Speakers, U students debate U.S. actions in Middle East

Josh Verges

University students from the United States and Asia met Monday to discuss the United States’ involvement in the Middle East.

The forum, held in Heller Hall, was the second of three global discussions graduate student Hitomi Maeda planned for this semester.

Maeda said she has deliberately included Islam in recent discussions.

“Once they learn something from the group, they’ll pay attention to the news,” she said. “That is my hope.”

Americans often misunderstand Middle Eastern customs, Japanese graduate student Kazu Sugita said.

“From our perspective Ö they regard women as subordinate,” he said. “But (veils are) a traditional way (of life). It’s a part of their culture.”

Tom Hanson, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer and program secretary of the St. Paul-Minneapolis American Committee on Foreign Relations, led Monday’s conversation.

He said he presents all sides of the issues to encourage discussion.

“The idea is that if we democratize the (Middle East), we get at the roots of terrorism and anti-Americanism,” Hanson told the group of 14.

First-year political science student Rus Lyons spoke about the potential incompatibility of Western ideas in a society where religion and politics intertwine.

“Maybe democracy isn’t the best policy in the area, given the theocracy that has been present there,” he said.

Maeda has held these sessions each of the last five semesters. The topics come from the Foreign Policy Association’s discussion-oriented book, “Great Decisions.”

Maeda is a partner of the University’s Culture Corps, which co-sponsored the event.

Since 1998, approximately 35 international students have run Culture Corps programs each semester, International Student and Scholar Services director Kay Thomas said.

In exchange for their involvement in the program, the students receive discounted tuition.

“Culture Corps helps internationalize the campus for those who can’t study abroad,” said Jennifer Schulz, senior editor for the Office of International Programs.

Carol Steinberg, who attended Monday’s event, is community programs manager for the Minnesota International Center, which promotes understanding of international issues in the state and co-sponsors the discussions.

“I enjoy hearing opinions from people from other countries,” she said.

The next event, scheduled for April 12, will be about the growing gap between the United States and Europe since the Cold War ended.