Graduation Year: 2017
Minor: Middle Eastern Studies
Why did you choose Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers?
I’ve always been interested in politics ever since I was young, so when I came to Rutgers, I knew I would choose Political Science as my major. I also had many interests within that arena, one of which was the Middle East. Having grown up visiting the region many times, specifically Lebanon (including during the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel War), my mind was packed with curiosity for the Middle East. I always found myself in deep thought, pondering various questions about the region – it’s multifaceted conflicts, deeply diverse culture, rich history, and fundamentally loving people. I realized that many of my curiosities and wonders would remain as such, unless I explored them in an academic setting at school. I’m very grateful for having done so and for deciding to minor in Middle Eastern Studies.
What did you learn/find valuable from doing the MES program?
Minoring in Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers allowed me to explore the complexity of the region. I really appreciated that many of the courses were taught in a Socratic method; students would participate and engage in the material through discussion and debate. Even for many students who were not very familiar with the Middle East coming into courses, instructors would draw them in and allow them to fulfill whatever curiosity they had through dialogue. Instructors were also very neutral when teaching the material. It is no question that the Middle East is extremely divided; Lebanon alone has 18 recognized sectarian communities, each with their own religious beliefs, political agendas, and distinct culture. This small country is a testament to the entire region, and professors very successfully avoided promoting one side; instead, they presented students with the facts and allowed them to come to their own conclusions.
What were some of your favorite aspects of MES at Rutgers (favorite course; favorite professor, favorite project/trip, etc.)?
One of the best parts of MES at Rutgers is the quality and the talent of its professors. I learned from many remarkable educators in my courses. I took Arabic language courses with Professor Widyane Hamdach, an incredible teacher who was effective and encouraging. Whether she was teaching a student with some previous exposure to Arabic or none at all, Professor Hamdach was able to challenge students successfully so that they could accomplish their learning goals. She made you want to keep learning, which I fundamentally appreciated. I took various MES courses with Hamid Abdeljaber, including the Arab-Israeli Conflict and Arab Politics and Society. Taking a course with Professor Abdeljaber is, in my opinion, a requirement to truly majoring or minoring in MES at Rutgers. With 25 years of experience working for the
United Nations, direct exposure to the Middle East and its complexity, and a true passion for the region and its people, he is truly a remarkable educator and I would strongly recommend anyone with a curiosity for the region to learn from him. He often caps his courses with a trip to the United Nations Headquarters in New York, where students from his various courses are able to meet and talk with U.N. personnel, explore the facility via a guided tour, and get exposure to what they learned in the classroom.
Why do you think that studying the Middle East region is important in today's world?
The Middle East and its people are not so different or foreign as they may seem; people make a living to feed their families, they go into work or school every day (even if they don’t always want to), young people love watching Netflix and going out on the weekends, people go on dates and fall in love, families have dinner together. What is different is that they are plagued with often heavily militarized and deeply intricate conflicts, while we are not. Generations of people have been lost or forever displaced and scarred by war and instability. Many reach a point where they cannot go to school anymore, because it has been destroyed. Some can’t go to work anymore, because armed fighting has reached their city or community. The normal life we enjoy here has been taken away from so many there and, regardless of why these conflicts exist, that is fundamentally unjust. We owe it to ourselves to become educated on these issues and to fight ignorance wherever it may surface, if we ever want a better future.