In the middle of the ongoing conflict in Gaza, an unexpected beacon of hope has emerged elsewhere: the U.S. college protests demanding a cease-fire and advocating for Palestinian rights.

As we witness these protests unfold, it’s easy to perceive them as chaotic and disruptive. However, their impact extends far beyond American borders, resonating particularly in the Arab world. It’s crucial that we pay attention to how the world reacts to these highly publicized college protests across the U.S.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth and can be contacted at

For the first time in a long while, people in this region are expressing gratitude for American action. I read Arab newspapers, and I cannot remember any other time when actions taken in the U.S. were highlighted by that media as positive change in that part of the world.

I wouldn’t be surprised if these protests spread to other schools across the world. American students are currently leading the charge in a desperate attempt to effect change in one of the world’s most challenging conflicts. It seems to be a preferable method to show support for a cease-fire and cessation of hostilities in Gaza.

I grew up in Mogadishu immersed in American pop culture. This culture transcended borders, connecting young people globally, including those in Muslim-majority countries where celebrity icons like Bruce Willis and Michael Jackson were household names. The United States has historically been a catalyst for change, inspiring movements for justice and equality around the globe, often through music. As Americans, we should take pride in our ability to effect positive change, rather than being defined solely by military interventions and overseas conflicts.

The current wave of protests sweeping across U.S. college campuses is having a profound impact in Gaza. Did you see the photos of many Palestinians in Gaza expressing gratitude to American students for their solidarity? Young Palestinian children standing next to their destroyed homes are pictured holding up signs that read: “Thank you from the deep of hearts.” A message scrawled on a wall reads: “Thank you, American students.” This acknowledgment fills me with pride as an American.

International media outlets like The New York Times and Reuters have documented the resonance of these protests in the Arab world. Despite government policies and threats to funding, American students, citizens and residents are taking a stand against injustice and demanding accountability for the violence in Gaza, an image of America the world has to see. The widespread use of social media and global news coverage means that the eyes of the world, especially Arab countries, are fixed on events unfolding on U.S. campuses.

The perception of Americans abroad matters. It shapes attitudes, reduces hostilities and promotes democracy and freedom. I vividly remember the aftermath of 9/11, when my country, Somalia, became a focal point in the “Global War on Terrorism.” The constant threat of airstrikes and military intervention instilled fear and uncertainty in our communities. I remember being desperate for some hope and voice. Today, Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza are experiencing similar trauma and uncertainty amidst escalating violence. Those ordinary humans are desperate for a cease-fire, and a moment to breathe.

Some protesters may take things too far, by breaking windows, for example, but when carried out peacefully with a firm stance they symbolize a commitment to peace and justice. Despite the challenges and uncertainties, our colleges can serve as a beacon of hope for a brighter future, not only for Palestinians, but for all those yearning for peace and freedom in the region.

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