During the last week of June, I attended the Middle East Summer Institute at my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It was a really good week put on by the University’s Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, with the goal of helping instructors to be able to teach about the region. Here are a few things I gleaned from the presenters:
- About a month ago, I linked to and commented on an article about the problems of the two-state solution in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The premise of the article was that the two-state solution had lost its revolutionary appeal to Palestinians. I asked one of the presenters, Barbara Petzen of the Middle East Policy Council, what she thought about this thesis. She also felt that the two-state solution was on the rocks, but for a different reason: the two-state solutions that Israel had agreed to did not entail real sovereignty for the Palestinians. She believed that the possible outcomes for the Israeli-Palestinian situation are a two-state solution or a one-state solution where Palestinians are unequal citizens. She wasn’t optimistic about solutions to this conflict (no surprise, I suppose).
- Dr. Mohammad Khalil noted that the United States is probably the world’s most racially diverse Muslim community, perhaps only rivaled by Mecca. We attended a Friday mosque meeting just off the campus of the University, and the people gathered there came from many different racial backgrounds. I asked Dr. Khalil about racial tensions, or the lack thereof, within Islam. He said that a big part of the diversity at the mosque in Urbana was that it was the only mosque in the area; in a place like New York, where there are many Muslims, mosques often have more homogeneous ethnic makeups. He noted the oft-quoted phrase that the most segregated hour of the week is often Sunday mornings, and said that Friday afternoons are often the same for Muslims.
- Dr. Hadi Esfahani, an economics professor, was born in Iran and came to the US shortly before the 1979 Revolution. He was out in the streets protesting in the 1970s against the shah’s regime, although his cause was not Shia Islam or Marxism but democracy. It was a reminder that a wide spectrum of Iranians were against the shah. He told us that during the time of protests, someone set fire to a theater with 400 people watching an anti-shah movie. The arsonists shut the doors so that no one could leave, and people blamed the shah’s government. Those who wondered if the shah was behind it were told not to talk about it by others in the opposition because it helped the cause. It turned out that the religious protesters were behind it, and when Khomeini’s regime came into power, the arsonists were executed by the new regime.