Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

American, Arab Students Seek Common Ground: Roundtable Addresses Heightened Tension between U.S., Middle East Post-Sept. 11. (College Park, MD.)

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

American, Arab Students Seek Common Ground: Roundtable Addresses Heightened Tension between U.S., Middle East Post-Sept. 11. (College Park, MD.)

Article excerpt

There were tense moments at times between Arab and American students as they discussed their reactions to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and explored misconceptions about their respective cultures.

Held at the University of Maryland College Park, the two-day Colloquium on U.S.-Arab Relations provided a forum for approximately 20 Arab Fulbright students, visiting from nearly a dozen countries, such as Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, and an equal number of American students to combat stereotypes and address the heightened tension between the United States and Arab countries post-Sept. 11.

Frustration erupted often as each group tried to gain a better understanding of the other's cultural values, and political and religious ideologies. Much of the colloquium was spent trying to determine the origins of stereotypes and perceptions of the United States as a global bully and Middle East nations as global terrorists.

Both American and Arab students held their respective media organizations responsible for perpetuating negative images of the other group. But while both groups imposed some responsibility on the media, many Arab students said the American media were particularly egregious in their depiction of Arabs as terrorists.

"It seems as if the American media purposely show negative and even false images to its viewers to widen the gap between U.S. and Arab peoples," says Rula Khalafawi, an international policy studies student from Gaza, referring to the broadcast of images of Muslim adults and children cheering in the streets following the attacks on the United States.

Brecken Swartz, an American communications student, agreed with Khalafawi. "The only messages we're getting from American media is that Arabs are our enemies -- that being American means we should hate bin Laden."

Conversely, Katie Swanson, a University of Maryland student, wanted Arab media to show Arab leaders taking more responsibility for the role their ideology played in the terrorist attacks. "I don't see criticism of Arab foreign policy and how it contributed to the Sept. 11 attacks," she argued.

Many of the Arab students staunchly defended Arab leaders' contention that America may have been attacked for its Middle East policies -- particularly its continued support of Israel -- which for many Arabs is equivalent to being anti-Palestinian. …

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