Jun 06 2008

Thanks, Princeton University

Published by at 3:43 am under Blogs,Personal

It ended rather quickly. After punching in the grades on the special peoplesoft web site of the university my last formal activity at Princeton University was over. In the span of this year I taught upper class students a seminar entitled New Media in the Arab world, ran a freshman seminar class entitled Authentic Arab Voice and taught helped a few more upper class with their Arabic in the Arabic Media III class.

My journey to Princeton started years ago when NY Times reporter Chris Hedges urged me to apply for a Ferris Journalism Professorship. He encouraged me again when I met him three years ago at a human rights event in Italy , I finally decided to apply and sure enough I was chosen one of the 2007 Ferris.

Coming to Princeton from Jerusalem and Amman was not easy. I had to leave media organizations which I had helped establish and yank our kids out of their schools. But the reward of teaching some of the most intelligent students at American’s best school and living the Princeton experience has been well worth it.

Princeton has been a wonderful personal and professional journey. Living on campus with my family has allowed me to spend more time with them than I have in ten years. Living on campus, attending conferences and events and interacting with students, faculty and the community has been professionally refreshing.

Of all the great things about Princeton , I was most impressed with the students. Their wide-ranging knowledge and at the same time their ability to immerse themselves in another culture thousands of miles away was impressive.

The atmosphere at Princeton has been wonderful. Lecturers are blessed with a high quality support, the libraries are world class and all requests to add Arabic language books and films were immediately and positively responded to.

While at Princeton , I had an opportunity to listen to and meet with the King of Jordan, Abdullah II, who gave the university community an opportunity to listen to an authentic voice from the Arab world.

During a reception after the King’s talk, I had a chance to chat with President Tilgman about Princeton and its future. I told Princeton ’s president what I have been sensing ever since coming to this great university. That this high level academic institution lacks more comprehensive and authentic voices from the Arab Middle East. At a time when the US is deeply involved in the Middle East in a war of choice that has brought disastrous results to Washington and America ’s image, it is high time that our higher institutes of education dig deeper in providing students with faculty that has a deeper more authentic understanding of this strategic region.

While the decision to go to Iraq rest clearly on the shoulders of the President and his key staff, faculty from America’s Ivy League university’s must bear responsibility for not being forceful enough in pointing out the pitfalls that awaited American soldiers and diplomats in Mesopotamia. More importantly now is the need to be sure that no further mistakes are committed in regards to the dealings with Iran .

A more balanced Middle East policy has been discussed and encouraged by the Baker-Hamilton bipartisan commission which included among other things the need to resolve the Palestinian conflict and to engage Syria and Iran .

The Ottoman period and history is quite well researched at Princeton , possibly due to Bernard Lewis’ focus on it. But a more contemporary study of the Arab world is badly lacking at Princeton . The number of Arab faculty or faculty with deep knowledge of the Arab Middle East is quite low. I was surprised when talking to upper class students at Princeton how little knowledge they have of the Arab region. I had to correct students more than once about some simple facts such as that not all Arabs are Moslems and not all Moslems are Arabs or that Iran is not an Arab country and that there are Christian Arabs.

The number of students wanting to study Arabic has spiked in recent years reaching over 170 students. This is not surprising with so much happening in the Arab world that is of interest to Americans. Princeton must respond to this challenge by rethinking its course offerings, faculty hirings and general approach to this region. Encouraging more Arab scholarship at Princeton is not a partisan request. It is needed to offset the decades of ignoring this vital part of the world. Visits to the region must also be encouraged.

As I head back to Jordan and Palestine , I will forever cherish the friends I have made, the students I have come in contact with and the wonderful atmosphere that my family and I felt in Princeton . Our home in Amman and my contacts in both Palestine and Jordan are at the disposal of any interested in continuing the wonderful welcome and opportunity that was provided to us. To the students, faculty and administration of Princeton , thank you. Go Tigers.

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