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Post-September 11… Post-Katrina - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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It is hard not to compare between the human suffering in Iraq and that in New Orleans, regardless of differences in reasons and consequences. With New Orleans, the citizens of the richest country in the world were shocked by their media accounts of the pre-Katrina situation of the city, concerning the deficiencies in the level of education, cultural and ethnic integration with the rest of the country, and the high rate of crime. Today spreads the call for rebuilding New Orleans on higher standards that give its inhabitants better opportunities at enjoying decent human life. Some extremist Americans interpreted this natural disaster as a &#34heavenly punishment&#34 to the people of New Orleans for neglecting the Torah. Some rabies said it was because &#34the American Administration approved the Israeli withdrawal form Gaza.&#34 These fanatic reactions are very reminiscent of many comments we heard after September 11th and the Madrid bombings, leaving a wedge between the West and Islam.

Post September 11th, the world talked about a new world order, with new rules and new standards. Today, four years later, the post-September world brought around only more racism, anger, and bitterness. It brought more occupation and violence, and more ethnic and civil conflicts. It feels like we are re-living the time of expansion wars and colonialism, with the ethnic, racist and cultural barriers they bequeathed. After the bombings on July the 7th in London, it only got worse. The wedge increased, and all calls for cultural, religious and ethnic bridging were neglected. Had the world reacted to theses tragedies the same way it reacted to Katrina, humanity would have been saved much suffering. After Katrina, the ailing reality on the ground was examined, reasons analyzed and solutions sought. The solutions included creating economic incentives, better educational opportunities, and a higher employment rate. In short, the reactions were positive and constructive. They targeted cultural and ethnic integration, justice, equality, and higher rates of development to achieve real stability, freedom, and democracy.

Since &#34Desert Storm&#34 and till Katrina, millions in the Middle East and the United States have suffered disastrous consequences of the political events, totally opposed to the declared goals of prosperity, freedom and democracy. Billions of dollars were wasted on wars rather than development, be it development in Iraq or in New Orleans. Terrorism spread on wider grounds, extremism gained more followers, while secularism, freedom and democracy were more undermined. One of the most alarming consequences is the undeclared war on secularism from Iraq to Palestine by extremists from all religions. This has been undermining all secular efforts for building states on a base of citizenship, not ethnicity, race, or individual interest. The national interest has been lost in wars of conflicting small interests.

Many analysts confirmed that the best answer to Katrina is true cultural integration, economic prosperity, and solid social and educational foundations that can resist any future catastrophe. What the Middle East needs today is a similar approach, one that builds bridges between the East and West through more integration, economic development, and investment. Openness, not suspicion, accusation, and exclusion, will remove cultural barriers. What the Middle East needs today is not more wars and sanctions, leading to more strife, violence, and instability. What the Middle East needs today is more dialogue, development, and integration with the rest of the world on bases of equality and cooperation. Otherwise, the extremists will continue leading the world towards more crises and more catastrophes.

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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