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Foreign correspondent gives students insight into Middle East

Robin Wright, a regular contributor for organizations such as the BBC and CNN, visited Elon this week with firsthand accounts of the Arab Spring.

Author and foreign correspondent Robin Wright advised students to learn two foreign languages, one of which should take them out of their Western comfort zone.


When the culture of a society begins to shift – movement that can be seen in theatre, in poetry, in television, in comedy – its political systems are not far behind, an observation shared with students Friday morning by a foreign correspondent and author visiting campus as a guest of the Liberal Arts Forum.

Acclaimed writer Robin Wright shared stories and reflections with students in Assistant Professor Sean Giovanello’s international relations course while offering specific advice for their own lives: Namely, learn two languages, including one that takes them outside their Western civilization comfort zone.

Students quizzed Wright on her experiences in the Middle East with questions that followed in the wake of her Thursday night public lecture based on her book Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World. In the Feb. 23 lecture, Wright addressed the role of technology in the Arab Spring revolts, the role of women in the uprisings, and personal stories of the people she met.

Wright was optimistic that positive change is coming to the Middle East. She described how a large percentage of the people in many countries are now rejecting the extremism of Al-Qaeda as well as the autocratic regimes that have stifled political and economic freedoms for decades.

However, she noted, change wouldn’t happen right away. “Change in some form will come,” Wright said. “And democracy takes different forms.”

Wright told students that after years in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has lost credibility with citizens of many Middle Eastern nations. Despite what may happen minus U.S. involvement, it’s better for America to remove itself from overseas conflicts.

Robin Wright spoke to students on Friday morning in Assistant Professor Sean Giovanello's international relations course.

That means no good options exist for dealing with the ongoing government crackdown of protesters in Syria, Wright said. Should the United States or NATO enter the fray, they run the risk of escalating their own involvement with what public leaders describe as a humanitarian crisis. She said that talk of humanitarian aid is only as good as the troops and air cover required to deliver such assistance to an oppressed people.

“All we need is for an American or Western aircraft shot down and a pilot paraded around,” Wright told the class. “All of a sudden, it becomes an American war.”

Then there are the repercussions of staying on the sidelines. “The question is how many people die between now and when (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) leaves,” she said. “The longer the situation goes on, the greater the complexity of what comes next.”

Invited to Elon University as a guest of the Liberal Arts Forum, Wright is the author of seven books including Rock the Casbah, a chronicle of individual stories and the cultural forces from the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Wright covers a “counter-jihad” occurring throughout the region that challenges the rigid autocratic ideologies of the past century and the extreme violence seen in recent decades.

Since the new year began, she continues to report on the current rebellion in Syria, Iran’s nuclear advances and energy program, and the political transition in Egypt with appearances on national and international news programs including BBC World News, MSNBC, CNN, NBC’s "Meet the Press," and ABC’s "This Week."

Wright is currently a Senior Fellow and Distinguished Scholar with the United States Institute for Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center with a project focus on the future of Islam. Throughout her career, she has reported from more than 140 countries for the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, The Sunday Times (London), and CBS News. She has also written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, TIME, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy magazines and the International Herald Tribune. Her foreign tours include five years in the Middle East, two years in Europe, seven years in Africa, and several years as a foreign correspondent in Latin American and Asia.

She has held fellowships at the Brookings Institution, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Yale University, Duke University, Stanford University, the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Southern California. Wright received her M.A. and B.A. from the University of Michigan.

The Liberal Arts Forum is a student organization sponsored by the Elon University Student Government Association that hosts guests on the Elon campus to foster campus conversations about current interdisciplinary topics.

Eric Townsend,
2/24/2012 4:09 PM