Middle East presentation draws national experts, community

More than 100 people, including University of Oregon students, faculty and staff, attended the inaugural Rutherford Middle East Initiative public lectures “In the Aftermath of the Arab Spring: Persistent Challenges and Questions,” on May 29.

The event featured three Middle East experts: Professor Marc Lynch from George Washington University, who discussed The Future of Syria; Professor Nicole Watts from San Francisco State University, who addressed issues of Protest and Politics in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq; and Professor Karam Dana from University of Washington Bothell, who presented views on Palestinian Public Opinion and U.S. Foreign Policy.

All experts addressed the significance of the Arab Spring movement and discussed different aspects of current affairs in Middle East region affecting world opinion and perception.

Professor Lynch presented a sobering picture of how the Syrian conflict has sparked many social, humanitarian and political issues in the Middle East region, especially the displacement of millions of people into neighboring Jordan and Iraq.

“This is a dismal time in the Middle East…There is no resolution in sight…this doesn't mean that Syria as a country will disappear. Without the Arab Spring uprising, there is no Syria uprising,” said Lynch. “Syria isn’t just the epicenter of the current Middle East conflicts, it is also the most difficult and insoluble policy problem.”

By contrast Professor Watts spoke if how Kurdish culture has positively galvanized civil dissent and fostered a new politics of protest in the region. Watts feels more and more people are beginning to have a voice over issues such as allocation of resources, hold officials accountable and the use of social media to communicate with the world.

Professor Dana, who discussed current perception of the Palestinian Authority and politics of occupation, took the time to also address general perception of the Arab Spring movement among Palestinians.

“The data is confusing,” insisted Dana, whose surveys split opinion of the Arab Spring exactly in the middle. “About 50% felt is was a good thing and in the right direction, the other half think it is bad.”

The presentations were followed by more than 22 minutes of questions from the audience ranging from the future of Morocco to the state of Christian communities in the Middle East and current boycotts against Israeli occupation.

The Rutherford Initiative in Middle East Studies is a program of curriculum development, public lectures, workshops and conferences to increase awareness and understanding of the Middle East on the UO campus. Also, under the initiative, faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences will lead a three-year effort aimed at creating an undergraduate minor in Middle East studies.

The initiative is named after William Rutherford, UO alumnus (Bachelor of Science, 1961), former member of the Oregon House of Representatives (1977, 1979, 1981, and 1983) and former State Treasurer of Oregon (1984-87).

“My interest in the Middle East grew out of my concern for the continued unrest there. It seemed to me that a way to quiet the din would be to promote mutual understanding,” explains Rutherford. “I am aware that these differences have existed for a very long time, and I might be thought naïve to think I could make a difference, but I do believe that through such efforts as the Rutherford Middle East initiative that circumstances may be improved. My hope is that the Middle East studies program will encourage greater understanding by promoting cross-cultural contacts and conversations.”

Anthropology professor and director of Rutherford Middle East Initiative, Diane Baxter will work with scholars from anthropology, geography, history, international studies, political science, religious studies and other fields to advance the new Middle East Studies program.

Baxter, who has deep research and teaching expertise in the Middle East, will lead an effort that includes:

  • Development of a lower-division undergraduate course in Middle East studies.
  • Consultation among UO faculty on the aims, content and design of a Middle East studies minor.
  • Course development support for UO faculty who want to design or redesign courses that might fit into a Middle East studies minor.
  • Visits by guest speakers and other events to promote public awareness of the initiative and to gather expert perspectives on Middle East studies programs at other leading research universities.
  • Outreach to international students from the Middle East, and to interested UO student groups such as the Arab Student Union, the Muslim Student Association and the Jewish Student Union.
  • Exploration of possible collaborations with colleagues at Portland State University, which hosts a Title VI National Resource Center in Middle East Studies.

In the Aftermath of the Arab Spring was funded by the Rutherford Middle East Initiative, and the Departments of Political Science, Anthropology and Geography.

Click here to watch the complete presentation.