Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Common Ground News Service Original Features

The Common Ground News Service – Partners in Humanity (CGNews-PiH) aims to promote constructive perspectives and dialogue about Muslim–Western relations. CGNews-PiH is available in Arabic, English, French and Indonesian. To subscribe, click here.

For an archive of past CGNews articles and other information, please visit our website at http://www.commongroundnews.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, copyright permission has been obtained and articles may be reprinted by any news outlet or publication. Please acknowledge both the original source and the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Inside this edition (Articles listed in full below)

1) Lebanon, a lesson in conflict management? by Abbas Barzegar

Abbas Barzegar, a Ph.D. candidate in the history of religions at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, asks whether there is more to the Lebanese example than "a turf war between rival gangs or a proxy war between Washington and Tehran". Despite its precarious situation, or perhaps because of it, he explains how Lebanon's brand of "prudent politics" provides some lessons about conflict management "the non-violent, democratic way".
(Source: Common Ground News Service, 7 August 2007)

2) ~Youth Views~ Dual nationality: a blessing or a curse? by Hanane El Hadi and Menna Taher

Menna Taher, a journalism student at the American University in Cairo, and Hanane El Hadi, a graduate student in International Studies and Diplomacy at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, consider the shared challenges and opportunities for "dual nationals" who have lived in both Europe and the Muslim world.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 7 August 2007)


Lebanon, a lesson in conflict management?
By Abbas Barzegar
Atlanta, Georgia - With a population of four million divided amongst eighteen religious sects, it is surprising that the Lebanese political system has managed to survive this long. Now, this already burdened, fractious society heads into what promises to be a tumultuous presidential election. But Lebanon's struggles should be understood as more than simply a turf war between rival gangs or a proxy war between Washington and Tehran. Rather its problems and prospects represent a crystallised microcosm of the range of tensions and issues that face the Middle East and the West. The most significant feature of the Lebanese political field, and its most dangerous vulnerability, is the glaring lack of a central authority capable of enforcing the rule of law. With the Syrian band-aid that filled this vacuum now gone, many wonder if Lebanon's famed recovery from the civil war was anything more than transitory.

However, the fact that there has not been an outbreak in internal violence amongst the country's political and sectarian factions — despite the escalation in tensions following former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's unresolved assassination and the Israeli aggression last summer — should be testament that Lebanese society is prepared to face extraordinary political challenges without succumbing to the temptation of violence. Arguably it is this dimension of the Lebanese experience that has created a unique environment of pragmatism which many others would do well to observe. For example, this summer's outbreak of violence at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp has been greeted by many hasty pundits as a sign that the country is headed toward another civil war, but for those more familiar with situation, the problem in Tripoli has been a case of common ground between the Sinora government and the opposition movement headed by Hizbullah.

Instead of Hizbullah leaning towards a pan-Islamic agenda by supporting fighters in the camp, it has unequivocally condemned Fatah al-Islam and supported the Lebanese government's efforts to secure its authority as the only legitimate policing entity in the country. Furthermore, given Hizbullah's pragmatic approach to things, few in Lebanon fear the Shi'a party is trying to implement an Islamic state in Lebanon. It may be that Hizbullah's manoeuvring over the past year is simply part of a clever political plan at a time when its popularity remains high but its role in the government is uncertain.

However, such criticism overlooks the more important fact that Lebanon's vulnerability is precisely what gives rise to this unique system of prudent politics and restraint that may offer a model of conflict management for the rest of the Middle East. Such prudence and restraint, if seized upon correctly, can bear tremendous long term fruits. For example, since the Israeli attack on Lebanon last year, the rubble of Dahiyeh (a Shi'ite neighbourhood in Beirut) has been virtually cleared, making bombed out building lots look like construction sites. Hizbullah has not rebuilt many of those homes however, not because it cannot, but because the central government has not issued building permits to allow it to do so. What is striking is that Hizbullah is actually recognising the government's authority in this matter. It would be quite easy with Iranian financing to rebuild a few dozen apartment buildings in a year's time and bypass the Lebanese central government. Hizbullah's leadership, regardless of one has to say about its ideology, is succumbing to the fundamental principle of democracy - political compromise over the use of force. This sense of prudent politics can also be seen on the side of the Sinora-Harriri government.

The opposition protest camp, which started in January and strangled the parliamentary offices, has now become a virtual ghost town with only a few dozen individuals monitoring the grounds at any given moment. Lodged in the heart of downtown Beirut, it would appear to be quite simple for the Sinora government to order a few bulldozers to destroy the empty tents and arrest the few Hizbullah guards on duty. Such a scenario is unlikely to happen however because it would guarantee future escalation and spiral society into internecine violence. Being on the brink of chaos changes many political equations. In neighbouring Palestine one wishes that Hamas and Fatah could have learned a central point in conflict management from the Lebanese example: just because a short-term gain is possible does not necessarily mean that one should seize it.

