A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
May/June 2011, Pages 64-65
MFSA Opens Muslim Understanding Series In Des Moines
The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) Iowa opened its Spring Regional Gatherings series, "Understanding our Muslim Brothers and Sisters," with a March 6 discussion of current events at Drake University in Des Moines. Hugh Stone, minister at Osceola United Methodist Church, introduced the speakers.
"This is the first social revolution in Egypt in 5,000 years," said Mahmoud Hamad, assistant professor of politics and international relations at Drake. A former Fulbright scholar from Egypt, Hamad returned from Egypt only 10 days before the recent popular uprising there began.
"If you compare political and economic rights in Middle Eastern countries with other countries you will see that, except for Turkey for the last few years and in Israel for the Jewish population, there is no Middle Eastern country that is democratic," added Hamad, who noted that there are many explanations for this.
Citing the colonial experience as the most important factor, Hamad explained that most of the countries of the Middle East were created by Western colonial powers—and too often, he said, when democracy has developed, it has been thwarted by Western intervention, as in Iran in 1953, and, more recently, in Palestine, following the 2006 legislative elections.
"The colonial powers had one interest, to keep the power in place, and that is why they empowered the political and military establishments," Hamad stated. "So, even after independence, the only part of the state that was actually functioning was the security and military apparatus. That's why, in many countries, when democracy began to develop, the generals would take over. Pakistan is an example. Algeria is an example. Syria is another example."
Following independence, the colonial powers continued to exert influence on behalf of those interests and often intervened on the side of authoritarian leaders, thwarting democratic impulses and movements and overthrowing democratic governments, Hamad explained.
"The most important example is the experience in Iran. [Mohammad] Mosadegh was a nationalist leader, not Islamic, not communist, nothing of that sort. He became the first democratically elected prime minister of Iran," said Hamad, who noted that the CIA collaborated with the Iranian military at the behest of Britain's MI-6 to overthrow Mosadegh, who had instituted a number of progressive social reforms and had nationalized the oil industry in Iran, which had been under the control of the British since 1913.
"Iran came under the thumb of the Shah [of Iran, Mohamed Reza Pahlavi] for 20 more years, and we all know the results," said Hamad.
Noting that economic circumstances have played a role not conducive to democratic reform, he went on to point out that, while in the West governments are supported by financial resources that flow to government from the bottom up in the form of taxes, in many Middle Eastern countries oil resources, the major contributor to national wealth, are controlled by authoritarian regimes, and the flow of financial resources is from the government to the people, from the top down, thus strengthening the positions of those regimes. He mentioned as an example Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's recent decision to boost dramatically his regime's spending on housing, education and social welfare, widely viewed as an effort to bolster support for the status quo at a time when popular uprisings are sweeping across the Arab world.
Luai Amro, president of the Islamic Cultural Center of Des Moines, addressed the audience next. Originally from Palestine and an Iowan for well over a decade, Amro said the revolts are not based on any Arab or Muslim animus toward Christians, Jews, or the West. "They don't like their political status, they don't like the way they are treated," Amro explained.
In Palestine, people are fighting for their human and civil rights and for their dignity as a people, said Amro. "When they say, 'Allahu Akbar,' they are protecting their rights, but not because they want to spread Islam or convert everybody to Islam. No! They are doing it because they are human. They happen to be Muslims, and they are expressing their rights like everybody else," said Amro.
Both Amro and Hamad emphasized that human rights are central to Islam, and both spoke warmly about their experiences in Iowa.