“Mirroring a national trend of increased interest in Middle Eastern culture and language,
a new student organization, the Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies Students Association (MEISSA),
has been formed to explore the unique political and religious issues facing the embroiled region.”
- The Heights, Independent Student Newspaper of Boston College
The following is the remaining text of this article which appeared in The Heights last semester:
… The core belief behind MEISSA, which already has an executive board and close to 100 interested members, is that future leaders must be equipped with an understanding of the unique politics and culture of the Islamic world. MEISSA, currently in its final stages of drafting a constitution, has a number of plans for the upcoming semester, one of which is to bring distinguished speaker Karim Kawar, Jordanian ambassador to the United States and Mexico , to campus in March.
"Boston College is graduating the future public and private leaders of the world. You can't hold a leadership position in this world without an understanding of the increasingly globalized world we live in," said Luke Tarbi, MEISSA president and A&S '05.
The creation of the club comes at a time when the threat of global terrorism has thrust Islamic culture into the view of average Americans. In the months after Sept. 11, book titles like "Unveiling Islam" and "Islam and Terror" enjoyed a meteoric rise on the bestseller lists, and Islamic scholars were ushered into the media spotlight.
Arabic is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after foreign languages on college campuses. At BC, intermediate Arabic has become the second-most popular mid-level foreign language course offering, and enrollment in Hebrew classes is also on the rise. At Georgetown University , where 370 students make up the largest Arabic program among U.S. colleges, fall enrollment is up 36 percent. At the University of Kansas , enrollment has jumped 58 percent since 2002.
The underlying principal of the organization is that future leaders must be equipped with knowledge of the diverse politics, religions, societies, and culture of the Islamic world. Tarbi emphasized that MEISSA will fill a niche on campus that hasn't been fully explored in the past. BC boasts a number of popular culture groups, he said, but few groups that use an academic approach to learning about other regions.
The creation of MEISSA reflects the increasing popularity of the Islamic studies minor at BC, which now boasts over 40 students. In fact, two students, Tarbi and Brian Cotroneo, A&S '06, both had the idea for the club on their own around the same time last year, and were introduced to each other through a mutual faculty member.
MEISSA leaders will work closely with the students and faculty in the minor, as well as other student groups with overlapping interest, such as the Arabic Students Association and the South Asian Students Association. Most of the students minoring in the discipline are also MEISSA members, and Professor Kathleen Bailey, one of BC's foremost Islamic studies scholars, will be the faculty advisor.
Bailey said MEISSA can help correct some of the myths Americans may hold about Middle Eastern culture. "The biggest myth is that these people are violent and crime-prone," she said. "These are people who are seeking answers. They are people caught in a crisis of identity not unlike the crises of identity people have undergone in the past. They tend to want democracy, or at least liberal society that grants them the ability to have decent lives for themselves and their families."
Bailey remarked that in her tenure as a professor she has rarely seen such ambition to get a club off the ground - often a difficult task complicated by increased bureaucracy and red tape.
"It takes a lot of study power and ambition to get a project like this off the ground," she said. "I am really struck by the good will and energy of the people that have advocated for the creation of this organization."
by Jan Wolfe
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