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Looking for Answers in the Past

International Middle East conference to explore events of the 1950s and their effects today

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April 7, 2010 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Middle East experts from around the world will gather at Northwestern University Sunday, April 25, through Tuesday, April 27, to better understand how events and movements beginning in the 1950s significantly shaped the current situation in the Middle East.

Titled "The Middle East in the 1950s: Historical Perspectives on Israel, the Arab World and the Great Powers," the international conference will take place in two Evanston campus locations -- the McCormick Tribune Center Forum, 1870 Campus Drive, and in Hardin Hall at the Rebecca Crown Center, 633 Clark Street. It is free and open to the public.

The conference at Northwestern will re-examine past research and discuss new scholarship in an attempt to achieve a more nuanced appreciation of the Middle East in the past and present.

Some historians view the 1950s as representing a crucial watershed in the history of the modern Middle East, according to Elie Rekhess, Visiting Crown Professor in Middle East Studies and professor of history at Northwestern. Rekhess and Hendrik Spruyt, Norman Dwight Harris Professor in International Relations and director of the Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies at Northwestern, are co-chairs of the conference.

"With the rise of new regimes in the Arab world, traditional concepts of Arab nationalism were replaced by more radical, secular-oriented ideologies, and Israel became a powerful regional actor," said Rekhess. "The collapse of the political paradigms of the 1950s created a vacuum that paved the way to strengthening the territorial nation state and Islamist movements."

Among the prominent speakers at the event will be Benny Morris, a professor at Israel's Ben-Gurion University whose provocative research has given way to new directions for examining events at the time of Israeli statehood, including the refuge problem.

Emile Sahliyeh, a frequent commentator on news of the Middle East, will ask why Palestinian leadership was less than visible and present at the time of Israeli statehood. James Piscatori, of Great Britain's Durham University, will detail how Islamic fundamentalism's contemporary roots can be directly traced back to events of the 1950s.

The conference will begin Sunday, April 25, with introductory remarks by Daniel Linzer, Northwestern University provost, Sarah Mangelsdorf, dean of Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Rekhess.

The conference -- the result of the growth of Middle East studies at Northwestern and the University's continued efforts to raise the academic field's profile on campus -- is sponsored by Northwestern's Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies and by the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies. Students, in particular, are encouraged to engage in conference activities.

Co-sponsors of the Middle East conference are Northwestern's Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities; Asian and Middle East Studies Program; department of history; Middle East and North Africa Working Group; Nicholas D. Chabraja Center for Historical Studies; Middle East Forum; and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

For a complete schedule of events, speakers and locations, visit http://www.bcics.northwestern.edu/programs/numef/1950s.html. For further information, call (847) 491-2612 e-mail NU-MEforum@northwestern.edu.

Topics: Campus Life