Scholars, Activists and Diplomats Discuss Middle East at University of North Texas Peace Conference

Dallas, TX: While President Obama was busy in exploring prospects of peace in the Middle East, known scholars, uprising leaders, activists and diplomats were discussing a wide range of peace issues in Arab nations, North Africa, Iran, Turkey, Israel and the Muslim world as part of the UNT Peace Conference at the University of North Texas last week.

Timely organized around the theme “The Middle East: A New Era” the two-day Conference highlighted dynamics of sociocultural, economic and political transformations currently taking place in the region as a result of youth uprisings and revolts against dictatorships in the region.

Addressing the Conference participants as a Distinguished Speaker, renowned human rights lawyer and activist, Joe Chip Pitts III identified human rights as the key issue in the Middle East today. He said something is extremely wrong when hundreds of innocent people are killed in brutal attacks with a goal to kill one person. He also said no country in the region can claim to be truly democratic unless basic human rights of common men, women and children are protected.

The Consul General of Israel in Houston, Meir Shlomo, who was also a Distinguished Speaker at the Conference, said the conflict between Israel and Palestinians could be resolved through mutual negotiations. He said Israel wants to start the negotiation process but the Palestinians are not interested. He also said when our civilian population is under missile attacks we have a right to defend ourselves. Israel does not intend to control Palestinian territories and we are not against the idea of establishing the Palestinian state. Shlomo also added that a nuclearized Iran poses an in immediate danger to the safety of the whole region today.

In a session on drone attacks in Muslim countries, known political activist Col Ann Wright severely criticized U.. drone attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen killing hundreds of innocent men, women and children. It looks, she said, “For the US military, lives of innocent civilians are less important than their own soldiers’ right to live.” She said civilians who have nothing to do with terrorism are being killed.

Dr. Jonathan Brown of Georgetown University, who discussed youth uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya as a Keynote Speaker on Saturday, said the region is going through a drastic change but internal struggles will be there for some time. Establishing democracy in the states, where dictators ruled for decades, will take some time to take roots.

In a separate session, leader of the ongoing movement in Syria, Mohammed Ala Ghanem said the revolt is gaining momentum and the days of dictatorship are numbered untry. He said countries in the Middle East are transforming their political and economic systems fast and democracy is taking roots but these changes need our support.

As the youth uprising was the major theme of the Conference, it spanned sixteen sessions on a variety of topics related to peace including regime transitions in the region, women’s rights, Israel and Palestinians, fine arts and peace, human rights, creative resistance, dictatorship and democracy, hegemony and sovereignty, and peace and conflicts in Iran, Turkey, Syria, Libya and Egypt.

Commenting on the successful gathering of scholars, the Conference Chair Dr Qaisar Abbas said over 500 students, scholars and community members attended scholarly sessions and events. “We need serious discussions to analyze conflicts and peace not only in the Middle East but all over the world and we intend to continue this momentum by organizing peace conferences on a regular basis,” he said.

Other known scholars who presented research papers in the Conference included Sardar Yildiz of the Turkish Police Academy; Dr. Barbera Harlow, known scholar of English literature from University of Texas, Austin; Dr. Charles Smith, known scholar on the Middle East from University of Arizona; Dr. Miriam Cooke at Duke University; Dr. Malanie Brooks of Iowa State University; Dr. Faeghah Shirazi, scholar of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas, Austin; Morehshin Allahyari and Eden Unluata, known curators and artists; Dr. Ibrahim Salih of Texas Wesleyan University; Dr. Manochahr Durraj of Texas Christian University; and Dr.Idean Salehyan of University of North Texas.

Apart from scholarly sessions, the Conference also offered several programs and events including two art exhibits, two book displays, information booths of community organizations, and a colorful concluding event “Celebrating Peace: Middle Eastern Dance and Music” on Saturday. The Conference was organized in active collaboration with community organizations and 13 departments at the University of North Texas.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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