Historically, Brigham Young University has not had a program focusing on the modern Middle East. After 9/11, the day that President Bush declared that the U.S. was sending troops into Afghanistan, we began to rethink that. The President’s announcement was made General Conference Sunday; President Bush’s speech interrupted President Hinckley’s Conference address.
As I drove home from my daughter’s house in St. George that Sunday, I thought and thought, and when I got home, I went to see Dil Parkinson. As we spoke that night, we realized then more than ever that we needed to start a modern Middle East studies program. It was something our country needed; something we could contribute to; and something that we’d been building toward ever since I was hired at BYU in 1978. No region is more important to the entire world than the Middle East—and no other region is more misunderstood. When we can help dispel incorrect ideas about what goes on in the Middle East, what people want there, how they view terrorism, or whether there is a clash of civilizations, we benefit national security as well as help cultures and people of the world understand each other.
LAYING THE FOUNDATION
Before the program was created, BYU concentrated on Asia, while the University of Utah worked on the modern Middle East. Gradually over the last thirty years, faculty members with knowledge of the modern Middle East have joined our ranks one by one. And with the opening of the Jerusalem Center, our need for knowledgeable faculty with expertise in the Middle East grew.
When we began laying the foundation for our program, we built it on a strong disciplinary base. The Arabic language is that base. We take students who know nothing at all about Arabic all the way through a minimum of three years of intensive Arabic. The curriculum is aimed at helping them function in the modern world, which includes reading newspapers, speaking to people in dialect, understanding television broadcasts and videos in standard Arabic, and operating on the street in the Middle East. Currently our language offerings are limited to Arabic. We look forward to adding Persian (Farsi) and Turkish when resources allow.