Students discuss Arab Spring one year later

Paulina Firozi

The Muslim-cultural Students Association hosted Arab Spring: One Year Later on Thursday to address the dynamics surrounding the Arab uprising, the revolutionary movement and the effects it has had on the United States over the past year. The event took place in Ryan Auditorium in the Technological Institute.

Guest speakers Dr. Reza Aslan, an expert on the Middle East, and Imam Suhaib Webb, a prominent Muslim speaker, spoke to an audience of about 120 people, sharing stories on their experiences in Middle Eastern countries and the concerns they have over how people perceive Islamic nations and people.

“I think it’s important because one of the things I tried to do in my rather scattered lecture is to draw parallels and look at the interpretation of Islam within American context,” Webb said. “We do have people here demonizing every articulation of Islam from the ‘All-American Muslim’ tattoo girl to Lupe Fiasco. In the light of what happened in the Middle East, it’s an important discussion to have: What type of Islam are we going to see in these countries, where is there a growing democracy, and is Islam able to function in a democratic system?”

Throughout the lecture, Dr. Aslan discussed what he believed were the five myths about Arab Spring and the general misconceptions people have about Islamic initiatives. He also discussed the concept of using social media during revolutions to raise awareness.

The five myths he discussed included the concept that the Arab uprising was a surprise, that it was not a movement geared toward democracy, that it was an Islamic takeover of the Middle East, that the movement is bad for Israel and that it is also bad for America.

Webb shared a story about the day President Obama visited Egypt in 2009, when the streets of Cairo emptied in preparation for his arrival.

“Like in ‘I Am Legend,’ I was Will Smith, there was nothing on the streets, no taxis on the streets,” Webb said.

The general consensus, he said, among all ages was a hope that Obama would accomplish everything he promised for the Middle East. People in Egypt, he said, were excited for this “good man’s” arrival. Dr. Aslan, however, said he was disappointed with Obama’s foreign affairs strategies and relations with the Middle East.

Social media was also pertinent to uprising and revolutionary movements in countries where citizens needed the aid of their international counterparts to spread hope for democracy.

While Dr. Aslan said he did not believe the movements should be labeled as, for example, a “Twitter Revolution,” he agreed that alternative forms of communication were crucial to spreading information. He said two things were necessary for a successful movement toward democracy.

“You need the communication and technology necessary to create an organization that doesn’t rely on assembly,” he said. “Because by the time the first 100 people are there, they are gone, arrested, never to be seen again. You need 500,000 people to show up virtually before they show up in reality. And you also need the means to communicate with the outside world, because if they don’t care, nothing will happen.”

Kellogg graduate student Selin Talgar said she appreciated the speakers’ making such complex ideas about the Middle East and Arab world so accessible to the students and people in the Northwestern community.

“It’s up to us as students and young adults to be educated and to know what’s going on in the world,” Talgar said. “I feel like it’s a critical aspect that is so easy to forget about and to get lost up in your own world, but we’re the future leaders of the world and we need to take an interest in things that will, in the future, directly impact us.”

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