Al Jazeera's Foukara: Youthful revolution seeks peaceful change

By Shlomit Auciello | Jul 29, 2011
Photo by: Shlomit Auciello Outside the Rockland Strand Theatre, demonstrators opposed to the presence of Abderahim Foukara, the Washington bureau chief for the Al Jazeera English news service, mingle with those expressing support for his right to speak. About 50 people gathered on the sidewalk in advance of the presentation that was the highlight of the annual gala fundraiser for the General Henry Knox Museum in Thomaston.

Rockland — When Thomas “Mac” Deford introduced Abderahim Foukara to the audience at The Strand Theater July 28 he said he could not do so without “acknowledging the effort that Act for America made to increase awareness for this event.”

He said protests from those opposed to the selection of the Washington bureau chief for the Al Jazeera English news service to speak at the annual gala fundraiser for the General Henry Knox Museum in Thomaston had brought about publicity that increased ticket sales by as much as 50 percent. About 50 people, most of them demonstrating in favor of free speech, lined the sidewalk in front of the Strand.

Whatever caused people to purchase tickets for the speech, the 350-seat Strand was packed with people who appeared enthusiastic in their reception of Foukara, who spoke about recent rebellion and political transition in North Africa and the Middle East, known as the Arab Spring.

“I use terms like 'Arab' and 'the Muslim world' and 'the West' generically,” said Foukara. “The realities are often fluid.” He said the actual people represent sets of “separate identities that sometimes clash, sometimes overlap, and sometimes merely merge together.”

Foukara described political changes that came about in parts of 15th century Europe when, after years of Islamic rule, Muslims and Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism or be expelled from their homes. At the same time, he said, the growth of Catholic political power enabled the journey of Christopher Columbus to the New World, setting the stage for the development of democracy and a doctrine of freedom in North America.

Foukara said such contradictions and sudden changes are inevitable.

“In this life no one lives forever, and nothing is forever the same,” he said, quoting a Muslim poet from that period.

He said certain situations in the current political arena created “heat” but that there were cooling moments throughout the ongoing debate.

To Muslims who know of Christianity from events such as the Inquisition or the Crusades, said Foukara, that religion might look like a culture of lynchings and genocide.

“Those people never say a word about the Christians who, in the name of their religion, combated the lynchings and genocide,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia's application of Islam is not Indonesia's, nor is Indonesia's that of Turkey,” said Foukara.

Foukara went on to discuss American political ideas. He said the fact that most presidents begin their speeches with the phrase, “My fellow Americans,” indicates the position of citizens in this country, relative to their leaders, as equals. He said the Constitution lays out a political philosophy that guarantees that laws can be amended, and that Americans should look beyond current policies and politicians to the rights and responsibilities that are the spirit of that document.

Foukara said democracy was no guarantee against the excesses of entrenched power, but it allowed leadership to change without bloodshed.

Turning to the Arab Spring, Foukara said the protests that began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Syria, Morocco and more than a dozen other countries were led by young people and contained almost no anti-American rhetoric.

“That is an extraordinary development in an area led by dictators seen as supported by America,” he said. “The young see the solution elsewhere.”

“They increasingly see themselves as part of a global community, looking for a new world of modernity and justice,” Foukara said. He said demonstrators in Yemen, led mostly by women, put their weapons aside before taking to the public squares.

“People see that violent means make things more complicated,” said Foukara.

Foukara expressed concern that material values could replace spiritual and political ideals in changing Arab societies. He warned against the U.S. aiding military governments that might promise short-term stability, while damaging the potential for the development of democracy in the long run.

He said differences between China and the U.S. could give the U.S. an advantage as new governments form in the Arab world. He mentioned China's suppression of the Internet, and said the U.S. had an edge when it came to democracy. China can not export democracy, he said.

“You cannot give what you do not have,” said Foukara.

He reminded his audience that Morocco, an Arab nation, was the first country to recognize the newly formed United States in 1777.

“Politicians come and go,” said Foukara. “The spirit of friendship is more durable.”

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by email at

Mark Roman of Solon said he came to Rockland to make it clear that he supported free speech. He said Al Jazeera English was a "good source for news I can't get from corporate media." (Photo by: Shlomit Auciello)
Rosemarie Russell of Westbrook, right, said she came to the Strand, "because I don't think [Foukara] was the right person to speak for revolution a la Henry Knox. Our revolution was about freedom and liberty, not mob rule or a religion crammed down our throats." She said the U.S. is basically a Christian country, but that no one here is required to adhere to that religion. (Photo by: Shlomit Auciello)
Roick McDowell of Belmont was one of about 50 people from throughout Maine who traveled to Rockland to express their opinions of the invitation from The General Henry Knox Museum to Al Jezeera English's Washington bureau chief, Abderahim Foukara, to speak about the so-called Arab Spring, as part of the museum's annual fundraising gala. (Photo by: Shlomit Auciello)
The Rev. Diane Beach of Thomaston carried signs quoting presidents Barack Obama and John Adams. (Photo by: Shlomit Auciello)
Jane Sanford of Belfast and Alan Lowberg of Washington hold opposing positions about whether Abderahim Foukara, the Washington bureau chief for the Al Jazeera English news service, should have been chosen as keynote speaker at the annual gala fundraiser for the General Henry Knox Museum. Lowberg said Foukara was an agent of fundamentalist Islam. "I'm here because free speech is the basis of democracy," said Sanford. In spite of that disagreement, the pair said they agreed on far more. (Photo by: Shlomit Auciello)
Abderahim Foukara, the Washington bureau chief for the Al Jazeera English news service, arrives at the stage door of the Rockland Strand Theatre July 28. Foukara was keynote speaker at the annual gala fundraiser for the General Henry Knox Museum in Thomaston (Photo by: Shlomit Auciello)
"Arabs and Americans have much to learn from each other, especially as they stand at this extraordinary junction between past and future called the Arab Spring," said Al Jazeera English Washington Bureau Chief Abderahim Foukara. (Photo by: Shlomit Auciello)
The celebratory conversation of the crowd, many in evening clothes, on the sidewalk in front of the Strand Theatre after Abderahim Foukara's speech, sharply contrasted the political speech of those who bore signs of protest before the event. The 350-seat facility was packed for the speech, which was part of the General Henry Knox Museum's annual fundraising gala. (Photo by: Shlomit Auciello)
Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Jul 29, 2011 13:15

“Politicians come and go,” said Foukara. “The spirit of friendship is more durable.”

Well said. There were protestors and then there were supporters in front of the Strand. Much more fun to be in the group that was encouraging; at least for me. Glad to see so many people feeling a need to stand up and say, "WELCOME.".

As President Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."  We all have so much to learn from one another when we take a moment to listen; and possibly make a friend. :)

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