I write to you from Malibu where I have been meeting Tulsi Gabbard, the Congresswoman looking to be the next President of the United States. I flew over for this meeting especially. I put to her the question which would concern the UK the most – given the recent rise in Middle East tensions and the wars the UK and US have fought there in the past few decades. I asked how she would bring peace. And, as I’ve said, she has my vote as a woman who also served in the Middle East.
For the ordinary person, conflict between the West and the Middle East seems inevitable. Yet, even though it is easy to take a pessimistic view, it isn’t the only view. In fact, going beyond the headlines, it is clear that there are plenty of shared values between the West and the Middle East. By focusing on those shared values rather than what divides us, we can calm rising tensions and increase the odds of shared growth and prosperity.
While there are plenty of shared values that bridge this gap, I want to focus on six of them and I am using one Middle Eastern country from where I have just returned. These six values offer tremendous opportunities to build goodwill, fellowship, and co-operation among both the West and the Middle East.
1. Qatar and Silicon Valley: The Qatari government has embraced the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley and the technological disruption that often accompanies it. Besides empowering entrepreneurs throughout the country by creating its own version of Silicon Valley (to be discussed below), Qatar has partnered with entrepreneurs and tech companies in the real Silicon Valley.
For instance, the Qatar Investment Authority, which is Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund opened, an office in Silicon Valley in order to identify young, exciting startups for potential investment.
2. Qatar and Entrepreneurship: The Qatari government has recognized the value in empowering entrepreneurs and small businesses throughout its country. For instance, Qatar has established incubators and co-working spaces so that young people and university graduates can pursue their disruptive business ideas.
3. Sport: The 2022 FIFA World Cup presents a great opportunity for both the West and the Middle East to unite around the beautiful game. In addition to the millions of fans traveling to Qatar, billions of people around the world will be tuning in.
The Qatari government has also responded to criticism about human rights practices by stating that it is “committed to labour reforms.”
4. The Blockade of Qatar: The Saudi-led blockade of Qatar has caused both pain and promise for Qatar. On one hand, Qatari citizens haven’t been able to obtain as many foreign goods and have faced flight restrictions in the region. But according to Yousuf Al-Jaida, the chief executive of the Qatar Financial Centre, the blockade “has been a catalyst for change for the entire nation.”
Ultimately, a good comparison can be made between the blockade and Brexit. Both involve nations that are part of a larger union (the European Union for the U.K. and the Gulf Cooperation Council for Qatar) but are seeking independence with resilience. This isn’t to say that this goal is smooth and without roadblocks. Both the United Kingdom and Qatar have faced significant headwinds in becoming more independent, but have shown a desire to embrace their autonomy on the world stage. This common attitude between the West and the Middle East shows no signs of slowing down.
5. The Fight Against Terror: Qatar has taken an active role in joining the West to fight terrorism in the Middle East. For several decades, the Qatari government has been the host for American troops conducting operations in the Middle East. In fact, Al Udeid Air Base has become the largest U.S. military facility in the region. Around 10,000 troops are deployed to Al Udeid, and it has been used as a launching point for airstrikes against Islamic State militants.
6. Climate Change: Both the West and the Middle East are looking to the future—particularly the serious threat from climate change. With the exception of President Trump, the U.S. Congress and the U.K. government have been doing their part to search for a solution to this existential crisis.