After leading an overflowing Corwin Pavilion audience in a moment of silence for UCSB alumni who lost their lives on Sept. 11, a celebrated peace negotiator invited the crowd to give honest opinions of his ideas on the Middle East during a question and answer session on Wednesday night.
Internationally published author Giandomenico Picco spent 19 years working for the United Nations, taking part in several Middle Eastern negotiations, including the 1988 cease-fire agreement which ended the war between Iran and Iraq, and the 1998 Geneva Accords. He is currently U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s personal representative for the U.N. Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations.
In his lecture, “The New Middle East: From Lebanon to Iran,” Picco addressed the geopolitical dynamics of the Middle East and the world, and their relationship to the internal Islamic struggle currently shaping the Middle East. Much of Picco’s speech, as well as many audience questions, touched on the role of the United States.
“Governments are made by humans,” Picco said in response to a question regarding Middle Easterners’ view of U.S. international policies. “We are all humans and we all have our weaknesses. The weakness the U.S. has in the Middle East is called a double standard.”
Picco, who received his master’s degree in international relations and comparative politics from UCSB, said that because the U.S. holds different sets of rules for different peoples, its policies are seen as unfair and succumbing to favoritism.
As the two endpoints of what Picco called a “Southern Axis,” Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are very important to Middle Eastern politics. A recent manifestation of this occurred when the two countries decided not to back the Taliban in its conflict with the U.S., despite the fact that they had previously supported, and possibly invented, the Taliban movement, Picco said.
“I was struck by the importance [Picco] placed on Saudi Arabia and Pakistan for their efforts to address the problem of religious conflict in the region,” said Associate Director of the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center Leonard Wallock, who introduced Picco before the lecture. “[Picco] regards them as the frontline states in a battle for the hearts, minds and souls of Islam.”
According to Picco the U.S. should not view the Afghan situation as a war between Islam and the rest of the world, but as a struggle within Islam to define the political, economic and social atmosphere of the Middle East.