Friday, June 23, 2006

ACT TANK

"for most of the world the only foreigners are either refugees or tourists, and neither group is likely to inspire much respect or sympathy."

There are many think tanks around the world, institutions organized for intensive research and solving of problems. These examine problems and try to come up with innovative, effective solutions, as well as provide information and advocacy in certain areas. Egyptian blogger Karim Elsahy and others at the One Arab World blog have come up with what they call an "Act Tank:"

In an obvious sense of the term this Act Tank will act as both a think tank and a grass roots activism organization combined. We are going to first determine the problems we face, figure the most effective way to counter the problem; how best to approach a solution within the means we have, then actually go out and implement; hands dirty.

Each of the members of this act tank has a personal focus, one issue they personally are going to work on and try to deal with in an effort to help and enhance their region, both Egypt and the Middle East. For Mr Elsahy, the focus is intolerance. He doesn't mean intolerance the way that universities and political correctness commissars mean. He's referring to the real definition of the word, as given by the American Heritage Dictionary:
The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others.
Karin Elsahy describes the problem in this way:

I believe that one of, not Egypt’s, but Egyptians worst setbacks is a phenomenal increase in intolerance. I am fairly young but I am certainly old enough to see that phenomena grow. Christians, the white man in general, Shia/Sunni, gulf Arabs,…..ect. and of course… The Jew.

It’s bad for morality, business, and growth and it’s got to end. Here is what we are going to do; and as with any good plan it is simple as hell.

Analysis; It is easy to demonize something or someone you’ve never met (There are reportedly 38 Egyptian Jews left in Egypt and while I cant back this up with real statistics I would bet my life that not more than 1% of Egyptians have ever actually met a Jew).

Solution; Meet some Jews.

This sounds amusing to some, but in the Middle East, it's a real issue. In a world where children are raised in schools taught not only to read and write but to despise Jews and worship Allah, it is a real problem for the people there to be so ignorant of what they live with in the news almost daily. Mr Elsahy has a two step plan. First, hold symposiums where people can meet and learn about Jews, their culture, what they are like, and get to know them in a way that means more than simply reading about them. Second, he wants to do a sort of "blog exchange" in which Jewish bloggers come to Egypt, and Egyptian bloggers go to Israel.

He ends with this thought:

If we don’t make an effort we are going to keep tightening the constraints on what it means to be us till there is no one left but you and your brother… not even your cousin.

And commenters responded:
"Fly some Jews in from around the world (maybe five or six), hold a two day conference at a university"

This is a good idea.

But I fear most questions asked will be about Palestine, and probably not about real events that actually happen(ed) there.

Perhaps these students should be prepared, like told to only ask questions about events they can reference in western or Israeli newspapers rather than word of mouth? I am being serious here.

But I like the general idea. Good luck!

And I think you are right. It will help Egypt in the long run, perhaps quicke
-by Andrew Brehm


Karim,

I can’t tell you how excited I was when I read your post! The problem however is the anti-normalization discourse which is so abundant in Egypt; the Coptic pope has forbade any followers of the Coptic Church from entering Palestine because of the belief that a visit to Gaza and the West Bank is tantamount with recognition, legitimization, and approval of the Israeli occupation; I think several members of Al Azhar also agree- so anyhow, I think as a first step, this mode of thinking needs to change.
Secondly, you should contact Seeds of Peace, it’s a camp which works primarily with youth for that a similar cause.
Third, I think that those who travel should also be given internship opportunities in whatever field they work in, on the condition that they work with both Israeli’s and Palestinians, i.e. if someone has teaching accreditation, they should work part time at Hand in Hand, (Hand in Hand is a private school recognized by the Israeli Ministry of Education. To date, there are 676 students, divided between nursery school and elementary school: students have doubled in just the past two years and last fall, 120 enrolment requests had to be turned down on account of a lack of space. The school is located in three branches: in Jerusalem, in Galilee and in the Arab village of Wadi Ara. And in the next five years, in consideration of catering to all the demands, ten new schools are expected to be constructed.)
You should also contact Amr Shalakany at AUC’s law school, he used to live in Palestine and could probable help in facilitating you with a couple students who’d be interested.
Keep us updated, MashAllah, I can’t tell you how great an initiative this is!
-by Darcy R.

Karim -

I think you'll have a bit of a legal problem with Part Two. I mean, it could work with Egypt, Jordan and Morocco - but even then the Israelis would be at mortal peril.

Moreover, I am afraid that the potential impact of the suggested program would be miniscule. Maybe if you could get enough sympathetic media coverage, it might have an effect - but given the current status of Arab media, it seems very unlikely that you could do that.

But then again, here's an idea: a reality TV show, possibly in the (admittedly horrid) Big Brother style, with Arabs and Jews from all over the world.

Good luck - and much respect for the initiative :)
-by The Raccoon
[Personally, I believe a media campaign would be more effective, but I do not believe that One Arab World has enough money to attempt such a thing at this point, so this is a good place to start, now]
I think you have a great idea and it needs to be pushed. "Friendship Forces" and student exchange programs have a long history in the US and most people think nothing of it. But for most of the world the only foreigners are either refugees or tourists, and neither group is likely to inspire much respect or sympathy.

I have personal experience with newly-arrived Muslims from other countries whose anti-Semitism is nakedly obvious and offensive. They reveal their prejudice candidly with no thought that someone Jewish might be present. I think you are correct when you say that most Muslims have never actually met or seen a Jew in person.
-by Hootsuddy
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