The Arab Spring revolutions were started in part by waves of young people using new media, like Twitter and Facebook, to launch grassroots campaigns against extremist governments. And, even as states across the Middle East still struggle to redefine their nationhood, the same technologies that helped overthrow their dictatorial leaders and oppressive governments could also be the region’s best hope for liberal and democratic societies.
In a roundtable discussion as part of the Institute’s Farouki Speaker Series, author Robin Wright discussed her new book, Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Arab World, which chronicles the plight of Arabs not just this year, but in the decade since 9/11—during which Arab citizens have suffered disproportionately more than American soldiers from radicals’ car bombs, marketplace bombs, mines, and more. And yet, this is precisely why Wright is optimistic: The Arab people, especially the younger generation, have had enough of extremism. In an age of “YouTube imams and satellite sheikhs,” muffled and crackling audiotapes made in caves and played over old photographs of fundamentalist leaders makes those leaders look, well, obsolete. Wright spoke about Arab hip-hop—“rap is the rhythm of resistance”—and of a playwright who seeks to take back the word “jihad” from the extremists in a play called Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes.
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