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Symposium to explore national and cultural identities in the Middle East Sept. 22-24

September 7, 2011

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Recent protests in the Middle East are arguably the most significant news story of 2011.  From Sept. 22-24, Middlebury College’s Clifford Symposium, “(Re)Presenting National and Cultural Identities in the Middle East,” will seek to deepen understanding of this and other stories of the region by exploring aspects of its many cultures and national identities. A notable group of diverse speakers — scholars, journalists, writers, poets, artists, and human rights activists — will participate in the three-day event, offering analysis and personal reflection on countries ranging from Yemen and Syria to Israel and Egypt.

Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, College Park, and author of “The Stakes: America and the Middle East,” will begin the symposium with the keynote address, “Identity and the Arab Awakening.” Telhami has served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of State and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He has also contributed opinion pieces to the Washington Post and other publications.

Wendell Stevenson, The New Yorker’s Cairo correspondent, will speak on Tahrir Square’s central role in Egypt’s revolution. Photo by The New Yorker.

Wendell Steavenson of The New Yorker will discuss Tahrir Square.
Photo: The New Yorker

The four remaining sessions will all feature multiple speakers. In the first, titled “The Reporter’s Challenge,” Wendell Steavenson, The New Yorker’s Cairo correspondent, will discuss Tahrir Square’s central role in Egypt’s revolution, how the people who continue to gather there have remained a central force in the push for democracy, and the fluctuating moods of the crowd in the square — from celebratory to hostile. Amira Hass, a correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz will follow with remarks titled “Translating 'Occupation' to the Occupier.” Hass has lived in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) since 1993, first in Gaza and now in Ramallah.

On Friday, the symposium’s second session will include a look at the Syrian uprising by Radwan Ziadeh, the founder and director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies in Syria and a visiting scholar at George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies. Grassroots activism is the subject of the third session, and will feature a talk, “Bahrain’s Social Media Uprising and the Government’s Counter Campaign,” by Maryam Al Khawaja, head of foreign relations for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and a human rights activist who played an instrumental role in that country’s democratic protests in February 2011.

Five speakers will participate in the final session on Saturday, “Articulating Identity in Dance, Word and Film,” which will offer topics ranging from poetry and tribal dancing in Yemen to Israeli cinema and the meaning of “homeland” in Palestinian writings.

Two films in the college’s Hirschfield International Film Series will also be screened in conjunction with the Clifford Symposium:  “Restrepo” and “Incendies.”

Middlebury College Professors Larry Yarbrough, of the religion department, and Tamar Mayer, a member of the geography faculty and director of the College’s Middle East Studies Program, organized the symposium. Middlebury faculty members Quinn Mecham and Huda Fakhreddine will be among the speakers.

“To focus on the Middle East during the Clifford Symposium is timely in many ways,” said Yarbrough. “Many of us have been watching and reading about the popular movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria as well as those in Israel. But it is also timely because we want to showcase the growth of Middlebury’s Middle East Studies Program.” Said Mayer, “This academic year, we are opening two new sites for the C.V. Starr-Middlebury School Abroad in the Middle East — one in Israel and one in Jordan — to join a site already in Egypt.” They both agreed that the speakers for the Clifford Symposium would address many of the issues students and faculty in the program will be talking about in classes and other meetings throughout the year.

A schedule of symposium events is available on the college’s website. All events are free and open to the public. The symposium will take place in the Social Space of the McCullough Student Center on Old Chapel Road. Parking is available at the Mahaney Center for the Arts off of South Main St./Rt. 30. For more information, contact Tamar Mayer, Middlebury College professor of geography and director of Middle East Studies, at mayer@middlebury.edu or 802-443-5568, or Larry Yarbrough, Tillinghast Professor of Religion, at yarbrough@middlebury.edu or 802-443-5294.

Nicholas R. Clifford Symposium
The annual Clifford Symposium is named after College Professor of History Emeritus Nicholas R. Clifford, who taught history at the college from 1966 to 1993 and who in his many years as a member of the faculty and administration cultivated critical inquiry.