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Expert on Middle East urges change in U.S. mindset

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If Americans want to see progress in the Middle East, they will have to shake up their attitudes toward themselves and the region, a leading scholar told a U of I audience Friday

By Dana Al-Qadi

Gargoyle senior editor

Posted Sunday, April 8, 2007, The OG, news

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Rashid Khalidi signs a copy of his latest book, “The

Iron Cage,” Friday at the Illini Union Bookstore.

(Gargoyle photo by Dana Al-Qadi) (click to enlarge)

“WE HAVE TO change the way Americans look at the world rather than this perception that we are this ‘new and shining city on a hill,'” said Rashid Khalidi, a Middle Eastern historian who held a book signing at the Illini Union bookstore on Friday.

The historian, who teaches at Columbia University, was there to promote his latest book, “The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood.”

Khalidi gave a short speech about the process of writing the work and then took questions from the approximately 20-person audience.

“The Iron Cage” was published in 2006 and takes a historical look at both the external and internal factors that have kept the Palestinian people without a state, despite several attempts.

“Its main focus is the Palestinians themselves and why they don't have a state, including the internal problems,” Khalidi said.

The book had been in the works for about a decade, with Khalidi taking a break after the attacks of Sept. 11, to write “Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America's Perilous Path in the Middle East.” Published in 2004, “Resurrecting Empire” examined America's involvement in the Middle East.

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Khalidi has long been renowned as a premier historian on the Middle East and is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia. He earned his bachelor's degree from Yale University and has taught at such institutions as Georgetown and the American University of Beirut.

“I'm a historian,” Khalidi said. “What I can do best for the reader or audience is provide a background for which to see the present, not tell them about the present.”

Khalidi, ever the charismatic and engaging speaker, lightheartedly asked, “Mind if I take off my jacket?” before pushing forward into his main point — how to understand the often complex history of the Middle Eastern region.

“We have to understand that there is a greater history,” he said. “There is a historical dynamic of democracy and of oil. We have to understand that and stop being so ‘presentist.' We need to stop trying to define things in terms of now rather than looking at the larger picture.”

Khalidi believes that through education much can be achieved and that the first step to solving global conflicts is having a firm grasp on different cultures and languages.

“A fighter FA-22 plane costs $225 million, which is twice as much as the U.S. spends on all its foreign language programs,” he lamented.

The book signing was followed by a 4 p.m. lecture at Levis Faculty Center with a reception held directly afterward at the nearby restaurant The Bread Company.

Last week was Palestine Awareness Week on the U of I campus.


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