Why study the history of the Middle East or any other part of the world? Students might say these faraway places don’t really affect them.
Hasan Karatas: The benefits of studying history of the Middle East ranges from gaining a better perspective on the relationship between the United States and the Middle Eastern countries to re-evaluation of our energy and foreign policies. But I believe the most significant outcome of the study of the Middle Eastern history is a greater understanding of ourselves. We as human being most often tend to dehumanize the people who are not like ourselves. It is an instinct that exists in all of us in varying degrees and gives us the illusion of safety. This instinct automatically takes over, especially when those people are separated from us by time, geographical distance and culture.
By offering courses on Middle Eastern, East Asian, Eastern European and Atlantic World histories, our department aims to examine our tendency to dehumanize the societies of the past or of distant regions by underlining their respective historical contexts. In this way we hope to make clearer the link between us and them and underline the common humanity in all of us. For example, I always tell the story of Muslims encountering the Greek philosophy in the ninth century. Instead of outright denial as the work of pagans, Muslim scholars embraced and challenged the ideas of the Greek philosophers because they were confident in their own values. We come across different perspectives almost every day in our lives. If we are confident in our values, why be scared of those who are different from ourselves and shut down our minds? We are all richer for learning about our connectedness to others.