The Geneseo community is currently playing host to Amr Elsherif, a Fulbright Scholar from Egypt, through the collaborated efforts of the department of languages and literatures and the department of political science and international relations.
Elsherif teaches courses within the English department and the department of languages and literatures and is working to create a program focusing on Arabic-speaking cultures.
On Friday Sept. 21, Elsherif discussed the Middle East’s present situation in a lecture titled “American-Islamic Interspaces: Filling the Gaps for a Cultural Understanding of the Current Crisis in the Middle East.”
Elsherif began the lecture by discussing the controversial film that was posted on YouTube, that portayed the Prophet Muhammad in a derogatory manner. According to Elsherif, a wave of anger broke out in the Middle East after the film was discovered.
“Whoever made this movie expected a violent reaction, and whoever replayed this movie expected, or coaxed, this violent reaction,” Elsherif said. According to Elsherif, the creation of this video could have been an attempt to compromise the U.S. government’s position on the Middle East.
Elsherif spoke about the recent attacks in the Middle East that resulted in the deaths of four Americans and up to 10 Libyans, and attributed this violence to the idea that “culture is somehow like a closed box. You are a prisoner of your own mind.”
According to Elsherif, unlike in America, in the Middle East governments produce the majority of movies. He said that protestors participating in the violent demonstrations in the Middle East did not understand that cultural difference and, therefore, believed that the U.S. government was propagating anti-Islamic ideals. As such, the attack on the U.S. Embassy was a result of this cultural misunderstanding.
Elsherif employed several comparisons to help his audience of students and professors understand this concept of cultural dissention.
“Muhammed introduced the idea of an absent God, a God who exists but isn’t present,” he said. Because of this, representing God is seen as derogatory and disrespectful in Islamic culture. He noted that in the Catholic religion, however, they often have representations of God that work to increase his presence and value.
He also noted the dissension between the Middle East and the U.S. regarding the prioritization of freedom and religion. According to Elsherif, the U.S. places freedom above all else; using that freedom, Americans can practice any religion they please.
In the Middle East, however, Elsherif said, “Religion comes first. It’s like an overall umbrella. Under your religion you can be free.”
“These points of difference need to be made so we don’t stay in our closed rooms; we can break free and understand each other,” he said.
Elsherif explained the mentality of those responsible for the attack on the U.S. Embassy.
“Freedom can never be something negative,” he said. “Defending yourself can never be something negative, but they need to respect your right to freedom.” According to Elsherif, the attackers were not wrong to defend themselves because they believed they were being threatened. He did, however, feel they went too far by taking the lives of innocent people.
The discussion concluded with questions from the audience, who responded positively to the forum.
Freshman Amy Walters said, “I learned a lot and thought he was very well spoken and articulate.”
“I like that he covered this when some people would be scared to, since it’s very controversial,” freshman Anna Winters said.