Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rand.org Presentation: Alternative Strategies in the Middle East

Serendipity strikes.

Misty, Craig and I walked 3 million miles this morning to catch a presentation by David Sirota (author, The Uprising), at the Starz Green Room just outside the security checkpoint of the Pepsi Center. After a slight altercation with a man wearing mirror shades pretending to be secret service, we were able to use our press credential to get all three of us in. The event was shorter than expected, so we wandered down the hall into an unscheduled presentation by Rand Corporation's Edward O'Connell on middle east activists fighting radicalism.

One of the stories that resounded most with me was a conference Mr. O'Connell put together with varies grassroots media organizations from Bosnia, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In the three day conferences they found a consistent trend with local activists and independent media. Day one, very quiet. Day two, arguing and hostility. Day three, the attendees were running the conference, sharing stories, and finding common ground.

The largest message of the presentation can be paraphrased as one of seeing a larger picture, or as Mr. O'Connell put it, spreading the little d, rather than simply preaching the big D, as well as engaging those fighting for change in the middle east, rather than leaving a vacuum for extremist sympathizing. The presentation was punctuated by video of the recruitment, training, and final acts of a 16 year old suicide bomber, and graphic images of children in a war zone, barraged with images and messages glorifying Hezbollah and terrorism, countered not at all by American efforts.

What Mr. O'Connell is advocating is an opportunity for as to make an actual difference in the middle east through simple acts as supplying books for local libraries that offset those contributed by extremists, or interacting with the uprising of independent media groups who want to tell the real story of life in the middle east.

Very eye opening experience, to say the least. Our history in the middle east and our current occupation of Iraq are too often over simplified. It's undeniable that to achieve something more lasting and productive, we've got to be involved in ways other than am imposing military presence, and realize that there are social issues at play (with room for education and exposure to a "larger world" than traditionally made available to the people) not simply a polarized religious insurgency.

After the presentation, Mr. O'Connell also gave us the "hook up" with one of Iraq's most well known bloggers. More on that later.

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