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An Arab Summer at Middlebury

Following up on a piece from the Middle East Quarterly, Boston College professor Franck Salemeh writes at RealClearPolitics on some notable trends at Middlebury’s summer Arabic language program.

In maps, textbooks, lectures, and other teaching materials used in the instruction of Arabic, Israel didn’t exist, and the overarching watan ‘Arabi (Arab fatherland) was substituted for the otherwise diverse and multi-faceted “Middle East.” Curious and misleading geographical appellations, such as the “Arabian Gulf” in lieu of the time-honored “Persian Gulf,” abounded. Syria’s borders with its neighbors were marked “provisional,” and Lebanon was referred to as a qutr (or “province”) of an imagined Arab supra-state.

Full text here.

The organizers had more on their plate, too. According to Salameh, the program enforced halal dietary restrictions during meals, banned alcohol from events and parties, and were the sole program to opt out of observing July 4th festivities.

As Salameh notes up top in the first piece, Middlebury’s immersive summer language programs are considered to be among the best in the nation, and I’ve always envied this excellent feature of our NESCAC neighbor. Pretty much the only part of Middlebury I feel that way about, actually. Well, maybe the hockey rink. That’s about it.

Now, unlike the author, I’m not so concerned about Middle Eastern studies professors being “depressingly consistent in their condemnation of American policy in the region, including its support for the democracies in Israel and Turkey.” But I also don’t think a language program has much business mandating its participants’ gustatory, libationary or cartographic choices. Although the “provisional” borders thing is actually kind of funny.

Anyone have any thoughts?

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#1 Comment By Jeff Z. On August 18, 2006 @ 5:19 pm

This is pretty disturbing, and I’m glad it’s not happening at Williams. Can you imagine the uproar if a Hebrew summer language program implemented the same policies?

#2 Comment By frank uible On August 18, 2006 @ 7:20 pm

As I approach my exit, a world with ominous prospects is being left for my grandkids. More ominous than the prospects of the 1930s? I don’t know, but damn ominous. Perhaps circumstances will flush out an FDR and a Churchill.

#3 Comment By Ronit On August 18, 2006 @ 8:43 pm

Arabs don’t like the US or Israel? How utterly shocking and newsworthy.

#4 Comment By Anon ’89er On August 20, 2006 @ 7:15 pm

Not all Arabs and Arabic-speakers are Muslims, and most certainly not all of them are pan-Arabists (ie Baathists). A pro-Syrian bias might be a useful organizing principle to a language that is not all that consistently from country to country.

The point of the course is linguistic, but you can’t do justice to all the political and cultural diversity in the Arab-speaking world. Much less to discussing non-Arab (American, Turkish, Iranian) points of view.

#5 Comment By LittleA On August 21, 2006 @ 3:46 pm

#6 Comment By LittleB On August 21, 2006 @ 3:46 pm

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