This week I continue the discussion about the Australian Arab Women’s Dialogue under the theme “Talking the world to a better place” which took place in Australia between 15-27 March 2013 and its initiative to enlighten Australians about the role of Arab women in building their societies and about the struggles of diverse cultures within the Arab world. The women from Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the UAE met with Australian women in government, civil society, and media and with social activists to dispel many of the misconceptions that divide the West and the Arab world.
The Australian Arab Women’s Dialogue was an opportunity to present Arab societies to the Australian community and to touch base with Australians of Arab origin who have become victims of Islamophobia and who need a moral boost to support their integration into Australian society. The women representatives of Arab countries were able to make it clear that the Middle East is not about oil, Israel and terrorism, but is instead about people who are striving to achieve their hopes and aspirations. It is about the Palestinians who have a just cause and continue their struggle to end Israeli occupation so that they can live a life of dignity. It is also about the Lebanese people who continue to be threatened by internal and external divisive forces. It is about Iraqis who are striving to stop the bloodshed and rebuild their country after the US and its Western allies left it in ruins, conflicts and complete chaos. It is about Syrians who are suffering under the rule of a despot who continues to kill his people to remain in power, and Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans who are trying to maintain stability in the aftermath of the uprisings that toppled the dictatorships which for so many years deprived them of justice and equal opportunities, and Jordanians and Moroccans who are calling for political reforms to include people’s participation in the decision making process.
The Arab countries also include the people of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf who are trying desperately to accelerate reforms and address the challenges of extremism and spread awareness among a large segment of society that is resistant to the modernization process. It also includes Yemenis and Sudanese who have become the victims of sectarianism, while activists are struggling to build cohesion and bring peace and calm to their troubled societies. The Arab people may speak the same language and share the same borders and many may intermarry, but each country has its own challenges and each society can be very diverse. Not many Australians were aware that Arab societies include Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sunnis, Shias and many other different sects who aspire to maintain the harmony that existed before extremism and terrorism disrupted their peaceful existence and threatened the safety of innocent women and children, who are the main victims of wars, conflicts and uprisings that still prevail in the aftermath of 9/11.
The eloquent Arab women who included journalists, activists, a doctor, a financial expert and an actor and film producer, engaged in public forums, workshops and seminars in universities and media centers, and talked about the reasons behind Arab resentment of the West. They explained how in the past the West played a negative role that was detrimental to the progress and prosperity of Arab countries, colonizing and interfering in the internal affairs of these nations. The US with its double standards toward the Arab-Israeli conflict and its support for Israeli injustices against the Palestinians, and its brutal war against Iraq has kept the whole region in turmoil.
Moreover, Hollywood movies and the hostile media that depict all Arabs as uncivilized terrorists have influenced the negative attitude toward Arabs in the Western world. The principle of collective guilt has been applied to all Arabs and Muslims and their people have been portrayed as the enemies of peace and global coexistence. The unjustified targeting of Arabs and Muslims in the West and the blatant injustices have radicalized many who feel that they need to protect their honor and identity. Moreover, the ineffective role of Arab despots who pursue their selfish agendas and are unable to defend their nations has resulted in the spread of extremism and made Arab societies victims of violence and terrorist attacks.
Meanwhile, the roundtable meetings in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne with Australian women in parliament, in executive leadership positions and in prominent roles within the legal and business communities provided an excellent opportunity for the Arab women delegates to learn about the leadership role of Australian women in all sectors of society. In Australia the Prime Minister and the Governor General are both powerful women and a number of women hold important ministerial portfolios in the current government.
The Arab world today is in need of friendships that can help it rebuild and prosper. In order to offer support, friends and allies need to understand the individual needs and challenges of each Arab country and not resort to lumping them all in the same basket. It is time we put 9/11 behind us and support initiatives of an emerging global civil society spearheading a campaign to serve humanity and global coexistence. Australian women have shown genuine interest in playing a bigger role in supporting Arab aspirations and advancing the efforts of Arab women to rebuild their societies and achieve economic prosperity. Their desire to understand and learn about Arab culture and the role of Arab women is a positive initiative that can foster better relations between Australia, the West and the Arab world.
(This is the second in a three-part series on the Australian Arab Women’s Dialogue.)
— Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.