February 29, 2012
WOOSTER, Ohio — What happens if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is ousted? How much of an impact have digital technology and social media had on the Arab Spring? Is war between Iran and Israel inevitable?
These and other weighty questions were discussed at length Monday afternoon, not in the halls of Congress or the Security Council of the United Nations, but in The College of Wooster’s new CoRE (Collaborative Research Environment) in Andrews Library.
The event, which was organized by Wooster’s Center for Diversity and Global Engagement in collaboration with Great Decisions of Wayne County and the College’s Instructional and Informational Technology Department, brought students, faculty, staff, and area residents together for “As it Happens: One Year after the Arab Spring.”
The discussion between the community and foreign affairs experts Robin Wright and Rami Khouri played out both online and in the CoRE’s “Cube,” a largely glass enclosed, multi-purpose, multi-media seminar room. Wright, who has been a correspondent for The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times Magazine, among others, and is the author of several books, including Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World, was on campus. Khouri, who is director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut and a columnist at the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper, appeared live from Beirut via Skype.
College of Wooster President Grant Cornwell served as moderator, and was pleased with the quality and complexity of discussion, both online and off. “Central to our mission of being a globally engaged campus is providing opportunities for listening to voices that represent different points of view and encouraging dialogue among those who see the world differently, especially around critical global issues,” he said. “The event in CoRE was a great inaugural demonstration of how technology can further our mission in these ways.”
Both Wright and Khouri were candid in their responses to questions. In regard to the situation in Syria, Khouri said that “the regime has lost credibility,” and that people in the West should not be fearful when Islamists come into power. Wright concurred, saying that “Islam and democracy are interdependent.”
Regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, Khouri said that a peaceful resolution is possible, but not with the existing leaders on both sides. He added that this conflict is the “single most destabilizing force in the region.”
On the subject of the influence of digital technology and social media on the Arab Spring, Khouri said it was “blown out of proportion” and compared it to Paul Revere’s horse. “It’s not the medium, but the people who are most important,” he said. Wright countered by arguing that the new technology was a factor in enabling people to communicate outside the control of the state and adding that YouTube was particularly important because of its ability to deliver images that might not ordinarily have been seen outside of the country.
During the course of the discussion, bloggers weighed in, both on campus and around the world, including Amyaz Moledina, co-director of Wooster’s Center for Diversity and Global Engagement, who offered a running account of the discussion. “It was great,” said Moledina about the inaugural event. “It was wonderful to have the support of so many people, students, faculty and their classes, community members and the president as we continued this tradition that the Center started last year of bringing people on-the-ground into conversation with our community on major events.”
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