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Speaker Events - Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Robin Wright: The Counter-Jihad

Addressing a Beyond the Headlines audience at IPI on October 4th, Robin Wright, author of Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World, called the 2011 popular uprisings across Northern Africa and the Middle East “the counter-Jihad,” and added, “I use the term deliberately.”

Elaborating on it, she said the counter-Jihad contained three principal ingredients–a challenge to the status quo, a renunciation of violence as an idiom of protest, and a rejection of the “Islamist, extremist, rigid ideology, personified particularly by Iran.”

She said that the “common denominator, whether it’s in oil-rich Sheikdoms or dirt poor countries like Yemen, whether it’s in monarchies or military dictatorships, is that the people in all these societies, whatever their political experience, have turned to peaceful, civil disobedience to launch their uprisings.”

Ms. Wright has been reporting from the Middle East for nearly four decades, writing for newspapers and magazines and delivering commentary frequently on television. Rock the Casbah is her seventh book.

‘Why is this the turning point?” she asked, and she answered her own question with another tripartite formula.

The first, she said, is the baby boom in the Arab world. “Two-thirds of the 300 million people in the Arab world are under the age of 30, and that plays into the second factor, which is the majority for the first time are literate. And that includes women, and they may not have high school and certainly not college degrees, but they do have a sense of the broader world, the women have a sense of wanting to be more than inheritors of the roles of their mother, they want to be players, whether it’s in a more dynamic role in the home or to have a profession.”

The third element is the explosion of media and social media, represented by the growing access to Facebook and Twitter and to the spread of televised information, disseminated through large outlets like Al Jazeera and smaller ones among the 500 independent satellite stations covering the region.

“The message in the region,” she concluded, “is the young, who are defining politics more than their elders, want laptops, not rifles.”

Moderating the discussion was Warren Hoge, IPI’s Senior Adviser for External Relations.

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