A handful of organizers from the Berkeley group If Americans Knew turned out Tuesday night to raise concerns about a new course and public lecture series being offered at UC Berkeley called “Issues in U.S. Foreign Policy After 9/11.”
The course, which includes lectures by former Clinton White House officials, UC Berkeley professors and visiting scholars, does not include any speakers of Middle Eastern descent on its current roster.
“That’s like holding a course on race in America, and having 14 speakers, and not including any African-Americans,” said Alison Weir, founder of If Americans Knew, a public education group, which is currently filing for nonprofit status.
Harry Kreisler, executive director of the Institute of International Studies at the university, and coordinator of the lecture series, said Weir is taking the series out of context.
The course is just one of several classes and events happening on campus this semester that will focus on the Middle East and the fallout from Sept. 11, he said.
Kreisler said the university holds a similar course and lecture series on Afghanistan and its neighbors, which includes several Middle Eastern speakers, a class on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, will host a panel discussion on the India-Pakistan conflict in February and a speech by Amre Mussa, Secretary General of the League of Arab States in April.
“The course has to be understood in the context of all that is happening on campus,” Kreisler said. “And, in that context, there is not an issue.”
“The more the better,” Weir said, noting that she was happy with the wide range of offerings, “but I still don’t think that absolves them of responsibility.”
Weir said the U.S. foreign policy course should include a diverse range of views, regardless of anything else that is happening on campus, because some might attend the lecture series and nothing else.
Kreisler said one problem with Weir’s argument is that it fails to acknowledge that the course is covering much more than America’s relationship with Islamic nations. The lecture series will also examine relations with Russia and Europe, and larger issues of geopolitics, he said.
“There are many, many topics we have to cover that are unrelated to our relations with Middle Eastern countries,” he said.
The series is still a work in progress, he added.
“The course is still evolving,” he said, “so in some way, these concerns could be included, in terms of the larger context of what is happening on campus.”
A few speaking slots are still open for the course, which is held from 7 to 9 p.m on Mondays in Room 100 of the Genetics and Plant Biology Building. Kreisler said he would have to “wait and see” whether Middle Eastern lecturers might be tapped to fill the slots.