It is ironic that Lebanon, a country torn by civil war, external interference and foreign invasion, and home to a group on the US' list of terrorists, is positioned to be the exemplar of democracy for the Arab world while Egypt, second only to Israel in receipt of U.S. foreign aid and whose opposition is made up largely of the politically pragmatic Muslim Brotherhood, resorts to water hoses and constitutional revision as a means to deal with free demonstrations and opposition parties.

Meanwhile, other US allies in the region — future recipients of a $20 billion military aid package — remain monarchies. The upcoming months undoubtedly will be trying for Lebanese society, but given the country's track record over the last few years, in the face of overwhelming odds, one should not expect that Lebanese political leaders will cower at the challenge. The by-elections on August 5th, which were host to an enormous amount of tension, went more smoothly than expected and without violence—another indication that things are not inevitably going downhill in Lebanon. Instead, it may be that interested onlookers learn something about conflict management the non-violent, democratic way.

*Abbas Barzegar is a Ph.D. candidate in the history of religions at Emory University in Atlanta where he studies early Islamic political history and the formation of Muslim sectarianism. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at http://www.commongroundnews.org/.
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 7 August 2007, http://www.commongroundnews.org/
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.

~Youth Views~
Dual nationality: a blessing or a curse?
By Hanane El Hadi and Menna Taher
Ifrane/Cairo - In an increasingly globalised world, people are emigrating from one country to another for a variety of reasons, such as the pursuit of specific education or job opportunities, new experiences, or even to escape war-torn situations. There has been a steady movement of Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe, and conversely, there is also a significant number of Europeans who opt to live in Middle East.

Faced with the diverse and sometimes competing identities in their new environments, these "dual nationals" share unique challenges and opportunities in their new home countries.After World War II, Europe conscientiously placed increased importance on individual religious freedom, making its countries an attractive destination for Middle Eastern and North African Muslim immigrants.

In recent years, however, there have been increased tensions between immigrants and nationals and restrictive laws, such as the educational system's ban of visible religious symbols on one's person in France, have appeared.France and the UK are among the top two destinations for Arab immigrants; yet, they differ from each other in their integration policies. The French model is largely based on the principle of assimilation while the British model advocates multiculturalism.

When immigrants from a North African background in France were asked about belonging to French society many gave the same answer, "Even if we have French citizenship, we are still regarded as immigrants; French society wants us to give up our culture, which defines our identity, in order to fit the French model". Despite this sentiment, however, some North African Muslims in France, such as new Justice Minister, Rachida Dati, have found a way to contribute fully in French society. She both serves as an example and acts as a liaison between those who feel pressure to give up their identity through assimilation and the French government. The experience in the UK is slightly different.

One example can be found in the responses of those from an Indian background living on the other side of the English Channel who, when questioned, tended to say, "We are British and Indian at the same time." The space in which both identities can be embraced at the same time allows dual nationals to benefit from the best of both worlds, and to offer the best of themselves to their local societies. Dual nationals living in the Arab world also experience their identity in different ways and face their share of challenges.Ahmed Rashed is a student at the American University of Cairo who has lived his whole life in Paris and Amsterdam and only moved to Egypt last year. He has found it difficult understanding some of the physical manifestations of culture, such as different greeting etiquette.

"In France it is ok for a man to kiss a girl on the cheek while greeting her; however, he would greet a guy with a handshake. Here it is the other way round," he explained.

Yet despite such frustrations felt by newcomers, many also report experiencing the gratification that cultural fusion can offer. Mariam Ghorbannejad, a 25-year old female who is half British and half Iranian, is one such individual. She is currently living in Egypt to learn Arabic and working as an editor for the Daily Star. Ghorbannejad has had little difficulty adapting to the culture. Having travelled much she has seen many different cultures and did not experience much "culture shock" when moving to Egypt.

"The English are more reserved and they might consider the Egyptian attitude aggressive, but I have no problem with it," she said. She appears to be at peace with the differences between Cairo and London, saying: "Here it is never quiet, you have salespeople selling their products, and bakers shouting 'bread' all the time. And you can't walk much in the streets because the pavement is uneven; but it's easier to get a taxi here than in London."

Although many individuals who have called more than one part of the world "home" find themselves faced with identity crises at one point or another, not knowing exactly where they belong, these stories also demonstrate the unique advantages to dual nationality: the ability to feel comfortable – to belong – in societies where those who don't share this dual identity would struggle to feel at home, and the opportunity to share their unique perspective with others.

* Menna Taher is a sophomore student at the American University in Cairo majoring in journalism. Hanane El Hadi is currently fulfilling her MA degree in International Studies and Diplomacy at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. They co-wrote this article as part of the Soliya Connect Program West-Muslim World intercultural dialogue program.

This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at http://www.commongroundnews.org/.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 7 August 2007, http://www.commongroundnews.org/

Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.