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Digging into the Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt—Ahh, the start of a new school year. Like baseball’s spring training, people report in hopefully decent physical shape, every team is still undefeated and the facilities just look great.

For freshmen, it is the excitement of beginning a new life at Duke—from their first collegiate class to their first collegiate beer.

For upperclassmen, it’s time to compare summers with old friends, get back in the saddle and, for some, a chance to be that guy who hands those freshmen their first beers.

Unfortunately, our mission in Iraq has taken quite a nasty turn, the Israel-Palestine situation remains a mess (though check out the conference at Duke hosted by the Palestine Solidarity Movement Oct. 15-17), Osama is still on the loose and the current state of affairs seems to be aiming the next generation of Arab and Muslim peoples against the United States. And, of course, our election, perhaps the most crucial one we will participate in during our lifetimes, looms in the balance come November.

Over the next several months, leading up to the election and eventually Duke final exams, this column will be about what is going on the world, especially in the Middle East. I say especially the Middle East because I will be here on a study abroad program in Egypt.

I think one of the funny things about the U.S. and the Middle East—if there are any laughs to be had—is that it wasn’t until Sept. 12, 2001 that Americans began to really take notice to that part of the world again.

But it’s hardly the first interaction our respective cultures have had. Like our past interactions with the Far East or the Super Near East (Europe), it is an ongoing, complicated web of events.

Before Sept. 11, there was the Gulf War and the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beruit. Before that there was the 1967 and 1973 wars between the Arabs and the Israelis and British Colonial Iraq and the Ottomans and back and back and back until you reach the Moors and the holy lands and the Christian Crusades.

There hasn’t always been the same balance of power, and it definitely hasn’t always been jihadists and infidels.

Did you know when Europeans were struggling through their Dark Ages, physicians in the Middle East were performing eye surgery? Or that Jews and Muslims had an unbelievably different kind of relationship way back when?

And that’s just the stuff on the surface. We’ll dig deeper to see if America can find its way in Iraq, if democracy has a chance of working in the Arab/Muslim world, if we can fix the Israelis’ and Palestinians’ problems, if we can prove that the U.S. is better than what’s shown on Al-Jeezera and Arab television—to see if we can remind the rest of the world what makes America great. It’s easy today to think the situation is hopeless, but with any luck, it’s not.

So that’s where this column is going. If this isn’t your cup of tea, then you can flip to the crossword, get back to unpacking or grab a beer.

(And if there’s there a freshmen attached to that beer, well, that’s up to you too.) Otherwise, see back here at this spot in a few days.


Jesse Shuger-Colvin is a Trinity junior. His column appears every other Wednesday.


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