Phi Beta Cons

The Arab Street at Georgetown U.

Last week, I participated in a forum at Georgetown University that brought together a handful of American college students and a group of 20 college students from different Arab countries throughout North Africa and the Middle East.
The Arab students have been sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative to spend time this summer at Georgetown learning about American culture and politics.   Amidst the recitation of anti-American talking points during our discussion on American and Middle Eastern politics, there were signs of hope.
“What makes American government better than those of countries in the Middle East is that even the president has to follow the law,” said a young woman from southern Lebanon.  “You can have a constitution and elections, but it doesn’t matter if no one follows the law.”  She’s getting it, I thought.
But about ten minutes later, the same Lebanese girl became indignant when I expressed my wish that the Lebanese government itself could crush Hezbollah.   She told me that she supported the Cedar Revolution and that Hezbollah was merely a defensive organization protecting Lebanon.  And she informed me that it was the only thing protecting her family from indiscriminate Israeli bombings.   “I don’t support any civilians being killed, but if I have to choose to protect my family or someone else, I will choose my family,” she said.
Despite my efforts to make the self-evident case against Hezbollah, the 20 Arab students in the program, a mix of Shia and Sunni with a few Christians interspersed, seemed to be in unanimous support of Nasrallah and his ilk.
I realize such support is not uncommon in the Middle East, but it was especially disconcerting to hear this response from students who have been brought to the US to learn about the principles of American government.

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