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 As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    Clinton, Sanders Fight for African American Votes

    Some African American lawmakers lining up to support Clinton in face of perceived surge by Sanders in race for Democratic nomination in presidential campaign

    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.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.