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Arab World Lecture speaker to discuss peace efforts in Syria

| Alison Wagener

The conflict in Syria and peace efforts in that war-torn nation will be the topic of this year’s Arab World Lecture, to be held at 5:30 p.m. March 29 in Room 102 of Hibbard Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

The lecture, titled “Conflict-Ending Processes in Syria and Implications of the Syrian War,” will feature Randa Slim, senior Middle East fellow with New America’s International Security Program and founding director of the Track II Dialogues initiative at the Middle East Institute. 

The annual lecture series is sponsored by members of the Chippewa Valley Arab American community with the goal to inform, educate and raise awareness on Arab American issues. Other sponsors include UW-Eau Claire's Middle East studies program and departments of geography and anthropology, history, languages, philosophy and religious studies, political science, and sociology.

Steven Fink, associate professor of religious studies and one of the coordinators of the lecture, said choosing Slim for this year’s Arab World Lecture was a matter of finding someone with hands-on experience in the field.

“I wanted to find out who’s doing work right now, and not just writing texts, but someone who’s actually there doing conflict resolution,” Fink said.

Slim’s background includes positions as vice president of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue, co-founder of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy, senior program advisor at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, guest scholar at the United States Institute of Peace, and program officer at the Kettering Foundation.

Past Arab World Lecture speakers have discussed the effects of the millennial generation on the Middle East, the 2011 and 2012 Arab nation uprisings, and feminism in Islam. Fink said the pertinence of Syrians seeking refuge in the United States made a lecture on Syria the obvious choice for this year, and Slim’s experiences would offer lecturegoers a unique personal perspective on a deeply troubling global conflict.

“It’s such an incredible humanitarian crisis, and I expect that her firsthand experience in Syria and working on the conflict and working on the mediation and trying her best to work towards a peaceful resolution will hopefully humanize a lot of what’s happening,” Fink said. “Many Americans, and perhaps some audience members, are very concerned about allowing Syrian refugees into the country. … Maybe her ability to dispel some stereotypes and present real human stories could do something about that, as well.”

But Slim will likely not discuss current issues of Islamophobia in the U.S., Fink said. Instead, Slim’s focus will be on the current state of Syrian peace efforts and how neighboring countries are responding.

“However, implicitly, every single thing that she’s saying I think is very relevant to what’s happening in terms of American Islamophobia and the so-called Muslim ban,” Fink said.

Fink added that it would be difficult for Slim’s lecture to provide attendees with a succinct summary of the Syrian conflict. But attempting to recap the entirety of the nation’s struggles would do disservice to their complicated nature.

“I almost think it’s more valuable that she’ll be adding to the complexity,” Fink said, “going against the oversimplification that too often seems to happen.”

Top photo caption: Randa Slim