January 5 - Peoria Journal Star: RPCV says to encourage Muslim nations to be more progressive, democratic

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 01 January 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: January 5 - Peoria Journal Star: RPCV says to encourage Muslim nations to be more progressive, democratic

By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, January 10, 2002 - 5:22 am: Edit Post

RPCV says to encourage Muslim nations to be more progressive, democratic

Read and comment on this letter to the Editor of the Peoria Journal Star from RPCV Wayne Nowlan on his service in Tunisia from 1964 - 66 and views on relations with the Muslim world at:

Encourage Muslim nations to be more progressive, democratic*

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Encourage Muslim nations to be more progressive, democratic

Jan 5, 2002 - Peoria Journal Star

Having lived in Tunisia, North Africa, a Muslim country, for two years from 1964-66 while serving in the U.S. Peace Corps, I have been especially traumatized by the events surrounding 9-11. I am just as appalled as any other American by what happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but my personal experiences with Tunisian Muslims cause me to have strong mixed feelings.

My wife and I returned to Tunisia this past summer, some 35 years later, to find Tunisians just as warm and friendly as I had remembered. We traveled with a small tour group of Brazilians and an Argentinean. The Tunisians picked us out as their favorites - everyone declared that they loved Americans. Tunisia is perhaps the most democratic and progressive of the Arab-Muslim countries, and its economy has improved substantially since the '60s. I realize that a few Tunisians have been arrested in Europe recently for being terrorists, but I know that the vast majority of Tunisians do not support or condone terrorism.

I was pleased to visit the Catholic Cathedral in Tunis, where we noted that there are some 35 Catholic churches still operating around Tunisia. We also visited a synagogue in Jerba and discovered that many Tunisian Jews still live comfortably side by side with Muslims.

My observations regarding the reasons why some Arab-Muslims might distrust Americans and western Europeans are:

1. Our standard of living is much higher than for the average person in a Muslim country.

2. Most Muslim countries do not enjoy a separation of religion from their government, which often leads to fundamentalism.

3. Muslim governments consist of various dictatorships and monarchists. There is very little democracy evident in most of these countries. This leads to a great deal of frustration.

4. General public education is not widely available. Tunisia may be the exception.

5. American governments have supported Israel over the Palestinians since the conception of Israel in the '40s. I personally witnessed the deplorable conditions of Palestinian refugee camps in the '60s. I can't imagine they have improved much since.

I applaud the open-minded support from most Americans toward Arab- Americans since 9-11. Arabs came to America for the same reasons that our ancestors came to America: to experience a home where they could use their talents and hard work to better provide for themselves and their families. Now America needs to actively focus on finding ways to support the citizens of Muslim counties so their governments can become more responsive, progressive and democratic. Economic progress will soon follow. This is what most Muslims want above all else.

Wayne Nowlan


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