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Of Noteworthy Items in the Press

No Kidding: The Qatari satellite television station Al Jazeera broadcast a discussion February 15 on “Why the Arabs Have Become the Joke of the World,” but the panelists weren’t laughing.

The unusually candid discussion, translated from Arabic by the Middle East Media Research Institute, offers a rare glimpse into the internal Arab debate about who is responsible for the stunted development of Arab countries.

“I am completely convinced that the Arab ruler, in his cruelty, repression and oppression toward his people, bears most, if not all, the responsibility for the collapse of the Arab reality — politically, economically and culturally,” said Algerian journalist Yahya Abu Zakaria. “If they had even a grain of shame, they would withdraw from the political arena and leave it to the young political leaders.”

“I disagree with this completely,” replied Egyptian historian Ahmad Othman. “If we replace the rulers and bring new ones tomorrow, they would do the same thing, because the people themselves and the Arab nation are in a state of cultural and moral collapse…. We must first of all change ourselves. We must establish cultural values.”

Then again, Othman said, regime change just might have a liberating effect on Arab culture — and in the process diminish support for terrorism. “If the Americans enter, change the regime in Iraq and bring in a democratic regime, it will be possible to replace the other regimes later…. If the Arab people have an opportunity to learn, to participate in the rule of their land and to participate in building society, they will not go to destroy America and Europe.”

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Common Denominator: “Consider,” Kenneth Woodward writes in the March 10 issue of Newsweek. “For the past 10 years the world’s most powerful nation has been led by white, Southern, churchgoing evangelical Protestants — Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Each opted to attend the church of his wife’s choice. And in both cases that choice was Methodist. But in religion — as in politics — the two presidents could not be less alike.”

The lesson to be learned, Woodward concludes, is that “denominational labels no longer tell much about those who wear them.” Such labels, he says, maintain their utility not by being worn by leaders, but by grounding governance in religious beliefs. “Translating faith into political principles is what denominations try to do.”

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Your Turn: “What would Americans understand about Europe,” Richard Lambert asks in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, “if their only source of current information were the U.S. print media?”

To begin with, writes Lambert, the former editor of the British daily Financial Times, “American readers could reasonably come to the conclusion that the entire continent of Europe consists of three large countries — the United Kingdom, France, and Germany — and a lot of blank spaces.”

But all the transatlantic media emphasis on trivial stereotypes aside, he says, the growing disparity between American and European power should be of real concern. The onus, he argues, is on the Old Continent.

“It is time for the Europeans to make determined and consistent efforts to present their ideas to the United States, and for the first time they are in a position to do so. What 20 years ago was a collection of nation-states is now a coherent economic powerhouse, with some considerable achievements under its belt,” he writes.

“True,” Lambert admits, “a unified Europe faces serious problems, especially when it comes to developing a coherent approach to foreign policy. But Europeans should be doing much more than they are today to tell Americans at every level about their achievements in the past, their contributions in the present, and their ideas for the future. They can and must demonstrate that they are partners to be valued and respected.”

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