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I, Virginia Bergman, pledge not to vote for a male presidential candidate in 2016 just because he's male.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

RX for the Middle East: pluralism in politics, education and religion

Courtesy of thomaslfriedman.com.

Tom Friedman, op-ed columnist at the NY Times, is promoting a radical solution to the latest outburst of sectarian violence in Iraq and other hotspots in the Middle East. In his column titled ISIS and SISI, Friedman, a native of the Twin Cities, is talking about pluralism (inclusion rather than exclusion) in education, politics, and religion.

Friedman is being true to his roots in the Twin Cities. For example, the St. Paul Interfaith Network actively promotes religious pluralism, and my alma mater, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, describes itself on its website as: "Home to interfaith and intercultural Initiatives, where every graduate has academic grounding and personal experience to lead in a pluralistic society."

It's going to take a while longer for the rest of the world to catch up with enlightened folks in Minneapolis-St. Paul, but Friedman is doing his part by encouraging a movement toward pluralism in the Middle East where sectarian violence has long been a way of life:

The past month has presented the world with what the Israeli analyst Orit Perlov describes as the two dominant Arab governing models: ISIS and SISI. 

ISIS, of course, is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the bloodthirsty Sunni militia that has gouged out a new state from Sunni areas in Syria and Iraq. SISI, of course, is Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the new strongman/president of Egypt, whose regime debuted this week by shamefully sentencing three Al Jazeera journalists to prison terms on patently trumped-up charges — a great nation acting so small.
ISIS and Sisi, argues Perlov, a researcher on Middle East social networks at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, are just flip sides of the same coin: one elevates “god” as the arbiter of all political life and the other “the national state.”

Both have failed and will continue to fail — and require coercion to stay in power — because they cannot deliver for young Arabs and Muslims what they need most: the education, freedom and jobs to realize their full potential and the ability to participate as equal citizens in their political life.
We are going to have to wait for a new generation that “puts society in the center,” argues Perlov, a new Arab/Muslim generation that asks not “how can we serve god or how can we serve the state but how can they serve us.”

Perlov argues that these governing models — hyper-Islamism (ISIS) driven by a war against “takfiris,” or apostates, which is how Sunni Muslim extremists refer to Shiite Muslims; and hyper-nationalism (SISI) driven by a war against Islamist “terrorists,” which is what the Egyptian state calls the Muslim Brotherhood — need to be exhausted to make room for a third option built on pluralism in society, religion and thought.

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