Understanding the Middle East

Beginning on April 1, Wheaton College will celebrate Middle East Awareness Week, a series of campus-wide events dedicated to the study and appreciation of Middle Eastern culture. Hosted by the Middle East Awareness Club, activities will include a Middle Eastern dinner, traditional dancing, a film, and a talk from noted international politics scholar Nathan Brown.

Alireza Shomali
Professor Alireza Shomali

Middle East Awareness Week was founded by newly tenured Professor of Political Science Alireza Shomali. Shomali and the Middle East Awareness Club, headed by Eric Stone ’14, chose the events for this year’s celebration, which will aim to educate the Wheaton community about the Middle East and erase misconceptions toward the region.

“We feel that the Middle East is both a vitally important and terribly understood region today,” Stone said. “It plays a huge role in many of our lives, and yet most people know little more than what they see on TV about the wars and terrorism that stems from the region. What we hope to do is to shed a little light on the people and the politics of the region and hopefully encourage some people to learn even more.”

On April 2, professor, author and lecturer Nathan Brown will deliver a presentation titled “The Arab Spring: The Future of the Egyptian Revolution.” The keynote event of Middle East Awareness Week, Brown’s lecture (7 p.m. in the Woolley Room, Mary Lyon Hall) will explore the importance of understanding the changing sociopolitical landscape in Egypt and, broadly, the Middle East.

“The U.S. has found itself fighting several wars in the Middle East; it has also a host of security and economic interests in the region,” said Brown, “but the Middle East the United States is used to dealing with has begun to change in some fundamental ways. We cannot really dictate the course of that change, but we will find ourselves forced to react to it.”

Nathan Brown is a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he has earned the reputation as one of the world’s leading scholars on Middle East politics. He has published eight books, with a ninth, Constitutionalism, The Rule of Law and The Politics of Administration in Egypt and Iran, scheduled for release this year. A two-time Fulbright grant winner, he received his Ph.D. from Princeton University.

Brown has visited Wheaton before and says he is looking forward to coming again.

“George Washington University offers many wonderful things to its students, but a strong sense of community is not one of them,” Brown said. “Wheaton seemed cozy and quite warm by comparison.”

The awareness week will also feature a Middle Eastern dinner followed by a lecture on the Syrian conflict by Tufts University professor Ethan Corbin (April 1), a belly dancing and live music showcase (April 5), a showing of the independent film “Amreeka” co-sponsored by BACCHUS (April 6), and more. For details, visit Wheaton’s online calendar.

—Alex Cilley ’14