“If you don’t visit the Middle East, it will visit you,” Meirav Eilon Shahar, the Israeli consul for communications and public affairs for the Western U.S., said to me in an interview earlier this year.
With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a bloodstained stalemate, suicide terrorists training worldwide to battle the United States and too little resources being dedicated by the U.S. government in the field of alternative fuel, the Middle East is suffocating us in 2002, and America won’t be breathing easier any time soon.
Now we know how they must feel.
Regardless of political affiliation, religious beliefs or social ideology, education on Middle Eastern culture, history and politics might be the only weapons CSU students will find effective in this conflict of cultures that promises to stay with us like an unshakable shadow for a long time to come.
The obvious first step to educating ourselves on the Middle East is not only to read the papers and watch the news, but also to enroll in classes that might be helpful in explaining some of the conflicts. But unfortunately, this is not as easy as it sounds.
Thumbing through the CSU Fall 2002 class schedule, I was disappointed with the amount of opportunities the University has made available to achieve this goal.
Combining all courses offered in ethnic studies, history, international studies, foreign language, journalism, philosophy, political science and literature, only two classes – Islamic World to the 1500s and Modern Middle East – dedicate the entire curriculum to this most important area of the world. It is true, however, that many other classes such as religion, international relations, world history, etc., will likely provide the opportunity for discussion on the Middle East, and the professors of these classes should make this a priority. However, this opportunity for education does not seem sufficient when measured with the impact our relationship with this region will have on our lives, and America’s and the world’s future.
Immediately following September 11, several Ivy League schools created courses focusing on the Middle East, terrorism and several related issues. These classes became some of the most popular on campus, with non-enrolled students often attending just to gain some knowledge.
Of course, CSU does not have the resources of Harvard or Yale, but it does have a student body who is going to be expected to lead this country in the future – along with the Ivy Leaguers – and making knowledge on current events like these available should be pursued by all possible means.
Although professors and textbooks have prejudice on any topic, it’s usually relatively easy to disseminate the information provided in a class atmosphere where discussion is the vertebrate of learning. Communication, or lack thereof, is the Grand Canyon that must be crossed to improve relations between the West and the Middle East. This communication can be initiated in the classroom, using class discussions to spark debate, to weigh opposing views and to learn to respect other’s opinions.
The Middle East has hosted America for decades; now’s the time where we must learn to greet the Middle East.
Zeb’s column appears every Tuesday.