View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Monday, October 29, 2007

UAE Experiment Forging ‘Third Way’ Between Islam and the West

Michael Goodwin, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist tells readers of the New York Times today that he is hopeful after visiting the UAE, as one of the 200 foreigners attending the Festival of Thinkers in Abu Dhabi.

Among other things he says of the UAE:

“But a revolution in this oil-rich Arab nation has begun, one waged with the help of imported soft power from around the globe. If the rest of the Arab world follows, and if America takes yes for an answer, peace might have a chance…”

“But something new and dramatic is happening - a movement to embrace Western educational ideals. Scientific standards, liberal arts and even critical thinking are now openly praised. American-style philanthropy is taking hold. First Lady Laura Bush got a red-carpet welcome on her trip to promote breast cancer awareness. The Louvre and Guggenheim are building museums. New York University is building a campus, and the New York Academy of Sciences signed cooperation deals with the government.”

“That such striking initiatives are coming from a Sunni Muslim theocracy, even a moderate one, is something I didn't believe until I got here.”

“The Arab Emirates is bucking that trend. Sheik Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, head of the fledgling college system and the force behind the conference, concedes that the Emirates must learn from the West. Upgrading educational standards and opportunities, especially for women, tops his goals.”

“So his invitation list included many Jewish Americans and professional women. The sheik, dressed in flowing robes and headdress, posed for photographs for the local media standing with Western women, including my wife, Jennifer Raab, the president of Hunter College. In this authoritarian system, symbols are values, and he was signaling that his country should adopt some of the West's. For his efforts, the sheikh has been called a "mosque burner" by Islamist critics.”

“The experiment has many contradictions. The Iraq war is very unpopular, but the threat from Iran and Muslim terrorists are condemned, too. The country has back-channel contacts with Israel, yet does not recognize it, and some newspaper weather maps do not show Israeli cities, as if they don’t exist. And democracy is not even on the radar, a bitter pill for some in Washington.”

“The complexity of the culture is bewildering, and, after a single visit, I am reluctant to call the Emirati experiment a “third way” between Islam and the West. Then again, I’m not sure what else to call it, for it clearly seeks a course that embodies values from both worlds. Whatever it is, the Emirati way may be the best compromise we can reasonably expect.”

To read the full article, follow this link:
Michael Goodwin, ‘In Arabia, a Glimmer of Hope,’ New York Daily News, October 28, 2007.

Image: “The Arab Emirates is bucking that trend.”