Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Smarty Pants & the Middle East: steps for forming an opinion

note: the domestic life is great and all, but even I know that it doesn't exist in a vacuum.  Knowing the events around the world, then, helps me to respond at home, and that is what being a Smarty Pants is all about.

If you've been paying attention to the news lately, you are aware that armed conflict has broken out again between Israel and Hamas.   Now, I have to confess that when it comes to the Middle East, I find myself getting easily overwhelmed.  So many ancient alliances and tensions that run deep.  Not only it is difficult to keep all the parties straight (Hamas, Hezbollah, Zionists, Palestinians, Fatah, Sunnis, Shiites, etc. etc.), but it seems like conflict is inevitable.  Furthermore, how can I convince myself that understanding this region is important?  I mean, I'll be the first to admit that it is tempting to just want to wash my hands of the whole place and focus on other issues.

The trouble, of course, is that I can't afford to wash my hands, because the Middle East is a part of my life whether I like it or not.  The fuel that heats our homes and runs our industry is from the region.  For many of us (Jews, Christians, Muslims), the birthplace of our religion is nestled in the region.  And for us citizens of Europe and North America, our military troops are currently stationed in the region.

So how do I attempt to make heads or tails of this very complex place, and this most recent conflict?  Well, I start with:
1.  Identifying the parties involved.  Knowing who is engaged (and who isn't), and a little bit about their background goes a long way in understanding the conflict.
2.  Identifying my personal bias.  For a number of reasons, I recognize that I am predisposed to sympathize with Israel, and that this predisposition will affect the way I view these events.
3.  Identifying the bias of journalists, reporters and commentators.  Like most people, I look to news professionals to keep me informed about the conflict.  But like me, they have their own perspectives that are transmitted through the way they report the news.
4.  Paying more attention to the views that differ from mine.  Only listening to the opinions that support mine is a disservice to the complexity of this conflict.  So even though I might get irritated at other viewpoints, listening to them is just good practice.
5.  Finally, I attempt to form an opinion.  It may not be an expert opinion, or one I'm even comfortable sharing with others, but knowing where I stand helps me to make other decisions about how I think policy makers should respond, what steps, if any, I want to take, and what issues to watch for in the future.

Following these steps does take a little bit of time, but with conflicts as serious as those in the Middle East, I think the investment is worth it.  
Share with me the way you approach complicated political issues by emailing me at (even if your approach is to turn off the news and take a walk).  

Previous Smarty Pants posts:
Come back tomorrow for more on Nesting!

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