Exploring the Middle East as change sweeps region

middle eastNEW YORK — Historic waves of migration, unprecedented digital activism, challenges to religious pluralism: amid all of these developments in the Middle East, Columbia Global CentersColumbia University’s network of eight education and learning centers around the world – are exploring the implications of these changes on culture, health and safety, and politics in the region. “As a global university, we have a responsibility to marshal our resources, research, and convening power around critical global issues,” says Professor Safwan M. Masri, Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University and Director of the Global Center in Amman, Jordan.

The Amman Center, established in 2009, was one of the first in the network of Columbia Global Centers, and serves as a hub for research and programming throughout the Middle East. Its location and access to the broader Columbia community, at both the New York campus and worldwide, allow the Center to convene top scholars and experts from diverse fields to seek opportunities for positive change.

“Bringing together Columbia, Middle East, and global experts in public health, law, geopolitics, cultural affairs, and more, the Amman Center can dig into the deep-seated cultural, religious, and societal issues of the region, and offer powerful programming to broaden understanding among local and regional communities,” says Masri.

From arts and culture to the modern refugee crisis

In its ongoing series of public programs and research initiatives throughout the year, the Amman Center features topics ranging from arts and culture to politics to the sciences, as well as today’s most urgent issues concerning everything from health care to religious freedom. Upcoming events include:

  • Book Debate: Religious Pluralism in the Middle East – the Relic of a Bygone Era or a Foundation for the Region’s Recovery? (September 27 at Columbia Global Centers | Amman): Unlike Christian Europe, the Islamic Middle East preserved the many sects that shaped their region over millennia. Only in modern times, with the spread of nationalism and secularism from Europe, have the leaders of the region’s sects abandoned their broadly pluralistic outlook and sought to turn holy communities into holy lands dominated by a single sect. Former Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher and Nicolas Pelham debate Pelham’s new book, Holy Lands: Reviving Pluralism in the Middle East, and ask how far past approaches to sectarian co-existence should serve as a guide for the future.
  • Strengthening Refugee Access, Equity and Inclusion: Developing a New Framework (October 13,New York; presented by Columbia Global Centers | Amman and Istanbul): Bringing together Columbia experts from the fields of law, public health, education, public policy, and migration, this symposium will explore how existing plans of aid effectiveness and development could be strengthened to improve refugee settlement outcomes in countries directly affected by the Syrian crisis. Experts from Turkey and the MENA region will offer their perspectives for a long-term framework for refugee inclusion that balances the concerns of the Syrian refugees and the host communities, as well as improve access to service delivery systems and development of host communities. The role of Columbia University will be examined to identify opportunities for influence and lasting impact. Held on Columbia’s campus in New York City, the event will bring those who work with refugees in Turkey and the MENA region into a conversation with Columbia faculty, including Agnès Callamard, Director of Columbia Global Freedom of Expression and Special Adviser to the President; Wafaa El Sadr, University Professor, Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine, and Director of ICAP at Columbia; Neil Boothby, Professor and Director of the Program on Forced Migration and Health, School of Public Health; and Michael Doyle, University Professor, Director, Global Policy Initiative, and Professor of Political Science.
  • Digital Activism in the MENA region (October 26 at Columbia Global Centers | Amman): This panel discussion on the challenges facing digital activism in the Middle East will feature Sami Ben Gharbia, Tunisian blogger, civil society activist, and co-founder of Nawaat.org; and Mohamad Najem, Co-Director at Social Media Exchange, and will be moderated by Lebanese writer, blogger, communication strategist, and Special Adviser to the Amman Center, Amal Ghandour. These challenges of digital activism include accessing the internet, legally securing digital rights, and dealing with improper privacy policies. The discussion will take place under the context of a new sub-movement within digital activism that calls for policy changes within regimes (rather than of regimes).

Recent events at the Amman Center include:

  • Fostering Entrepreneurship in Engineering Education in Tunisia (April 27-May 5 at Columbia NYC campus): In collaboration with the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the Amman Center is working with engineering faculty at five leading Tunisian universities to introduce critical elements of an entrepreneurship curriculum and consult on how to build an ecosystem that will support entrepreneurial activities in the Tunisian context. The initiative is led by SEAS, and draws on the strengths of other Columbia schools including Columbia Law and Columbia Business, and the School of International and Public Affairs, as well as the expertise of Columbia Technology Ventures. The project responds to an expressed interest from Tunisian universities to strengthen the culture of entrepreneurship in engineering education. As part of this initiative, the Amman Center organized training workshops for a group of engineering and business educators from Tunisia that were held on the Columbia campus in New York, providing opportunities to learn from immersion in an ecosystem of entrepreneurship.
  • Global Nursing and Midwifery Clinical Research Development Initiative (July 18-19 at Columbia Global Centers | Amman): Experts from 13 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region gathered to identify gaps in knowledge around critical health needs and to develop recommendations and an implementation plan for support of nursing and midwifery research. With the aim of developing networks to strengthen advances in nursing and midwifery at the clinical and educational levels, the initiative is led by Elaine Larson, Anna C. Maxwell Professor of Nursing Research and Associate Dean for Research, and Jennifer Dohrn, Assistant Professor of Nursing at Columbia University Medical Center and Director of the Office of Global Initiatives and its World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Advanced Practice Nursing.
  • “Return: A Palestinian Memoir” (May 9 at Columbia Global Centers | Amman): In this talk, Ghada Karmi, a research fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter inEngland, reviewed the history and importance of the Palestinian right of return and why no refugee has ever given up on it. She linked this with her latest book, Return: A Palestinian Memoir, and pointed to future directions for how a solution to the conflict with Israel might include the right of return.

“The heart of what we do at the Centers is to foster dialogue – to bring out into the open the flashpoint issues of today, as well as the needs of local regions and communities, and to ensure they are discussed and debated by people with on-the-ground, first-hand experience,” says Masri. “As the Middle East experiences dramatic changes affecting religious freedoms, human rights, and people’s ways of life, we are committed to creating opportunities for scholars and local communities to connect and share insights with each other.” – USNewswire

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