"It's exciting to see the transformation of students' perspectives from the beginning of the semester to the end. They get a sense of the Arab world they wouldn't normally get."
"Because of the war in Iraq, the ongoing Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and the global war on terror," says Helga Tawil-Souri, "the Middle East is drawing a lot of attention. But there are a lot of misconceptions about what's happening in the region and the people who live there."
Tawil-Souri feels she has insight into both "because it's where I'm from. I grew up in Kuwait, Lebanon, and Oman." Her current research finds her looking at how Arab nations are assumed to progress economically - especially through Internet development projects. "If you consider the Palestinian Territories, for instance, you see corporate interests like Intel, Microsoft and HP coming in and setting up Internet Centers, promoting a belief that if everyone could be on the information highway, economic growth across the Middle East would be accelerated."
Tawil-Souri isn't so sure. "Yes, impoverished rural children in the Palestinian territories are learning about computers, and yes older people are gaining skills that might make them more employable. But why aren't foreign donors and Arab governments addressing more immediate needs like shelter and better schooling? I question this notion of capitalism as savior and the Internet as a panacea for social problems."
Tawil-Souri says the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication is an ideal place to explore these issues. "I love this department. The faculty and students come from so many different parts of the world. Whenever we talk about Internet or media issues, we all understand they are global issues. You can't discuss the manufacturing of iPods without considering the role of Taiwan! It's great to be in such a vibrant community with so many international interests."
Her classes also give her a unique forum in which to refine her research. In one of her favorites, students track the history of the development industry and choose different countries or issues they want to become experts on. "This semester students are exploring things like Fair Trade Coffee," she says, "the program that assures consumers that the coffee they buy was manufactured under fair working conditions. This subject is definitely out of the realm of my research, but my students' interests inevitably inform my work."
Another favorite class is Islam, Media and the West. "Students like the class because it often shatters stereotypes people have about the Islamic world. We watch music videos, play video games, read graphic novels from Islamic regions and question the perceived culture clash that exists between Islam and the West. It's exciting to see the transformation of students' perspectives from the beginning of the semester to the end. They get a sense of the Arab world they wouldn't normally get. They also come to recognize how all the different regions of the world are utterly interdependent."