Now, more than ever, we must look to the Middle East and North Africa

By Brandon Desiderio
September 26, 2012

Over the past two weeks, the assaults and protests that erupted throughout the Middle East have proven one thing: this area, in the midst of such radical transformation, should be our particular concern.

The divisions among Muslims over their evolving democracies continue to develop as they try to bring about radical changes to parts of the world that haven’t modernized to keep pace with other countries. While we should praise their advances toward a more democratic and inclusive form of government, we must also examine this area with caution. There’s no guarantee of what democracy will look like for the Middle East – nor, more importantly, what transformative steps they’ll have to take in order to achieve it.

The U.S. is embedded in a specific form of democracy, with many Americans espousing secular, individualistic and capitalistic values above all others, their right to do so protected by a particularly strong freedom of speech. Democracy, as it evolves in the Middle East and North Africa, will take different forms, in tune with countries’ religious and cultural traditions. The push and pull among variations of Islam, unique cultures in each country and the liberal, secular and capitalistic ideals of the western world will lead to many challenges to come.

At times we, as Americans, lose sight of the differences between our society and others. Our country stands as testament to the power of diversity and the freedoms that it affords, but it also sometimes leads to an individualism that forgets community, freedom that obscures respect, and sexual expression that overlooks the sensitivity of others. Aspects of our society that our media have led us to accept as “normal” are strange and abhorrent in other parts of the world, just as aspects of cultures in other parts of the world seem backwards or repressive to us.

The controversial anti-Islamist film, “Innocence of Muslims,” which has led to protests and, in some cases, violent attacks on American, British and German diplomatic missions stationed in the Middle East, was both filmed and produced on U.S. soil. While it falls under our own privileges as Americans to express our opinions no matter how offensive or blasphemous they may be to other cultures and systems of belief, a certain level of sensitivity and respect should be given to those  who value such respect for their beliefs.

Muslims in the Middle East take their religion very seriously. Anything seen as blasphemous, as directly insulting the Prophet Muhammad or Islam overall, goes against the teachings of the Quran. It’s likely that the video was produced by a religious sect trying to offend other religions for its own political purposes – a punishable crime in Islam.

As the region continues to evolve and transform, it’s most crucial now, more than ever, to understand these cultural differences and societal constraints of the Middle East. One day, the Middle East might evolve radically from where it stands today – or maybe it won’t.

Cabrini exposes us to all regions of the world and to other faiths and cultures. Our mission statement calls us to become “engaged citizens of the world.”

We at the Loquitur believe that, in order to live up to this calling and engage ourselves with the important events happening in the Middle East and all around, we must consciously leave our comfort zones and reconsider what we devote our free time to.

It doesn’t have to be much – just 10 percent of the time we waste at bars or watching the same TV show on repeat could make a difference. If all of us knew even one fraction more about the world as we do about last week’s Emmys, we’d be able to fully understand more ways of seeing the world than just our own.

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Brandon Desiderio

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