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Rain was washing down the windscreen, while my hostess worried her way through the slow traffic towards the lecture hall. Next to her, I was contemplating the type of audience that will be debating my lecture on &#34Arab Rights and the World.&#34 We arrived slightly delayed to find the lecture hall packed with professors, students, journalists, Canadians of Arab descent, and others just interested in the Middle East. For half an hour I spoke to the audience on the situation in the Arab region from Iraq to Syria, Palestine and Lebanon, trying to paint the real picture they rarely encounter in western media, sometimes due to deliberate blackout. Sincere interest was beaming at me from the rows. After I concluded with the Arabs” duty to tell the world objectively and honestly what is happening in their countries, the audience stood up to applaud. The discussions and reactions that followed were surprisingly diverse in the way they revealed the varying identities and backgrounds of the audience.

I spoke to some of the concerned audience about the inseparability of solutions for occupation and settlement and real reform movements, human rights campaigns, combating corruption, and sustainable development. Some called for more efforts to stop the brain drain from the Arab world and provide Arab expatriated experts with the enabling environment that ensures their contribution as change agents. The questions I received from the Canadian scholars and professors were focused around three axes that matched the three main messages I meant to relay to my audience. The first was questioning the reasons why Arab spokespersons at the United Nations and everywhere else do not propagate the Arab Initiative launched at the Beirut Summit in 2002, and reaffirmed at the Algeria Summit 2005. This would demonstrate the collective Arab call for peace with Israel, and show the world that it is Sharon who is blocking its implementation according to international legitimacy.

My second message was questioning why there does not exist any honest media that shows the world the actual destruction, insecurity, squander, and obliteration of national identity taking place in Iraq. No one seems to shed light on this side of reality, instead the media focus is devoted to the United States” winnings and losses. The third message was yet another question contemplating the reasons why Arab media do not have one united voice against the prevailing divisive and sectarian dismemberment of Iraq, and the serving terminology of &#34Sunni and Shiaa&#34 designating threatening new rival political identities in the Middle East. Finally, I concluded with a search for the means of collaboration between all the free forces in the world in campaign that upholds Arab rights like they once did South African racial justice.

Responding to the varied questions and differing attitudes coming from the audience, I found myself drawing an enlightening comparison on a different scale. I thought of the British organizations demanding the detaining of a number of Israeli military officers who committed war crimes against Palestinian civilians. These demands have actually sent General Almong back on the same plane bringing him to London, made Yoshi Alon cancel a similar trip, and Sharon reject Blair”s invitation to visit Britain. I thought of the leaders of the Anglican Church demanding a British apology to Muslims for the war on Iraq, and of %83 of Americans opposing the war. On the opposite side I thought of the daily reports in Arab media parroting and exaggerating what the Israelis propagate about Palestinians, Hezbollah and Syria.

The reality we live today demands from believers in right and justice to have a different international and regional approach. We, Arabs, have the responsibility to place what is actually happening in our region in the right human and international context to end up foreign occupation. Only then, we might be able to catch up with the human progress towards reform, development and democracy. Reform is a consequent and not a precondition or an alternative to ending the suffering and destruction that has befallen our region.

Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban

Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban

Prof. Bouthaina Shaaban is political and media advisor to the Syrian presidency, and the former minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer, and has been a professor at Damascus University since 1985. She received her PhD in English Literature from Warwick University, London. She was the spokesperson for Syria. She was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

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