Zogby to discuss book, myths he says shape how Americans view Arabs
James Zogby is crisscrossing the country promoting his new book, "Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us, and Why it Matters." He's in Seattle Thursday and scheduled to speak at an event sponsored by The World Affairs Council and the Henry M. Jackson School of International Affairs at the University of Washington.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Yes, James Zogby, says, he does sometimes feel like Sisyphus, but, "I'm Sisyphus with a smile."
The stone he's been pushing uphill is getting Americans to understand Arabs.
What we don't know is hurting us, but he believes we now may be primed to learn, especially the young among us.
Zogby is crisscrossing the country promoting his new book, "Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us, and Why it Matters."
He's in Seattle Thursday and scheduled to speak at an event sponsored by The World Affairs Council and the Henry M. Jackson School of International Affairs at the University of Washington.
I spoke with him by phone.
"In the last 30 years, we've sent more money, more troops, fought more wars in that part of the world than anywhere else," he said. "Yet we don't understand it." That has to change, he said because now, "We are so engaged that we can no longer afford to not know."
Ignorance isn't bliss, it's a recipe for failure.
Zogby is the founder and president of the Arab American Institute and also works with Zogby International, the polling company run by his brother John. (They're Americans with family roots in Lebanon.)
He bases much of the book on what the company's polls and his travels tell him about what is on the minds of Arabs.
He examines how our, sometimes willful, ignorance has led us to bad policies and a poor reputation in a region of vital importance.
Zogby quotes the former Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott who talked about his frustration with the way things were going in Iraq in 2006, when Lott was on the Intelligence Committee.
Lott said, "It's hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what's wrong with these people." Goodness.
Zogby focused on addressing five myths that he says shape how Americans view Arabs.
First, they're all the same. OK, we should know that can't be true. There are 22 Arab countries with 350 million people, he said. Morocco is quite different from Egypt, which is different from Saudi Arabia. He presents lots of polling data about their different attitudes, but really, shouldn't that be obvious?
Well, I guess not, except when myth two appears: There is no Arab world. The idea being they are a collection of quarreling tribes.
But Arabs share two big connections, language and some shared political concerns. (A solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict matters across the region).
Myth three: The Angry Arab. There certainly are some angry Arabs, but most people say they are mostly concerned about their families and jobs. They like watching movies and TV shows. You know, they're people.
Myths four and five, that they are obsessed with Islam and frozen in time.
People say religion is important, but it isn't the first thing on their lists when they are asked to rank what matters.
There are some modernization pains, but change is hard for people in all societies. Maybe you've heard some Americans yelling, "We want our country back."
Zogby divides the book into history, myths, consequences of ignorance, and finally how to get it right.
He said President Obama's speech in Cairo last year was a good start. Obama offered a nuanced assessment of the relationship between Arab countries and the West that showed he was listening.
Obama was attacked at home for that, but Zogby points out that during the Cold War we worked hard to understand the Soviet Union, because knowledge was to our advantage.
Zogby is optimistic that a desire to know will assert itself. In his travels around the U.S., he's found, "Young people are so enlightened and crying out for information."
That's where his book comes in, offering facts and perspective for anyone willing to listen.
Zogby's talk begins at 7 p.m. at Kane Hall.
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Jerry Large
I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
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