Posted on November 05, 2010 in Viewpoint with James Zogby

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, PLO Executive Committee member, discussed a wide range of Middle East issues, including the status of Arab Christians in the Middle East following an attack on a Baghdad church which left at least 50 people dead and several more injured. Dr. Ashrawi also discussed the latest issues facing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Commenting on Arab Christians, particularly in Palestine, Ashrawi was disheartened by their current political status and tied the issue more broadly to Palestinian concerns, noting that, “political conditions [for Christians] have in many ways been disastrous…in addition to the national oppression that all Palestinians are suffering from, they’re also targeting Christians who have a lower birth rates, higher immigration rates…to the point that we’ve diminished in number from 20% to [about] 2%...given the fact that this is Palestine, the birthplace of Christianity and where pluralism and tolerance and inclusion and authenticity of identity were the keys to Palestinian identity, the alarming diminishing of Christians is a serious phenomenon that has to be dealt with.”

The conversation quickly turned to the current challenges hindering peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis. Ashrawi emphasized the need to, “deal with all issues simultaneously, particularly the issue of internal empowerment [for Palestinians].” According the Ashrawi, internal empowerment requires reconciliation based on the needs and realities of the situation in Palestine. However, Ashrawi remained prudent in her outlook on the success of reconciliation: “When we talk about reconciliation, we don’t mean that people are going to become monolithic,” but added that Palestinian leadership has to, “safeguard the right of people to dissent peacefully.” On the issue of settlements, Ashrawi was emphatic about their status as illegal entities, “wherever they are, whether in Jerusalem, around Jerusalem, in Gaza, in the West Bank,” and firmly held that to grant “infinite rewards” for anything less than a total halt to settlement-building would be unacceptable.


Matthew Duss, National Security Researcher/Blogger at the Center for American Progress, discussed Islamophobia in the U.S. Mr. Duss focused on a few newly elected members of Congress and explained how their campaigns exploited Anti-Muslim sentiment to gain political traction. Mr. Duss explained how the current economic climate in the U.S. has helped to perpetuate Islamophobia.

Duss first highlighted the economy as a significant factor exacerbating Islamophobia in the country: “If you go back in history and look when this has happened, unfortunately people look for places where they can vent their frustrations and right now it’s Muslims and it’s immigrants.” Duss also noted that traditional neocons have played a major role in aiding the political salience of anti-Muslim rhetoric in order to bring Tea Partiers and other newly prominent fringe conservatives under one ideological umbrella, stating that “[Republicans] are now seeing a real challenge from these Tea Party groups…so they’re using this Islamophobia issue to paper over some of these differences and unite the movement in the same way they used communism in the 50’s and 60’s to unite these different strains of conservatism.” He tied this attempt closely to the Park51 controversy and the effort on the parts of some conservative politicians to make it a national issue. “They saw this as something that can really mobilize their base.”

Speaking on the relationship Obama will have with the new Republican majority House of Representatives, Duss did not think the President’s ability to implement the Administration’s foreign policy objectives would be hindered. However, Obama would need to maintain “steadfastness” in order to, “pursue the agenda he wants to.” Nevertheless, Duss Conceded that, with the likes of such newly elected Representatives as Renee Ellmers and Alan West, “it’s going to be a wild couple years.” Duss referenced the Iraq Liberation Act, which congress passed in 1998, as an effective way that the then-Republican majority Congress “relieved [partisan] tension” between Congress and President Clinton, seemingly hoping that this Congress might be inclined to enact something similar.

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