleeson's resume includes dozens of films, and he embraces all the characters he inhabits with equal passion. In an interview with VOA’s Penelope Poulou, Gleeson discussed his new drama "Calvary" and his secret to success.

AppleAndroid