New Narratives Discusses Middle East Conflict

By Mariah Casteneda
The Office of Student Affairs hosted its latest New Narratives panel last Monday entitled “Conflicts in the Middle East: Navigating the Narratives,” an event aimed at creating discussion about how people understand Middle East conflicts.
Comprised of Daniel Wehrenfennig, executive director of the Olive Tree Initiative; Daniel Brunstetter, a political science professor; research librarian Brian Williams and New University Opinion Editor and OTI President Aliza Azad, the panel offered different perspectives on understanding and accessing truth when pursuing information on the Middle East.
According to Wehrenfennig, the quest to become well-informed on the topic of the Middle East can be overwhelming due to the major shifts, conflicts and revolutions that have caused course syllabuses to be rewritten.
He expressed the hope that this panel could help attendees gather and share methods on becoming educated on the conflicts in the Middle East and avoid problems associated with misinformation.
“I think the danger is that you create a reality that is far away from what really happens there (the Middle East) and with people who live through these conflicts,” Wehrenfennig said after the event.
Brunstetter offered ideas on how to read Middle East narratives. He claimed that one of the best ways to know the Middle East is by traveling there.
“If you travel to the Middle East for a week, you can write a book about what you saw and about what you think you know. If you travel for a month you’re a little less certain so you can write an article, a really important, life-changing article. But if you’ve lived there for a year, you don’t know what to write,” Brunstetter said.
In his travels in the Middle East, Brunstetter discovered many things and recalled that, “you have to recount everything you once thought you knew,” when one stays in the area for a long period of time.
Brunstetter later discussed the importance of figuring out the different perspectives that form the narratives of the Middle East, due to the fact that certain people will view the same event differently from another group of people.
Williams, a research librarian and self-proclaimed academic social worker helped build a world-class collection of resources for research and documentation purposes.
Williams created a research guide that links to tools and resources to access information on the Middle East for the benefit of the student body and the UC system. His research guide can be accessed on the UC Irvine library website.
Asad expressed her difficulty in finding truth about the Middle East in the media amidst a plethora of information with varying legitimacy and expressed that perhaps other students may be facing the same obstacles. She urged the audience to recognize their own biases as they read and to that they be open to different perspectives.
After the panel session ended, the audience of around 100 individuals split into small groups to discuss problems faced when trying to learn more about the conflict in the Middle East. The small groups each came up with ideas, methods and resources on how to fact check and gather legitimate information from media sources. This session ended with each small group sharing their ideas with the larger audience.
On being surrounded by so many different perspectives on the Middle East, Wehrenfennig said that “it is amazing to be in a community where so many people care and so many people coming from different backgrounds, ethnicities, lived in the Middle East, know something about it or are passionate about it help each other.”
Monday evening marked UCI’s last New Narratives event for 2014. The New Narratives series brings students together for discussions on a variety of controversial topics. The next New Narratives event, slated for March of next year, will be a screening of the movie, “Dear White People” along with a discussion with the film’s director.