Panel: View of Mid East must change

By Paul Mattingly

A panel of academics gathered last night to answer the question: Is political Islam destabilizing the world?

The answer seemed to have more to do with Americans as panelists of the event agreed that the United States needed to vastly change its policies in the Middle East for relations between Islamic states and the West to improve.

The event, titled “Does Islamic Revivalism Challenge a Stable World Order?” was one of several academic presentations that will be featured during the College of Arts and Sciences’ “Geek Week.” The panel consisted of professor of Islamic studies Ihsan Bagby, history professor Robert Olson and professor John Stempel of the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.

“The anger in the Muslim world is at all levels, but the masses are not violent,” Bagby said. “It’s not a hotbed of terrorism.”

Bagby said Western influence has bred Islamic revivalism, or “political Islam.”

“Political Islam has been opposed very vigorously by the West,” Bagby said. “The repression and opposition of the West has, I think, radicalized (Islamic) groups. Political participation naturally leads to a moderation of views. The repression of these organizations has retarded that movement.”

Most of the panelists agreed that the war in Iraq has given momentum to Islamic revivalism, which Olson said began in the 1960s.

“There were no suicide bombers in Iraq before 2003,” Olson said. “You displace that many people from their homes, people are going to be upset.”

If the United States had ceased pressuring Iran, Bagby said he felt an Islamic democracy would already be established and that it was still not a far-fetched idea in Iran.

Stempel, who worked for the U.S. Foreign Service in Iran, agreed on the country’s potential for democracy.

“Every group has things in common and things that are different,” Stempel said. “Iran has many things in common with us, though you won’t hear that from our government.”

The majority of Iranians like the United States, Stempel said, and the current Iranian government is nervous because of the potential for a democracy.

Organizers were happy with how the panel discussion turned out.

“This was my dream team of panelists,” said Katie Hansen, one of the events coordinators and a political science and topical studies senior with a focus on the Middle East. “I think each of their perspectives were fantastic. They were different enough that they gave a broad perspective of how to solve problems.”

More information about Geek Week and a schedule of events is available on the A&S Web site (