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Journal Archive > 2002 > April

Fares Center

Fares Center promotes understanding of Eastern Mediterranean

The Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts, a university-wide initiative devoted to promoting study and understanding of a region with a rich heritage and a challenging future, was officially dedicated on March 13. The day before, the university inaugurated the Issam M. Fares Chair in Lebanese and Eastern Mediterranean Studies, the first such chair in the United States.

"This demonstrates once again that the university is a leading institution for global issues," said Leila Fawaz, professor of diplomacy and of history and the first recipient of the Fares Chair. Fawaz, who holds a joint appointment in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and in the history department, is also director of the Fares Center.

Leila Fawaz is director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies and the first recipient of the Issam M. Fares Chair in Lebanese and Eastern Mediterranean Studies. © Mark Morelli

Fawaz delivered the inaugural lecture for the Fares Chair in ASEAN Auditorium, Cabot Intercultural Center, on the Medford/Somerville campus. Her talk, "A Coastal Affair: Life in Ottoman Beirut," concentrated on a less turbulent time in the history of the region. "It's about how people lived at the beginning of modernization, how they coped with the world they lived in and not only survived but prospered," she said.

Sol Gittleman, provost and senior vice president, presented the chair, which was accepted by Nathan Gantcher, chairman of the Board of Trustees.

The chair and the Fares Center were established through the generosity of Issam M. Fares, Lebanon's deputy prime minister, who is a trustee emeritus of the university and a longtime Tufts benefactor, and the commitment of Fares I. Fares, A93, a member of Tufts' International Board of Overseers and the Board of Overseers for Arts & Sciences.

The dedication of the Fares Center and the inauguration of the chair coincided with the annual Issam M. Fares Lecture, which was delivered by former President Bill Clinton. The talk is part of an endowed lecture series focusing on public policy and the Middle East. Clinton joined Issam Fares for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Fares Center.

Public figures and academics
The Fares lecture series includes a two-track speaker program, Fawaz said. One component is an annual talk by a prominent public figure, who is asked to explore issues affecting the Eastern Mediterranean region. Past speakers have included Secretary of State Colin Powell, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former President George Bush and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.

"In addition, we are proud of bringing scholars of the highest caliber to talk about issues involving the Eastern Mediterranean," Fawaz said. This group has included such notable academics as Joel Migdal of the University of Washington; Mangol Bayat and Wilfried Buchta, experts on Iran; Rashid Khalidi, director of international studies at the University of Chicago; and John Esposito, director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. The lecture series exemplifies the mission of the new Fares Center, which is "to create an academic environment for the promotion of greater understanding of the rich heritage of the Eastern Mediterranean and of the significant challenges which this region faces at the beginning of the 21st century."

The countries of focus are Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, along with the neighboring countries of Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Turkey. The center also stresses the idea of connections between the Eastern Mediterranean and other parts of the world. Developments from any portion of the globe are relevant to the work being done at the Fares Center if they will affect the Eastern Mediterranean in some way, Fawaz said.

"We plan to stress the connections between regions, for example, between America and the Eastern Mediterranean or between South Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean," she said.

Center programs
The Fares Center also sponsors academic symposia, conferences and seminars that enhance its commitment to cross-regional analysis and to the encouragement of a diversity of voices from within and outside the region. It publishes occasional papers and the proceedings of workshops and conferences on the history, culture and international relations of the region. "Any serious center not only has speakers, but follows up with journals and papers from them," Fawaz said. The first volume to be published is Modernity and Culture: From the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean (Columbia University Press, 2002), sponsored by the Fares Center and the Social Science Research Council.

Fawaz said another focus of the Fares Center will be on Tufts alumni—many from the Fletcher School—who have gone on to have an impact on the Eastern Mediterranean.

In addition to constituting a valuable resource for Middle East majors and graduate students in other fields, the center's links to the existing curriculum include collaboration with a number of schools, departments and programs at Tufts. Visiting fellowships are offered annually to prominent and promising scholars from abroad who can make significant contributions to the center's teaching and research and its analysis of public policy issues.

'Richness of culture'
Fawaz says some Americans have an incomplete picture of the region. She says the media could do a better job of conveying information about the diverse culture, history and politics of the region. "People often say the region has had conflicts for some 2,000 years. It's not true that in the Eastern Mediterranean, you have always had a 'clash of civilizations.' More often than not, the history of the region is really one of understanding among the three main monotheistic religions and the many ethnic and linguistic groups," Fawaz said.

"We would like the center to bring the richness of this culture, this history of community and co-existence. It was sometimes violent, but for most of history, there was co-existence."

Alternate views
Since September 11, Fawaz said, there has been even more misrepresentation of the political dynamics of the region. In particular, there has been a tendency to brand all domestic opposition movements in the region as "terrorist" movements.

"We tend to see the situation as 'those in power' and 'those against them,' and [the opposition] has become seen as an enemy," she said. "I hope with the passage of time, the view will allow more subtlety and complexity in the movements of the Middle East. This is not the Wild West, with just good and bad. If we reduce our world view to Fox News and the like, what a lost opportunity."

Ultimately, the center should "give a voice to those who are never heard in America, in addition to CNN-like viewpoints." Fawaz said. "The Middle East consists of many nations and ethnic and linguistic groups." The key, she says, is communication of ideas, which makes the Fares Center and the lecture series so vital. "We need to listen to alternate views. That's the point of education, learning from different viewpoints. Even if you do not agree, it allows room for discussion."

Fawaz is a social historian of the Middle East. She joined the Tufts faculty in 1979, served as chair of the history department from 1994-96 and was dean of Humanities and Arts from 1996 to 2001.

Issam M. Fares, a self-made businessman who was first elected to the Lebanese Parliament in 1996, was born and raised in Lebanon, and has numerous business interests throughout the world. His lifelong passion has been aiding the recovery and growth of his country.

Fares I. Fares is chairman of WEDGE Real Estate Holdings, based in Houston, Texas, and also serves as senior vice president and director of the board of WEDGE Group Inc. He is a director of the National World Affairs Council and the Houston World Affairs Council.