Could women and youth be the answer for a peaceful Middle East?

On Wednesday, Oct. 28, the latest installment of the "Penn State Abington Examines" program featured intellectual discourse in a program titled "The Middle East: Hopes and Challenges."

The evening event was moderated by Penn State graduate Salar Ghahramani, business law and politics lecturer at the Abington campus. The panelists, also Penn State graduates, were State Representative Thomas Murt and Wayne White, adjunct scholar with Washington's Middle East Institute and retired deputy director of the Near East and South Asia Office of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR/NESA).

The discussion swirled around the challenges of current and past events in the turbulent region--the Arab/Israeli conflict, the dangers of unstable Pakistan and Iran and their unsettling nuclear capabilities, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the opium trade in Afghanistan, the Iran/Iraq war and the destabilization of Iraq, women in government, America's involvement in the area, and the government's treatment of veterans on their return to this country.

In regards to the challenges that President Obama is facing concerning the troop levels in Afghanistan, Ghahramani had this to say, "What we do about Afghanistan has very little to do with Afghanistan. It's really about Pakistan. Pakistan is an increasingly unstable country. It's a country with a nuclear bomb. In my humble opinion it is the single most dangerous place on earth and one we have not paid enough attention to.”"

Also discussed at the event was how White, as well as Murt, believed it was a mistake to invade Iraq in 2003.

"We invaded Iraq because we believed they had weapons of mass destruction (WMD)," said Murt, an army reservist who spent 14 months in Iraq beginning in 2003. "There is no way Iraq had the capability to have WMD based on what I saw. The country was in the Stone Age … it was like the Flintstones. No running water, no electricity … a large garbage dump right in the middle of Bagdad. They couldn't even maintain manufacturing capabilities, let alone something as delicate and sophisticated as WMD. Based on my experiences -- and I know hindsight is 20/20 -- but it was a big mistake to go in there (Iraq). Let's face it. I hope maybe someday we will have done a lot of good and moved the country toward democracy."

After much discussion, two "hopes" were identified for the war torn region: women and the young. When asked about the role of women as they emerge in power in this region, Ghahramani explained the Feminist Theory of International Relations.

"For the past 2000 years men have been running international relations…and see where it has gotten us. The idea of the Feminist Theory of International Relations is that as more and more women take power, the world would be a more peaceful place. I think better days are around the corner, but it is going to be a long hike before we get to that corner."

"I very much agree with Salar,” Murt added. "I really believe there might be less war if more females took leadership positions in government."

As for the young, Ghahramani commented, "The Middle East is filled with youth that want a better future. I have full faith in youth. I teach college-age students. I see the optimism, the energy, the hope, and I think some day … we'll see a Middle East that truly reflects the democratic ideals that it deserves."

"Penn State Abington Examines" is a series of programs in which experts examine a wide variety of challenging issues of our time. For information on upcoming programs, send your name and e-mail address to Judy Reale at [email protected].