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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Arab-US Association for Communications Educators focuses on importance of media

Role of media, varsities in Arab-US ties stressed
By Zoe Sinclair

30 October 2007

DUBAI — The importance of media and universities in sharing ideas and developing understanding between cultures was stressed at the twelfth Arab-US Association for Communication Educators (AUSACE) conference at Shaikh Zayed University this week.

Speaking at a session yesterday, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and President of Zayed University Shaikh Nahyan Mubarak bin Al Nahyan said the conference came at a time when there was a critical need for Arab-American understanding and dialogue.

The need for Arab-American understanding was also highlighted by key speaker ‘Washington Post’ Middle East correspondent Anthony Shadid on Sunday who related his experiences working in the region by describing a deep sense of loss.

Shadid recounted an experience sitting in a Baghdad bookstore surrounded by famous texts as everyday life continued around him and the bookstore owner.

As visitors passed by to speak with the bookstore owner and relate their news, updating the owner on the conflict, they would often smoke an apple-flavoured ‘shisha’ and Shadid said it was the ordinariness of these moments that made them special — “Life as it should have been and could have been.”

It was also what struck him with a feeling of loss when the bookstore keeper died as the result of a bomb blast and how he related the story such that the ‘Washington Post’ audience could understand.

Shaikh Nahyan said the media, particularly new media, and educators were bridge builders between the Arab world and the United States.

“This understanding, which can only be built on shared beliefs, values, and ideals, will help us all to be more sensitive to each other’s needs,” he said.

“I strongly believe that common ground is possible when both the Arab and the American sides come to know one another as equals. And in this endeavour, universities and educators have a unique role to play.”

The three-day conference that began on Sunday attracted 200 professors representing 40 countries, including from the region.

The attendees are taking part in a series of sessions and workshops aimed at developing exchanges between Arab and US university faculty, media professionals and senior journalism students.

Shaikh Nahyan said some of the issues that often mark political and cultural divisions that the conference was rightly addressing included the role and representation of women, the propagation of stereotypes and issues of access to and ownership of the media.

“How societies address these issues reveal the values and beliefs of those societies,” he said.

“It is my hope that your insights and analyses can suggest productive avenues and possible solutions as we move forward to establish common ground and productive connections.”

A third keynote speaker, former US Ambassador to the UAE and Yemen William A. Rugh spoke at the opening of AUSACE.

Attendees including University of Bahrain professor Dr Hoda Al Mutawah and University of Hong Kong students welcomed the conference as an opportunity to share ideas and research.

AUSACE president Douglas A. Boyd said the conference’s success in sharing of knowledge meant that it was now more common to find Arab experts researching and publishing works on the region where previously such fields were dominated by Western study.

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