In the fall of 1990, while I was deployed to the Persian Gulf emirate of Bahrain as part of the military build-up for the Persian Gulf War, I saw a poster on the wall of the mess hall advertising a seminar to be held one evening that week. The seminar was simply titled, “The True Meaning of Jihad.” I was immediately intrigued.
My view of the Middle East at that point was like that of most Americans. We viewed it as a region filled with perpetual tumult, populated by religious fanatics who wanted nothing more than to die for their religious faith. While considering whether to attend the seminar, I recalled my 1986 visit to the Soviet Union and how I had returned home with a better understanding of the people of that country. It was with this in mind that I decided to attend the Jihad seminar. While the seminar didn’t change my view of the enemy we faced, it did alter my perceptions on exactly who that enemy was: it wasn’t the entire Muslim world, as I once believed.
Gaining a better understanding of the Middle East is something drastically needed in the United States. UM can and should be at the forefront of that endeavor. With ever-increasing Jewish and Muslim communities on campus and in South Florida, as well as the growing interest of students in general, the demand for courses focused on this very important region of the world is becoming more evident every day. Even with the limited amount of courses offered on topics related to the Middle East such as Dr. Pete Moore’s courses on Middle Eastern politics and terrorism, Dr. David Graf’s upcoming course on pre-Islamic Arabia or even the two courses in Arabic taught by Professor Abla Khalil, registration numbers show that students are interested. In addition, with a strong program in Judaic studies already in existence that cross-references Dr. Moore’s aforementioned course, the basis for a degree program in Middle Eastern Studies already exists.
The administration, working with Student Government, should actively pursue the creation of a course of curriculum as well as additional full-time faculty to establish an academic major in Middle Eastern Studies. UM seeks to be not only one of the premier institutions of higher learning in the United States, but one of the top research institutions as well. Establishment of a Middle Eastern Studies program should be an essential element toward that end.
Scott Wacholtz can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.