Why do we ignore the 99.9%?

An essay in advance of Dr. Momani’s LRC Presents event, Dec. 3

To explain to the average person that the Arab world’s youth are educated, globalized consumers, cosmopolitan and have tolerant views of ‘others’, the response is often “but, the region is ripe with radicalization…and how can you explain ISIS and other terrorist organizations”?.

Indeed, our news is inundated with real and horrifying accounts of terror that can often be linked to the Arab region. But why do we assume that the 0.0001% explains the 380 million person Arab region, let alone the near 1.6 billion Mulsims? Why do we think we have insight into the the Arab region through the horrifying actions of less than 50,000 ISIS fighters, of which many are born and raised in Western societies? Is there radicalization in the Arab region, yes. Is radicalization a dominant feature of the Arab region, no. Radicalization is an aberration to the region.

Let us listen to the 99.9% of the Arab world, who have nothing to do with ISIS terrorists. In my book, Arab Dawn, I talk about the Arab region and its youth who give me great hope for their future. As I describe, there are deep societal and cultural changes happening throughout the Arab region, and it is for the better.

The region’s nearly 200 million Arab youth are challenging societal norms and government incompetence, both online and offline. Arab youth are highly educated, in fact having among the fastest rate of educational attainment in the world. Depending less and less on the state, Arab youth are more entrepreneurial than ever and have among the highest rates of positive attitudes toward entrepreneurialism than most Western countries. It is a society of young start-ups. Arab youth are challenging governments for their lack of accountability, their polarizing rhetoric, and their inefficiencies. Creating new hybrid identities that are both Western and religious, they are rejecting binaries and narratives of a clash of civilization. Arab youth are hyperconnected and expressing themselves in progressive and enlightened ways.

Let’s stop ignoring the 99.9% and privileging the voices and actions of terrorists as being representative of the Arab region’s youth.


For more insight from Dr. Bessma Momani, please join us December 3rd at Hart House at the University of Toronto.