By: Stephanie Bernhard, Rami Khouri, editor at large of the Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star and longtime journalist, gave a lecture Friday afternoon concerning strategies for creating peace in the Middle East. Students and professors filled the Joukowsky Forum of the Watson Institute for International Studies beyond capacity to hear Khouri speak.

Khouri began by listing problems currently plaguing the Middle East, citing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Iran’s fuel cycle and Turkey’s relation to the European Union as four of the most contentious issues. He pointed out that while Americans view the Middle East as a troubled region, they rarely understand the reasons for the tension."Terrorism is the main problem people tend to look at when they look from far away, but there are many other problems in the Middle East as well," Khouri said.
Khouri went on to explain that he knows there need to be changes in the Middle East – it is the form of change and method of implementation that concern him.

"My suggestion is that we consult the people of the Middle East, which is something that we’ve never actually done before," he said. Khouri blamed a recent history of mediocre political leadership, both in the Middle East and around the world, as the source of stagnation. Without leaders who understand the people of the Middle Eastern countries and who are willing to fight for their rights in a way that is compatible to the region, people of countries such as Iraq, Iran and Lebanon will never fully realize political freedom, he said.

"We cannot leave these questions to the mediocre leaders who have led the U.S. and Arab states," Khouri said.

Rather, he argued that revolution must come from within, from the Islamist groups who relate to the people of Middle Eastern countries.

The people could "use the Islamist ethos as a rallying cry" to draw attention to their movement, Khouri said, adding that most Islamist groups are peaceful and bear no relation to the few extremist groups often portrayed in the media in the United States.

They would, however, implement new governments in a way not necessarily compatible with American standards of democracy.

"Middle Eastern societies are based more on a collective identity, less on individual identity; individuals are willing to make sacrifices for the group," Khouri said. Any prospective form of government for the region must be compatible with this mindset, which is why, Khouri claimed, the Islamists may succeed where U.S. influence would fail.

Khouri cited Martin Luther King Jr. in response to the idea that Islamists should not lead political movements because of their association with religion.

"Many people forget that he was a religious leader fighting for civil rights," Khouri said.

Khouri was adamant that however peace is established in the Middle East, it must come from the people, not from an outside force.

"Stability comes from dignity, not security. Security by itself does not bring stability, and military means cannot achieve security."

Students attending the lecture seemed to agree with Khouri’s sentiments.

"People should get to express their own opinions rather than have some outside government like Syria or the U.S. impose values on them," said Tamilla Mamedova ’07. Mamedova, who grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, appreciated the perspective of someone who actually lived in the Middle East and worked in the press.

"As a journalist he has a much better comprehension of the region, of the international relations and the anthropology. … This is the kind of stuff that one whole semester at Brown would teach you," she said.

Dan Hudner ’08 agreed that Khouri had an important message for the Brown community and Americans in general.

"What he said seemed to make sense," Hudner said. He was not, however, convinced of the practicality of Khouri’s ideas.

"He almost believes too much in the system of democracy. … It wouldn’t make everything right in the Middle East."

Phoebe Sloane ’08 disagreed. "I see him as more of a realist," she said, pointing to Khouri’s argument that governments would need to be tailored to fit the needs of each country.

Sloane, a Middle East studies concentrator who lived with Khouri’s family in Lebanon over the summer while studying Arabic, played a significant role in bringing Khouri to campus. She felt that Khouri had something important and unique to say to Brown.

"I’ve never heard anyone make analogies the way he does. He often compares Lebanese struggles with the American civil rights movement. It’s a really unique perspective; it makes me think about it in a different way," Sloane said.

The speech was sponsored by Americans for Informed Democracy, the Middle East Studies department, the Middle East Studies DUG, the Brown Muslim Students Association and the Office of Campus Life and Student Services.