February 23, 2009: While Islamic terrorism gets most of the headlines, there's also a growing "Arab Reform Movement" in the Middle East, that believes the problems in the Arab world are internal, not external. The fact that an increasing number of Arabs support this movement, and that governments are not trying to exterminate it, is encouraging. But the reform movement is pushing against centuries of conservatism, and opposition to the kinds of things that Westerners take for granted. Meanwhile, Most Arabs still prefer to believe in conspiracies and fantasies, rather than deal with the reality of their situation.
One concrete example of reform is the Doha Debates. Eight times a year, for the last five years, a debate is held on some subject of great interest to the Arab world. Set up in cooperation with BBC (which broadcasts them worldwide to an audience of some 300 million), one of the recent debates posed the question that, after the recent Gaza war (which split the Arab world in a very public way, because many Arabs believed Hamas was being stupid, and a pawn of Iran), Arab unity was "dead and buried." Two notable Arabs debated for each side of the argument. Then the audience of Arabs (mostly college students from all over the Arab world) voted, 77 percent for the proposition (that Arab unity was dead) and 23 percent against.
The Doha Debates have been unique for the willingness to confront important issues in the Arab world, that are often only whispered about. Things like Israel and the Palestinians, the lack of democracy, education and economic progress and the role of religion in public life. Foreigners, including prominent Americans and Israelis, have been invited to argue their side of debates. Unlike a decade ago, important issues are being openly discussed. Public attitudes are changing, and change, in general, is creeping into the Arab world. This is what will ultimately defeat Islamic terrorism.