The attacks of September 11 served as a focusing event that changed the ways in which many Americans see the world. The Arab street has become the central focus of U.S. foreign policy and increasingly the subject of debate and scrutiny. But experts on this region and its languages are few and far between, and higher education in the U.S. has so far been slow to respond to the need for graduates educated on everything Arab.
This is slowly beginning to change, and GW is making commendable strides to be proactive. The administration recently announced the addition of Arabic language sections, with at least one more Arabic faculty member, by next year. Senior administration officials have also begun discussing the possibility of a Study Abroad program in a Middle Eastern country – probably Kuwait.
A recent Newsweek article points out that the FBI, along with other governmental organizations, is in desperate need of qualified Arabic translators. For GW students, who are particularly interested in working in government and foreign affairs in general, familiarity with Arabic will be a tremendous advantage when entering the job market. Applicants able to speak Arabic and educated on Arab culture will be immediately considered for positions with the FBI, CIA, NSA, State Department and Department of Defense, among others.
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg realizes the immediate need for this type of instruction and the notable student interest at GW. His office sponsors free Arabic language courses at Hillel that began meeting about a month ago. The weekly class, based on the same curriculum as an official course at GW, attracts 50 to 60 students each session.
Hopefully in the future, Arabic curriculum will be expanded to allow students to major and minor in the language. Bridging the cultural gap between the West and the Arab world will only be accomplished by greater understanding, and education is the key. Forward-thinking universities that educate the next generation of leaders can do much to increase understanding by widening the availability of Arabic and other language and culture classes that have typically been ignored by educators.