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Finding Common Ground

Finding Common GroundTufts sophomore Marc Marrero, who participated in an intercultural dialogue between American and Arab students, believes that the two sides need to learn to trust each other.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [07.27.05] More often than not, coverage of the relationship between the United States and the Middle East focuses on discord and violence. But according to rising Tufts sophomore Marc Marrero, who recently participated in a cross-cultural program called Soliya that seeks to connect Arab and American students, there is more common ground than one might think.

“While much is different between the Middle East and America, one fact is certain: our futures may very well be inexorably tied together, whether we like it or not,” Marrero wrote in an op-ed column for the Daily Star of Lebanon.

The Tufts student began by noting shared cultural appreciations – particularly for American movies, which espouse values concerning “happy endings, clearly-defined good and bad guys and romance.” Marrero quoted one student from Soliya as stating: “We don't like American movies, we love them.”

“That Middle Easterners turn out in such large numbers for American films suggests at the most identification with these values, and at the least a desire to see and experience these values through the medium of film,” wrote Marrero.

Another instance of shared values, according to Marrero, concerns democracy.

“There are clear signals within the Middle East that highlight the desire for political systems based on representation and equality, which are key facets of the American political system,” he wrote.

But in his discussions with Arab students, Marrero says he came to understand how they feel an externally-imposed democracy will be illegitimate and ineffective.

“This distinction never occurred to me before engaging in those dialogues, and I feel that it is not a distinction most Americans would appreciate either,” explained Marrero. “Despite this disconnect, both societies still view democracy as a positive form of government.”

Another understanding Marrero conveyed in his column was how both Arabs and Americans harbor a mutual distrust of one another. While reacting to strong suspicion in the Middle East of American foreign policy motives, he came to realize that Americans can behave similarly.

“Such deep-seated distrust and anger shocked me, until I realized that American society experiences the same emotions with regard to the Middle East,” Marrero explained.

“The fact of the matter is that American and Middle Eastern societies have a great deal of distrust for one other,” he wrote. “I am not immune to this distrust nor were the members engaged in our dialogue. It is this distrust that was and still is for me the most distressing. It is this distrust that as individuals and as two distinct societies sharing one world, we must strive to put aside, at least temporarily, to have an honest discussion.”










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