Perspectives on the Middle East

Perspectives on the Middle East Postponed until July 11 - 16, 2021

Despite reasons for optimism in some areas, many nations in the Middle East continue to face extraordinary challenges. Armed conflict and insurrection flare across the region, with bloodshed extending well beyond the atrocities perpetrated in recent years by the Islamic State and the Assad regime in Syria. An ongoing war within Sunni and Shia Islam, led by  Saudi Arabia and Iran, has erupted. That contest, most clearly evident in Syria and Yemen, is now spreading to Qatar, Iraq and Lebanon. Egypt has clamped down on every form of dissent, justifying brutal policing tactics in the name of fighting terror. Egyptian President Sisi and Turkish President Erdogan have in recent years not just consolidated their power but extended their terms of office.

In response, US policy in the greater Middle East has wavered, leading to increasing involvement in certain conflicts, attempts to escape others and uncertainty  in most. In 2018, the U.S. announced its latest troop surge in Afghanistan. After cancelling talks with the Taliban last September, the U.S. is again looking for an off-ramp from its longest war. Support for Saudi Arabia's erratic leader, Prince Muhammad bin Salman, has been surpassed only by support to Israel. While peace and prosperity remain the advertised objectives of U.S. policy, the path toward these objectives often resembles a quagmire.

Yet there is far more to this extraordinary region than conflict. History in the Middle East runs deep, and the variety of cultures, ethnicities and languages is vast. Islam is the dominant religion, but it means different things to different people in different places. The roles of women are constantly changing, and women are now competing with men across a range of societal spheres. Perspectives on the Middle East will offer an introduction to all of these themes and to the broader heritage of the region. Participants will gain a greater understanding of the cultural and political complexities of the Middle East as well as some encouraging developments. W&L faculty include Seth Cantey, Robert Strong and Alia Bassiouny. Serving as distinguished visiting faculty are Miriam Cooke, Craven Professor Emerita of Arab Cultures at Duke University, and Bruce Lawrence, Marcus Humanities Professor Emeritus of Religion, also of Duke.

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