Africa and the Middle East have developed an unfortunate reputation for being regions of the world where political leaders can do pretty much whatever they want. Lately, however, people have begun deciding that they’ve simply had enough. Witness Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya, where citizens are using everything in their power, including social networks, to stage a revolution.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Missouri) is feeling exhilarated over what he calls the “democratic awakenings” taking place in the Middle East. The Muslim-American lawmaker has frequently been asked to comment on Islamic religion, culture and politics, following his vocal opposition and emotional response to a House Homeland Security Committee hearing held earlier this month to examine so-called Muslim-American radicalization. Ellison said it unfairly targeted a single community.
“These countries have seen dictatorship and it often appears that the only choice for the people is dictatorship on one hand or some sort of religious extremism on the other hand,” Ellison said during an interview on the radio program Smiley & West. “But these democratic awakenings have exploded all the myths. You see women playing leading roles in these conflicts. You see people demanding that they have a greater voice in their government [and] greater economic opportunity,” said Ellison.
Ellison is a self-proclaimed peacenik, “almost a pacifist, but not quite.” His opposition to the Iraq war helped him get elected to Congress in 2006, and he has continued to oppose it as well as the war in Afghanistan. But Libya “is different,” he said, because the international community is responding to a call for help from nonviolent protesters seeking freedom from dictatorship.
“My caveat is that when vulnerable populations are being murdered on a grand scale, I think you may need military power to stop an aggressive power that’s trying to kill them,” he said. The Missouri Democrat believes that these recent uprisings should be used as an opportunity for the U.S. to rethink its relationship with the Middle East and Africa.
“Our relationship is weak and perverted and distorted because it is so narrowly focused on our self-interest. We have a very transactional relationship with the Middle East and Africa,” Ellison said. “These people in the Middle East are calling for a real change; they’re calling for a relationship. Let’s be there for that.”