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Visiting Lecturers and Student Learning

Westminster Matters

Visiting Lecturers and Student Learning

A Message From President Michael Bassis
Spring 2005

 

 

Higher Education left the ivory tower a long time ago. Theoretical constructs and abstract concepts alone are unsatisfying to students who want to know how what they learn relates to the world in which they live.

But the call for relevance carries danger with it. After all, academic discourse should seek to explain public passions--not just reflect them.

At Westminster we try to balance theory and practice in a number of different ways. The entire educational experience is designed to emphasize student engagement and ensure that active learning is built into every course. Every concentration and many individual
courses include a healthy dose of experiential learning. We also try to integrate co-curricular activities into the academic experience. We know, for example, that our physical location gives students unparalleled access to mountain recreation, wilderness experience, and an urban environment; we help students learn from their off-campus experiences and then relate that learning to academic content.

Part of blending theory and practice involves bringing distinguished professionals to campus and giving students an opportunity to interact with them. In this issue, we highlight remarks made by lecturers visiting the campus under the auspices of the Weldon J. Taylor Lecture Series sponsored by American Express and the Kim T. Adamson Lecture in International Studies. Two of these lectures were presented in cooperation with the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy, an organization that does a superb job of promoting direct contact between foreign leaders and American citizens. In the past six months, our students heard three lectures focusing on different aspects of American policy in the Middle East. They heard a former Ambassador discuss Arab attitudes, an academic identify differences between American and European views of the region, and a journalist talk about how hard it is to report facts accurately in the midst of conflicts involving people from radically different cultures.

It is, of course, possible for lectures about foreign policy in general, and the Middle East in particular, to devolve into political polemics. But my sense is that the presentations were thoughtful, based on years of experience in and analysis of the region, and motivated by a desire to illuminate the issues rather than color them in partisan tones. Equally important was the fact that all of the presentations were preceded by opportunities for our
students to interact with the lecturer and followed by an opportunity for members of the audience to ask questions. These are examples of the ways we merge the academic enterprise with real world concerns. We present them to you both for their intrinsic value and their ability to illustrate the opportunities our students have to learn from multiple sources

Michael S. Bassis
President, Westminster College


Excerpts from

Reporting from the Front Lines

Steven Komarow
Foreign Correspondent, USA Today
In addition to covering the Congress and the
Pentagon, he specializes in reporting on terrorism
and from hostile environments.

The term 'kill the messenger' has taken on new, grave realities. Terrorists find that killing journalists is profitable, bringing great attention to their cause.

Journalism is more of a craft than a science. It's a very human endeavor. Ideally, we're the messengers, the information middle-men. If I'm doing my job well, I'm not very noticeable but the information is.

Steven KomarowPeople want and need timely and accurate reporting. That's not always easy to do in the current world situation, with US troops trying to root out terrorist radicals on the other side of the planet. We're reporting from places that we'd barely heard of five years ago and from cultures that in some ways are very different from our own.

I have been covering military conflicts off and on since the 1980s, either from abroad or here at home. So I guess I entered the new century well prepared for the next event, whatever that might have been.

Then one night the phone rang in my hotel room and my editor asked me, "Steve, how fast can you get to Tajikistan." My reply, of course, was, "Where's Tajikistan?"

Tajikistan, it turned out, was the passageway to Afghanistan and what we called the Northern Alliance, the ragtag army that would serve as the ground force for the American plan to oust the Taliban that controlled most of Afghanistan. I was soon reporting from one of the most remote regions of the world.

How remote? Well, there are few paved roads, no regular mail service, entire regions without electricity, and only shortwave radio. Most adult men and nearly all women are illiterate.

In some ways, journalists are better equipped to report from that kind of environment than ever before. I have a hand-held satellite phone that works almost everywhere on the planet. I use it to file stories and download statements and emails from information sources. Media companies are spending a fortune on this: our satellite phone bill from Kabul in one month was $18,000. For television companies it's often many times that much.

Getting the information we need is a more difficult problem. In the wars of the twentieth Century, journalists often could feel reasonably secure that their role in and of itself was a shield from harm. Reporters were non-combatants who usually did not carry weapons, and killing one could mean bad press. In today's environment, though, journalists are specifically targeted. The term "kill the messenger" has taken on new, grave realities. Terrorists find that killing journalists is profitable, bringing great attention to their cause.

