Vali Nasr: What can Americans do to better understand the Middle East?

Question: What can Americans do to better understand the Middle East?

Vali Nasr: Well I think actually Americans can understand Middle Easterners much more than they think.

Europeans don’t believe in religion in that sense. Religion is not a big part of European politics. It’s a big part of American politics. I think we’ve come in the past years to try to explain everything through Islam too much. Islam does matter, but so does Christianity in America.

But you cannot explain everything in America – even in the South, even among religious groups – by just a religious explanation. You definitely cannot say, “Well that’s what the Bible says.” Or, “The Bible makes them that way.”

It is too much, I think, in public discussion in America; a deliberate lack of sophistication in trying to understand and analyze the Muslim world; trying to reduce everything into the language of religion; trying to say well everything is about religion.

And I think that’s an imbalance that hurts us, because it’s very easy to gloss over real issues; and then you end up in these culture explanations that to all of us appear to be unbridgeable. And then it makes Americans basically to throw up their arms and say, “We just don’t get it. We don’t understand.” But I think they do.

And it’s the same problem in the Muslim world. I think Muslims would understand Americans a lot better if they didn’t also look through a cultural, civilization lens; and they looked at Americans and American policy in terms of interest and aspiration that also drives them all the time.

When you talk about dialogue, it’s not really about, “Let me understand your religion and you should understand mine. I pray five times a day, you go to church, but we both believe in the same God.” That’s not the useful dialogue. Dialogue really means trying to understand the other sides interests and behaviors in terms of how you would have operated in a political arena as an individual.

Recorded on: Dec 3, 2007

"I think actually Americans can understand Middle Easterners much more than they think."

Do you worry too much? Stoicism can help

How imagining the worst case scenario can help calm anxiety.

Credit: OLIVIER DOULIERY via Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • Stoicism is the philosophy that nothing about the world is good or bad in itself, and that we have control over both our judgments and our reactions to things.
  • It is hardest to control our reactions to the things that come unexpectedly.
  • By meditating every day on the "worst case scenario," we can take the sting out of the worst that life can throw our way.
Keep reading Show less

Study: People will donate more to charity if they think something’s in it for them

A study on charity finds that reminding people how nice it feels to give yields better results than appealing to altruism.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels
Personal Growth
  • A study finds asking for donations by appealing to the donor's self-interest may result in more money than appealing to their better nature.
  • Those who received an appeal to self-interest were both more likely to give and gave more than those in the control group.
  • The effect was most pronounced for those who hadn't given before.
Keep reading Show less

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

Credit: Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
  • Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
  • While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
Keep reading Show less

160-million-year-old ‘Monkeydactyl’ was the first animal to develop opposable thumbs

The 'Monkeydactyl' was a flying reptile that evolved highly specialized adaptations in the Mesozoic Era.

Credit: Zhou et al.
Surprising Science
  • The 'Monkeydactly', or Kunpengopterus antipollicatus, was a species of pterosaur, a group of flying reptiles that were the first vertebrates to evolve the ability of powered flight.
  • In a recent study, a team of researchers used microcomputed tomography scanning to analyze the anatomy of the newly discovered species, finding that it was the first known species to develop opposable thumbs.
  • As highly specialized dinosaurs, pterosaurs boasted unusual anatomy that gave them special advantages as aerial predators in the Mesozoic Era.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast