by Grace Armstrong
The Middlebury Campus
It might seem ambitious to hold a serious panel discussion of world events on the first Friday night of the school year, but the organizers of “Hope, Not Hate: Curbing Anti-American and Anti-Arab Sentiments after 9/11″ had an important message. The Sept. 12 timing was no accident either.
Part of an international initiative, and sponsored by the International Students Organization (ISO), the campus chapter of Americans for Informed Democracy and the Political Science department, a lecture called “Hope, Not Hate” emphasized that, with Sept. 11 behind, it was time to look to the future.
In the nearly full conference room of the Robert A. Jones ’59 house, the audience listened intently to panelists Steve Delaney, Bogac Ergene and Suleiman Mourad as they spoke about two of today’s pressing issues – anti-Arab discrimination by Americans and anti-American sentiments in the rest of the world.
Delaney, a former Middle East correspondent for NBC and the current host of “Morning Edition” on Vermont Public Radio, gave a brief background on Middle East relations before addressing how Sept. 11 has affected media coverage of the Middle East and the Arab world in general. He pointed out that while there is now more information about the Middle East, many news outlets fail to put events into perspective.
“There was a notable absence of negativity on the part of embedded reporters [reporters living with American troops in Iraq],” Delaney said. “This was good for the Pentagon, but was it good for journalism?”
He emphasized, “You can’t cover a war only with close-ups. Did these from-the-trenches updates give a clear, unbiased view of the conflict?”
According to Ergene, a Turkish-born professor of Middle East history at the University of Vermont, many of the current negative sentiments in both the United States and the rest of the world stem from the fact that “Americans are fighting an enemy that they know nothing about.”
He said this position makes Americans “vulnerable to indoctrination,” and also contributes to anti-American sentiment abroad. “Most media coverage just reinforces stereotypes,” he argued. “Muslims are neither inherently peaceful nor inherently violent. In Islam, as in all religions, the texts are open to different and contradictory interpretations.”
He continued that, for many Americans, “Muslims represent ‘the other’. This perpetuates the mistaken and dangerous perception that this is a ‘clash of civilizations.’”
Mourad (an Instructor in the Department of Religion at Middlebury College) agreed.
Addressing the question of anti-Americanism, he argued that “hatred isn’t against Americans individually, but what was perpetrated in the name of Western culture.”
“America became a superpower without Americans being ready, without having a knowledge of the world,” he said. Regarding the theme of “Hope, not Hate,” he said that “without trust, we can’t have hope. And unfortunately, trust is absent in Arab-American relations.”
Why? Who is responsible? He mentioned that both sides have contributed to the situation and have a shared responsibility to resolve it.
The discussion that followed focused on the various events that have threatened the balance of Arab-American relations, from Arab deportations and detentions in the United States, to the Patriot Act, to Sept. 11 itself. When the discussion came to an end, in the spirit of panalist Mourad, moderator and Professor of Political Science David Rosenberg promised that these important issues would be addressed again.
“Hatred is easy to find. Hope we have to work hard for,” Mourad said.