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Experts discuss protests, faith

Jillian Barwick | Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Political protests in North Africa and the Middle East have a link to people of faith, according to Emad Shahin and Joe Bock.

Shahin, associate professor of Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute, and Bock, director of Notre Dame’s Global Health Training, gave a lecture titled “Protests in Northern Africa and the Middle East: Why they Matter to Americans and People of Faith,” Monday in the Spes Unica Hall of Saint Mary’s College.

Shahin emphasized the political activity in the region, while Bock focused on the nonviolent protests of people of faith in Northern Africa and the Middle East.

Shahin said the area is experiencing political change in a rapid manner.

“We are witnessing in the Middle East an amazing and remarkable demonstration of people’s power — how they are risking their lives for the betterment of their countries and the remarkable ability and skills of the youth to mobilize their countrymen during these times of protests,” he said.

Most countries in the region, with the exception of Libya, have exhibited nonviolent means of protest, Shahin said.

“These are inclusive demonstrations, and protests that include a multiplicity of classes and a universal nature of values have been raised through these protests. These values include freedoms, social justice and liberty,” he said. “These people have been able to break through the barrier of fears and brutal regimes. Fear is gone and people feel liberated.”

Shahin said non-violent protests might not be able to avoid aggression completely, even if they are people of great faith.

Bock, who lived in Jerusalem for three years, said he witnessed the mixing of people of different faiths and their conflicts. He said the emergence of new technologies could be used for the prevention of hostilities.

“Nonviolent social movements in the Middle East and Northern Africa are using components of bounded crowd-sourcing, strategic nonviolence, digital mapping, early warning and early response and crowd feeding to potentially create a synergistic combination of technologies that can make a critical difference in overcoming tyranny,” Bock said.