That means reporters are constrained in what they can cover. After Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and killed in Pakistan, it was clearly too dangerous to seek out the radicals for interview. Many news organizations pulled out of that country altogether even though it was and probably still is the headquarters for Bin Laden and his top lieutenants.

That danger has now spread to Iraq. In the spring of 2003, it was part of the normal reporting routine to visit the markets, mosques, and other gathering places to check the pulse of the Iraqi public. But today, interviewing common people in Iraq has become risky. When a big event occurs, whether it's a bombing or the opening of a new power plant, it's often impossible to travel to the site and check it out. Indeed, some news organizations have gone so far as to pull their Western reporters out of Iraq and have them work from Amman, Jordan. There's no point reporting a story if you can't deliver it because you're dead. This means that more and more of the news is based on second-hand sources, and that information seems less reliable every day.

Unbiased information is harder to obtain. The US military constantly complains that we're not telling the good news; the other side views us as a tool of an occupation designed to strip Iraq of its oil and impose a Judeo-Christian dominance.

Sorting through the rhetoric takes rigor and neutrality. I fear that too often the public expects journalists to provide answers. In my view, my most important job is to ask questions and report other peoples' answers. Does that mean we journalists need to present the views of the terrorists as if they are as legitimate as those of the United States? No. But I also don't need to make that judgment. We report what they say. That doesn't make us their spokesmen. It does make you, the reader, better able to make judgments about who they are, what they want, and how you feel about it.

My job is to gather as much information as I can and share it with you. Human nature, combined with external constraints, means all reporting is imperfect--but journalists take pride in doing it as well as they can.

Excerpts from

Anti-Americanism in the Middle East

Ambassador Theodore Kattouf
Former Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Syria, currently

the President and CEO of America-Mideast EducationalTraining
Services, Inc. (AMIDEAST).

US Policy is more important than American values in shaping Arab views of America.

Ambassador Theodore KattoufThe Middle East is arguably the epicenter of the current rising tide of anti-Americanism. Based on my years in the region, I believe that while Arabs and Middle Easterners are critical of US policy, they genuinely admire things American and prefer American openness to European social rigidity. But I also note that negative attitudes toward American policy are beginning to spill over to things American in general.

These feelings seem to be supported by objective evidence. While polling is an inexact science, polls conducted by Zogby International in six Middle Eastern states in June of 2002 and again in June of 2004 support my feelings. Among the principle findings were these:

  • There is a decline in favorable ratings of the United States.
  • Attitude toward American values, people, and pro-ducts remain generally favorable, but they too are declining.
  • Attitudes toward American policy in Iraq and toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are extremely low, indeed, so low they are in the single digits.

US policy is more important than American values in shaping Arab views of America. There is a feeling that our policies in the region are anti-Islamic. Large numbers of Arabs say that their first thoughts about America include: "imperialistic," "unfair," and "policies based on a desire for our oil." The ratio of negative to positive responses goes as high as 4 to 1. While some say that Arabs hate our values, that does not appear to be true. They may not always share our values, but they do not hate them--though they do hate our policies in the region.

The beginning of wisdom in trying to understand the Middle East, though, is to admit that, as a Westerner, you don't know very much. These are ancient civilizations. They take a long view of history. They don't believe they have to win this week or this month or even this year. They know how to wait out a problem...and an enemy.

We, on the other hand, are a young society. We don't have a sense of history, our own or others'. We don't even have a sense of geography: in 2002, when shown a regional map, only 1 in 7 young Americans could locate Iraq. Historically, Arabs have not been anti-American: they admire the fact that we don't have a colonial history and that Woodrow Wilson called for the emancipation of subjected people. We have a history of helping by creating institutions like the American University in Beirut, which is a crown jewel of the region.

The issue that has altered Arab attitudes is the key role the US has played in supporting Israel. I am not, let me be very clear, saying that is a wrong policy; I am simply saying that as the Arabs and Muslims look at things, the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is the key.

People in the Middle East see horrific pictures on their news that we never see. The Arab media--which penetrates even the poorest villages in the region--shows Arab children being shot and maimed all the time. They may never see Israeli children being killed when a bus is bombed, but they see their own children being shot, houses being destroyed, and mothers crying.

It is a picture of humiliation. Arabs look to their past when Islam enjoyed almost instant success--when Islam was spread from Spain to China; when it synthesized the knowledge of the time; when it advanced human understanding in the sciences and the arts--and they feel they are now in an inferior position, and they are humiliated. They do not tend to be introspective, to look at weaknesses in their own societies that contribute to their problems. They blame external actors...and they often blame us.

