Caitlyn Gardiner is a homeschooled high school senior who enjoys writing, political science, and studying international relations.. Ze is an intern for the Middle Eastern American Advisory Group for Montgomery County, and runs the group's Instagram account (@mocomeaag). A few weeks ago, ze had the opportunity to attend a conference focusing on a holistic view of the Arab World, and wrote this essay shortly after to capture the highlights of the event.
When people think of the Middle East, it is easy to immediately picture images of violent conflict and war as frequently portrayed by the mainstream media. While this may capture the surface level issues, these snapshot stories fail to communicate the underlying issues, including a continually growing poverty and economic vulnerability rate of 55%, cultural divides, and an education system over-romanticizing the past rather than empowering the present. The third annual Arab Center Washington DC Conference, titled The Arab World Beyond Conflict, was held on September 20th, 2018 and explored these underlying issues through numerous insightful panel discussions and keynote speakers.
On behalf of the Middle Eastern American Advisory Group, the chair, Debbie Trent, and an intern, Caitlyn Gardiner, attended the conference. They enjoyed listening to the productive discussions of the panelists and networking with others at the conference. The day began with panels to frame the current situation in the Middle East. Much emphasis was placed on the lack of freedom of the press and free speech. In one country, laws even allow for any social media account with over 500,000 followers to be shut down simply for allegations of fake news, without any need for evidence. In another country, citizens in an isolated area saw failure of development policies so severe they were forced to eat leaves or starve. With situations this desperate, people may expect to read about them frequently. Noura Erakat, a panelist and Assistant Professor in the School of Integrative Studies at George Mason University, explained that we do not see all of those stories because mainstream media sees Arabs in the Middle East the same way it saw African Americans in the 1940s: invisible.
The final panel of the day was my personal favorite: Beyond Sectarianization: Toward Inclusive Citizenship in Arab Societies. Panelists discussed the need for accountability, transparency, and inclusivity in Arab societies, as best captured by one speaker: “Democracy requires the inclusion of all (and) is impossible without the inclusion of all.” As the conversation progressed to speculating about post-conflict Arab societies, several panelists echoed that there may not be such a thing as a post-conflict society; not because of an inevitability of war, but because disagreement and dislike are a part of free will, and therefore play a role even in times of peace. Therefore, the objective for the future of Arab societies, and the rest of the world, is not to eliminate conflict, but to make open and productive discussions the driving force of democracy.
For more information on the Arab Center Washington D.C., please visit http://arabcenterdc.org/