This Tuesday, Sept. 8 the Crown Center for Middle East Studies celebrated its
10th anniversary. The Director of the Crown Center Shai Feldman began his introduction by announcing that the Crown Center has always been a reputable, committed and scholarly center for Middle East Studies, since its conception back in 2005. For the past 10 years, the Crown Center has grown into a hub for scholarship and research because it has provided an enriching environment with interactive discussions for its students. These scholars are applying what they have learned inside the classroom to the real world.
According to Feldman, although Brandeis is a non-denominational school, the heavy presence of Jewish tradition and culture has always been engrained in its roots. He explained that Jehuda Reinharz, Brandeis’ president from 1994 to 2010, wanted Brandeis to be different from other universities. His primary goal for the center was to hire a diverse faculty and staff in order to reflect an eclectic array of ideas.
Feldman commented on Reinharz’s goal to have a faculty composed of Americans, Egyptians, Turks and Palestinians, in order to foster an “unbiased,” “insightful” and “diverse” environment. Within the last decade, the Crown Center has published 94 books on the Middle East as well as produced seven Ph.D. graduates. Feldman stated that by mentoring and teaching the next generation of scholars, the Crown Center’s cultivated and well-informed students have consistently been engaged with foreign policy and have produced meaningful work that can be used as applied research in Middle Eastern countries.
Professor Eva Bellin (POL), the Myra and Robert Kraft Professor of Arab Politics in the Department of Politics and the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, spoke at the event. According to Bellin, at Brandeis, discussions regarding the Middle East almost always end up in hostile fights.
Bellin sat down with four graduate students from the Crown Center and asked them to talk about their “untold stories of the Middle East.” The purpose of this was to show the audience that discussions about the Middle East can be informative and enjoyable. Professor Naghmeh Sohrabi (HIST), the Charles Goodman Professor of Middle East History and the associate director for research at the Crown Center discussed Iran’s future and whether or not they have the ability to reshape their own country. When posed this question, Sohrabi quickly responded with, “I don’t know,” and told the audience that it is solely up to Iran’s future generations.
David Siddhartha Patel, a junior research fellow at the Crown Center, discussed ISIS’s role in Iraq. Jean-Louis Romanet Perroux, the Rene and Lester Crown Chair in Modern Middle East Studies, was asked to discuss the vibrancy of the civil society in Libya. Richard Nielsen, Neubauer Junior Research Fellow at the Crown Center, talked about the conceptualizations of jihadists.
One segment which prompted many questions from the audience, was Pascal Menoret’s experience with joy riding, a phenomenon amongst Saudi Arabian youth. Menoret explained that joy riding is a popular activity among lower class teenagers that consists of stealing cars and drifting in order to produce patterns on the streets. According to Menoret, joy riding is mostly enjoyed by young Saudi Arabian men, but many women crossdress and engage in joy riding as well. From his fieldwork, Menoret has concluded that the small social changes that have been occurring in Saudi Arabia have given women more confidence to break down some of Saudi Arabia’s societal gender expectations. Menoret reminisced about the time he joy rode with some local Saudi Arabian boys but abruptly stopped when he got into a small accident.
Shai Feldman closed the inauguration on an inspirational note and said that the Crown Center’s “best years are still ahead of us” and “will continue to attract a core group of scholars who are committed to discussing the ethos of the misunderstood Middle East.”