"Call it Radicalization. Call it Creativity ..."

MEI, Washington, D.C.


> On Sep 29, 2014, at 10:54 AM, 138 < wrote>:
> Hi Stephen,
> I met you at the MEI/Carnegie Endowment Arab Arts event this past Friday. Well I didn't actually meet you, but I was in the 2nd row of the audience with some friends. The guy behind me challenged your point of ISIS' creativity. I think you were exactly right, and here is a NYT article to back you up.
> Digital War Takes Shape on Websites Over ISIS
> It was a really interesting conversation. Your no-bullshit approach is refreshing, especially in a city where the scent of bullshit seems to defile everything we do. Keep up the good work.
> Best,
> Anonymous Citizen

-----Original Message-----
From: Stephen Stapleton
Sent: Monday, September 29, 2014 12:33 PM
To: 138
Subject: Re: NYTimes: Digital War Takes Shape on Websites Over ISIS, Iraq, Syria

Thank you so much. I think I saw you in the audience; you looked engaged and were a good focus for me rather than man in front row who was falling asleep!

Thanks for the article. I was put a bit on the spot with the ISIS question but I think it was the right context to bring up this difficult area of creativity and innovation within extremist groups. Once we recognize the links and shared languages and technologies being used then policy makers might be in a better position to challenge groups using art and creativity to spread certain dangerous and intolerant ideologies.

Edge of Arabia will be returning to Washington next year and I look forward to staying in touch as our project develops. It would be great to engage influential people in Washington when we return. We are networked with a large number of artists and thinkers in the Middle East who we could invite to participate in a wider dialogue over a longer period.


Sent from my iPhone


Let's definitely stay in touch. What you write above - and what you said on the panel- is so interesting: How can we contest creativity with bland, vanilla, public-service-announcement style PR? It doesn't work. It doesn't engage the youth.

If I could pull one thread from Friday night's conversation, it would be about radicalization. Today's youth are going to be radicalized, one way or another. Whether it's Sarah's punk rocker, labor-organizing friend at RISD, or your friends at the art collective in Abha, protesters in Tahrir, or insurgents joining ISIS by the hundreds, they're looking for something to believe in, to them meaning and purpose and way to leave a mark on the world. You made a haunting point about the three brothers from Abha - one of them became a contemporary artist, the other two hijacked planes on 9/11. There's something so potent there. So raw. The reverberations of the loudspeaker sounding the call to prayer. The pounding of air strikes. Call it radicalization. Call it creativity. Call it what you will, but just because we're ignoring the creative space and failing to engage youth in ways that compel them, doesn't mean the "bad guys" are missing it.

Keep in touch,
Anonymous Citizen

To download the talk audio, visit the Middle East Institute's website: http://www.mideasti.org/events/soft-power-arts-changing-middle-east

PANELISTS: Sarah Abu Abdullah (Artist), Oussama Rifahi (Executive Director of the Arab Fund for Arts & Culture (AFAC)), Stephen Stapleton (Founding Director, Edge of Arabia)

MODERATOR: Kate Seelye (Senior Vice President, Middle East Institute)

DATE: 26 September 2014

EVENT: The (Soft) Power of the Arts in a Changing Middle East

The Middle East Institute hosted a discussion about the growing impact and influence of the region's increasingly dynamic arts scene. The panelists discussed the transformational social and political role that artists are playing in their societies, as well as the challenges and opportunities that both artists and art platforms face as they seek to increase and enhance contemporary art and culture production in the Arab world.