Posts Tagged ‘suicide bombers’

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Students, public skeptical about possibility for peace in the Middle East

May 19, 2009

Jessica L. Dexheimer

May 18, 2009

This month, U.S. President Barack Obama will make good on his campaign promise to foster peace talks in the Middle East.

According to Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Washington on May 18, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will visit May 26 and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will arrive May 28.

With each of these international leaders, Obama “will discuss ways the United States can strengthen and deepen our partnerships, as well as the steps all parties should take to help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians and between Israel and Arab states,” Gibbs said.

However, the majority of Elon University students seem to think that Obama’s efforts will be in vain.

According to an informal convenience poll of 31 Elon students, the majority believed that peace in the Middle East will not be achieved in the 21st century. About 10 percent of respondents believed that peace is possible, and approximately 39 percent of the students believed that peace will be achieved within this century, although it will not be likely any time soon.

“These issues are much more deeper than most people realize, and it’s been going back for centuries,” said junior political science major Katie Hatcher. “These are historical conflicts that can’t be resolved by someone coming in and putting money in to the region, putting military action in to it. I don’t think even the soldiers there understand what is going on.”

Junior Andie Diemer, editor-in-chief of Elon’s student newspaper, echoed Hatcher’s beliefs.

“I honestly don’t think there will ever be peace in the Middle East,” Diemer said. “It comes down to basic, fundamental human differences. We can definitely, definitely make progress, though. We need to open up the lines of communication, which Obama has been doing. I think that’s a good first step but there’s still a lot that needs to be done.”

Cautious optimism

The sentiments of the Elon students are in line with those of the general population, according to The Gallup Poll. The polling organization has found that historically, anywhere between 32 and 51 percent of Americans believe that peace is possible, and the confidence levels change following major historical events.

Tom Conley is the father of two children in the military. He said that for the first time in his life, he now believes that Middle Eastern peace is within reach.

“This conflict has been going on for thousands of years, and it’s not going to end overnight,” he said. “I don’t think one person could make a difference, but I do think that Obama’s administration has the power to make substantial strides. He lends a lot of credibility to the situation, based on his background, and I think that after September 11, the American people are willing to support stability in the region.”

Maggie Owner is a candidate for a Master’s in Political Science at American University. She has extensively studied the Middle East, and has personal ties with the region as her sister and nephew live in the United Arab Emirates. Like Conley, she believes that Obama can make critical progress towards establishing peace within the Middle East.

“I think peace in the Middle East is possible as long as Obama walks the fine line as a mediator and not a participant in peace talks,” she said. “Obama’s greatest challenge is to build connections between the regions instead of fueling their divisive relationship.”

Owner also added that in her personal experiences in the Middle East, she has noticed that the people seem “very open” to foreign intervention, as long as it doesn’t impact the region’s unique culture.

“Everything is possible” 

“If the question is ‘is peace in the Middle East possible?’ I honestly believe that everything is possible,” said Shereen Elgamal, assistant professor of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies at Elon.

Elgamal was born in Egypt, where she lived until 1993. Although she now lives in Cary, she returns to her home country every other summer.

She has traveled extensively within the Middle East, including to Mecca and Israel. As a devout Muslim, Elgamal says she is “proud” to have Christian and Jewish friends, and does not believe that Middle Eastern conflict is a result of religious differences.

“It’s not about Jews and Arabs because Jews and Muslims and Arabs have been living in this region for centuries,” she said. “Faith doesn’t have anything to do with people just hating each other.”

Instead, she attributes conflict to economic disparities and a general poor quality of life.

“We need to stop categorizing people by religion and start looking behind the acts of violence to see what kind of despair drives people to blow themselves up,” she said. “Maybe if we make life more tolerable for these people, they will stop thinking about blowing each other up.”

As for Obama’s upcoming meeting with Egyptian President Mubarak, Elgamal has some advice for the American leader. “Don’t believe everything the media tells you about this so-called religious conflict,” she said. “It’s sensationalized. It’s not reality. Look deeper, look for yourself what is causing it. Look to see how corrupt the leaders of all the countries are and what they are doing to our people.”

She also believes that Middle Eastern leaders need to provide equal representation to all demographics.

“Everybody needs to be represented, and everybody needs to be at the table,” she said. “Everybody needs to work for peace.”