Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics


Posted by shannonclark on March 3, 2003 News | Aide on U.S. image in Muslim world quits

An idea – for what it’s worth.

What if instead of a “big” plan to “sell America and American Ideals” to the world, we instead engaged in a “smaller” plan – more point to point, but impactful nonetheless.

Specifically, what if we here in the US (and elsewhere) were to try to reach out to the “muslim street”, ideally in non-religious and non-political ways.

I’m thinking of ways such as trading with them, playing games (literally online), chatting, answering questions, learning Arabic from them and teaching them English. Exchanging music, photos, etc.

I am at my heart a historian, and my interest is in the Middle East – but in a history of trade and commerce, not of religion or war.

It is a region with a long history of trade and connectiveness to the world – so why should it not be so in the current era? Yes there are technical difficulties and formal censorship in some parts and yes, perhaps Internet access is not widespread – but not all forms of online communication require broadband or even need to be widespread.

For example, with just a few connections could not those connection points serve as relays for information and the exchange of ideas? Americans and westerners sending images, sound bites, photoes etc – the connection points in the Middle East printing out, burning to CD (and from that to tape) the sounds and images of people here in the West?

It is also a case that those of us who are not evangelical Christians, but who are still Americans (or other Westerners) should emphasize to the rest of the world that we do exist, and should show our willingness to be engaged.

And not all of this needs to be “mere” friendship, there is certainly room for businesses to connect and prosper as well – even in a time of possible war.

Yes, there are risks (but when are there not any in business or in life) but there are also opportunities. A large part of the challenge faced by the countries in the Middle East is that they have a very young society, increasingly so, and that while a few people are amazingly wealthy from Oil, and a few countries have spread this wealth to their citizens (but then too restrict who can be a “citizen” very harshly) the case majority of the society are not rich and the oil wealth has created few incentives or opportunities for other industries to prosper.

Historically the wealth of the Middle East was in trade – serving as a crossroads for the world. In modern times, however, this trade role has been bypassed by modern shipping and airfreight and little alternatives have arisen.

There is nothing in the Koran or in Islamic society that is against commerce and business, though there are restrictions and rules on certain forms of transactions (interest payments for example fall under prescriptions against ursury, not unlike similar restrictions on it that Christians practiced not that many years ago). These restict some forms of transactions common in current financial markets – but these restrictions too are not a total barrier, there are acceptable alternatives and other means by which to conduct business.

My point is that why should all of the connections between societies and even countries be only the domain of the current administration – why should not the energy and effort that the current Anti-war movement is now using to engage in a futile (mostly) and idealistic venture against governments in the west instead be used to engage directly with the populace of the Middle East – to engage with them one-on-one and business to business and see if as a mass alternative solutions to seemingly intractable problems can be found.

I should emphasize however that solutions predicated on “this is God’s will” or other forms of religious “truth” are unlikely to make headway – they certainly have not since the 7th century. Rather, I am suggesting that we look for ways to cooperate and prosper together. And for ways to be so busy communicating and/or working together that we stop trying to kill each other.

(full disclosure, while I am personally not religious and am, indeed, atheistic (but also not communist in the least) my family is a mix of Irish Catholic and Eastern European Jews – so take that with what you will)


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