The west calls it the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. Radical Islam calls it a holy war to liberate itself from centuries of western oppression. They are the members of the evil ideology, and we are the infidels to be converted by the sword. But it is a crusade just as much as it is a reciprocated cultural and philosophical ignorance.
One way to eliminate ignorance here would be to offer an Arabic language class. Any language class inherently illuminates the culture of the region speaking the language. By studying both the language and culture of the burgeoning Arab world, we would be able to connect to and understand the mindset of todayâs Syrian mullah or tomorrowâs Libyan peasant.
Further, an Arabic class could lead to an annual speaker on Islam, a Middle East studies course, a more conducive environment for potential Muslim students and ultimately a greater tolerance for followers of that ideology.
Arabic and Islam are inextricably tied. One of the five pillars of Islam is prayer, which can only be conducted in Arabic. Indeed, only recently has it become widely acceptable to translate the Koran into another language.
To understand Arabic is to understand Islam, and to understand Islam is to understand a storied culture and an emerging power in todayâs world.
An Arabic language class would give us a thirst for further knowledge regarding Islamic society. After a language class, the next logical step in the education of students in Islamic society and culture would be assigned readings and a history course.
In our English and history classes we study and read texts of different societies and civilizations, focusing almost exclusively on the European and otherwise western.
There has been a rumor for years that a class teaching Middle East studies would be offered, but the present absence of the course has taken its toll. Most of us students, and indeed most Americans, miss the context when we see an imam chanting “death to America” or a phalanx of angry men with green bandanas on their foreheads marching in the streets of Damascus. Reading rich and influential Middle Eastern literature or poetry or significant excerpts from the Koran in English class or in the proposed history course would further educate us on Islamic culture.
Students educated in language classes on a specific region, such as France, Spain or China, travel increasingly to the regions of their study. An Arabic language class could inspire students to visit Cairo or Dubai or even certain parts of Israel.
Just like Russian during the Cold War and Chinese and Japanese during their respective economic booms more recently, the number of students looking to study Arabic now is ballooning. If an Arabic language class is offered, we will line up to take it.
Further, members of our community could step up to facilitate discussion now. An ad-hoc committee could, for instance, be established to bring Muslim students from around the city one weekend to participate in a cultural exchange at our school.
Now, we remain in a stasis where our education on the Middle East consists of news quizzes. As a school that graduates future leaders, Harvard-Westlake has an obligation to not only inform us, but to help us think critically about the events around us.