Additionally, the governments in the region tend to be autocratic, undemocratic, repressive and corrupt. They have eliminated political opposition so that the only independent voice that remains belongs to the Islamic extremists who are protected by the cloak of religion and the sanctuary of the mosque.

There are no short term solutions, but a central element of our strategy must be to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Attitudes toward the US in the region are always more positive when we have a peace policy we are actively pursuing and are engaging the parties in negotiations intended to achieve peace on a fair and just basis. We must be involved in negotiations which are real and sustained but do not go on indefinitely. As long as that conflict goes on, it will be a boon to extremists and repressive governments who use it to divert public anger and maintain their own power.

Excerpts from

Can the Atlantic Alliance Survive?

John E. Rielly, Ph.D.
Former President of the Chicago Council of
Foreign Relations. He has appointments at
both Northwestern University and the Graduate
School of International Relations and Pacific Affairs
at the University of California - San Diego.

Despite these differences and the tension they create, the United States and Europe share more values than any other parts of the world.

John E. Rielly, Ph.D.The European response to 9/11 was uniformly supportive. Even left-leaning newspapers ran headlines proclaiming "We Are All Americans." European governments offered to assist the US in the attack on the Taliban. But that offer was rebuffed by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who proclaimed that "the mission will determine the coalition", which most people took to mean "NATO, you are not needed." That response rankled Europe and added to a tension that had been building. European leaders had been irritated by an American tendency to act alone--rejecting the International Criminal Court, refusing to support the Kyoto Accords, withdrawing from the ABM Treaty. But that irritation turned to open confrontation and opposition when the administration made it clear it would attack Iraq.

An essential question is if this disagreement is over Iraq, or if it reflects a broader disagreement about strategy, interests, and values. It raises profound questions about whether the Atlantic Alliance can survive Iraq.

Some leading neo-conservatives argue that America and Europe no longer share a common view of the world because they no longer share a common view of the role and desirability of military power. They argue that while Europe saw military might as an essential response to the Soviets, they do not see it as central to the fight against terrorism.

There is a certain validity to the argument, but what the conservative critique ignores is the European belief that "Great Power can lead to Great Hubris;" with the Soviet Union gone, there is no force left to check American power--or restrict American hubris.

The difference between the United States and Europe is most likely tied to differences in judgment about the danger of a too early use of force and the influence of diplomacy and "soft" power. While we continue to cooperate in terms of intelligence and law enforcement activities, Europe has a very different understanding of terrorism and its threat than we do. Europeans view terrorism as a technique, not a goal; they reject the concept of a "war" on terrorism because for most Europeans a "war" is something that has a beginning and an end. By and large, Europeans see terrorism as more similar to a disease that must be controlled, minimized, and managed--they do not see it as something they can eliminate.

While our approaches differ, Europeans do see terrorism as a threat. They disagreed with our decision to invade Iraq, but they recognize that if the occupation fails, Iraq would be a center for terrorism and an unacceptable threat. Despite the fact that Europe is generally disinclined to use force outside its own borders, it is not the use of force in Iraq to which they object--they object to what they see as our being too willing to use force too early. They believe that is what we did in Iraq, and that is what they fear we might do in Iran and perhaps other situations.

They also find our sense of mission--our sense that we have an obligation to spread our brand of democracy throughout the world--incomprehensible. They also find it hard to comprehend the American belief in the inevitability of progress.

Despite these differences and the tension they create, the United States and Europe share more values than any other parts of the world. We share a commitment to market economies, strong civil societies, protection of human rights, and we have similar definitions of freedom and democracy. Our economies are the twin engines of the world economy. They account for one-half of the trade and investment flows in the world. We face common threats--outsourcing of jobs, piracy of intellectual property--that cry out for cooperation.

A key area of potential cooperation, which would help us in terms of both terrorism and economic security, involves Israel and the Palestinians. Europe should play a prominent role in working with the United States to build an independent Palestinian state while assuring Israeli security. In the recent past, Europe has increasingly turned against Israel, sometimes as a way of punishing America. But a Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement serves everyone's interest: it reduces a cause of terrorism, it reduces the motive for using oil as a diplomatic weapon, and it increases security. Finding common goals and common tasks can promote a stronger relationship between Europe and the United States. And that is in everyone's interest.