Throughout the election season, al-Qaeda and the Arab world as a whole have remained a hot-button topic. The recent attacks in Libya, including the death of an American ambassador, raised alarm over the dangers in the Arab world once more. Pundits began calling it a "resurgence" and predicting more violence on the horizon.
But tonight, Dr. Younus Mirza, a visiting professor at Millsaps College, will offer another side of the story. He is giving a free lecture on "al-Qaeda in Today's World," exploring the group's role in the current global state.
"This lecture will argue that a new generation of Arabs and Muslims have rejected al-Qaeda's extremism and are forging a new path of democracy and mutual understanding," the Millsaps website states. "The generation of Facebook and Twitter led the 'Arab Spring' and live in a world of globalization, not a clash of civilizations. They do not see their 'Islamic identity' conflicting with 'the West' and hope to develop their societies through international engagement."
Mirza says his interest in Arabic culture stemmed in part from 9/11 and the effect it had on the millennial generation. "I was in college, my sophomore year, when 9/11 occurred. I think all of us, (our generation) were in school," he says. "Now, 10 years later, all of us have grown up. I wanted to explore how it's affected youth. So the talk is about how the youth, specifically Arab youth, have sort of rejected that concept."
Mirza grew up in Herdon, Va., and earned both a bachelor's and a master's degree in International Relations and Arab Studies from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He also went abroad for Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Qatar, before returning to Georgetown to pursue his doctoral degree.
His time in Qatar led him to many of the points he will discuss in tonight's lecture. "When I was abroad, I studied in the Gulf state of Qatar, so I got to spend a lot of time with young people," he says. "They are experiencing an education revolution, so these youths were very global in their understanding. They are very proud of their cultural and Muslim heritage but they are also very Western in their appreciation of American culture, society, film."
After defending his dissertation at Georgetown, Mirza is now at Millsaps College serving his postdoctoral fellowship and teaching courses in the religious studies department, including on Modern Islamic Movements, Biblical and Qu'anic Prophets and Islam in America. The lecture is a part of his Modern Islamic Movements class, and Mirza hopes it will allow his students to contextualize al-Qaeda in a larger discussion. Mirza, 30, lives in Jackson with his wife and two daughters.