California Educator

November 2015

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Describe your experience at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. It was interesting for me. It was before the Iraq War. Many of the officers were older than me. Many of them were questioning the rationale of going to war against Iraq and spoke frankly. Many of them predicted that chaos was going to ensue. What was it like to have your research distorted to justify the Iraq War? It had a long-term impact on my life. At the time I was living and teaching in Istanbul, and the Turkish media said I had master- minded the Iraq War. Protesters were screaming outside my classroom. My students were screaming back at the protesters. It was very traumatic. I le Turkey. When Tony Blair issued a belated apology, it was a nice gesture, but it was only because the government was pressuring him to do so. What is the most important thing you want your students to know about the Middle East and its people? That it is an extremely complex and diverse place, and that most Middle Easterners have simple desires when it comes to everyday life. What most Middle Easterners want is as banal as what anyone wants — enough food, a secure job, and a safe place for their children. I want my students to have a better understanding of today's reality and a better understanding of a faith — and a region — that defines their presence. Do you dispel myths about Islam in your classes? My entire course is geared toward dispelling myths and learn- ing the reality behind the myth. One of the biggest myths is that a suicide bomber will see 72 virgins in heaven. That is not in the Quran and comes from a poorly sourced religious text that most Muslims have never read. It says more about ourselves as an overly sexualized society and what we fixate on than it does about Muslims. Why is there so much instability in the Middle East — especially now in Syria? A lot of what's happening in the Middle East, including the Syrian civil war, has to do with abuse of the environment, over- population, and mishandling of natural resources. These things and climate change have created the perfect storm for a war in Syria. The drought in Syria caused people to move from their farms to cities that could barely handle them due to overpopulation and unemployment. They were dispossessed of their land and income, and then ISIS comes along and says, "We'll give you a gun and pay you." The long-term future doesn't look good in the Middle East. But there is always hope. Governments are beginning to realize that if they suppress the population and don't respond to the demands of the people, they will fall. Is America also to blame? We look at the role of the U.S. in my class, but we don't play the blame game. As good historians, we look at documents from American adminis- trations about Iraq and other areas, so we can see the cause and effect relating to events that happened in the past and events that are unfolding now. And we talk about Iraq, which made certain choices after the war. The Iraqi political elite, in a rush for power, certainly made mistakes. Should the U.S. sign a nuclear agreement with Iran? Any failure to sign the deal would only prolong a decades- long policy of confronting and isolating the Islamic Republic of Iran — a policy which has failed to curb instability in the region or the actions of the state, and has only created stronger animosity toward the West and established powers within the Middle East. This deal offers the first real chance to see whether U.S.-Iranian engagement will in fact produce cooperative opportunities for stability throughout the Middle East. In your class you have a wide range of students, including those of Middle Eastern descent and U.S. veterans who served in region. Do discussions ever get heated? There's never any tension. In fact, there's a certain synergy and sharing of personal knowledge. They have all been affected by the instability of the Middle East, whether they were deployed there or fleeing from there. Together, they learn from each other. How do you keep up on what's happening in the Middle East with so much changing day to day and challenges for journalists covering the area? It's overwhelming, but I keep up on sources from the Internet, satellite TV and social media. I also learn a lot from my students. I taught a course in Prague over the summer, and I had many students from [the Middle East]. They learn from me, but I also learn from them. What do you like best about teaching Middle East history? When I get evaluations back and students tell me how much they learned — and that they now realize history is something that applies to their daily lives. 20

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