My experience at the annual conference of Middle East Studies Association (MESA) this November, 2014, can be divided into three points:
Because I have been teaching some of the literary works of Najib Mahfouz, the noble prize winner for literature, 1988, for students of L-5 and beyond, my presentation at the (MESA) this November, 2014 focused on the Sufi aspects in Mahfouz literary thought, particularly his novel the Journey of Ibn Fattouma. This presentation was part of an organized Yale panel consisted of NELC senior lectors, Youness Elbousty, Sarab Alani, and Muhammad Aziz. The theme for the panel was “The Arab Spring Uprisings: Rebellion, Revolution, and Literature.” While my colleagues tackled the first two issues, I discussed the last part and linked it to Sufism. The presentation made a distinction between the struggle for worldly life and the honest pursuit for a path that lead to the ultimate happiness starting in this world and continues to the hereafter.
I attended a few panels on Yemen where I met some friends that I have not seen for over 25 years. One panel was sponsored by American Institute for Yemeni Studies (AIYS). It consisted of Dr. Mohammed Sharafuddin who taught me while I was a student at Sanaa University in 1982 and 1983. His talk was Poetry and Tribalism in Yemen. Other panelists included Dr. Abdul Karim S. Alaug who is now the CEO of Gasara Foundation for Development & Human Rights (GSARA) and Nadwa Aldawsari whose talk was around Tribal Dynamics and Political Process in Yemen. My overall analysis about all panels on Yemen is that there is an urgent need for economic relief so that the country keeps moving forward. No doubt that keeping people busy through projects, governmental or private, would ease the burden and suffering of some who live in despair and easily targeted for radical organizations. Another panel, I have attended, also sponsored by (AIYS) is “Yemen’s Cultural Crisis: Catastrophe or Opportunity chaired by Stephen Steinbeiser. Papers presented by Anne Regourd whose topic was: “Conserving Zabid’s Manuscripts and Intellectual History. Dr. Mohammed Al-Duais discussed “Bridging the Generation Gap to protect Nature in Yemen: Conservation of Nature Through Culture. Steinbeiser talked about “Political and Cultural Considerations for sustainability, while Katherine Hennessey focused on “How Transnational Political Agendas Condition the Content of Contemporary Theater in Yemen.
I attended two panels about Arabic language. One panel was chaired by Mahmud al-Batal from the University of Texas at Austin and the panelists were all from the same University. The title is: “Integrating Dialect in the Arabic Curriculum: Evidence from the Classroom. Lama Nassif’s topic was “To Integrate or Not to Integrate Dialects: Voices from Arabic L2 Learner Speech”. Nesrine Basheer talked about: “Are They Confused?: Evidence from Arabic L2 Student Writing”. At the end of the presentation, I asked a question about grammar since this involves writing. The response was that at Texas University, they allow for some grammatical mistakes in L-1 and L-2 but would correct them in L-3 and beyond. Our practice at Yale is that we correct the mistakes from L-1 and beyond. It may contribute to the slowness of learning but it prevents students from negligence of grammatical mistakes in writing. As for speaking, we allow a few mistakes especially in the early stages. Caroline Najour talked about: “Teachers’ Voices: Analysis of Teachers’ Speech in Integrated Arabic Classrooms. The final paper was presented by William Hussman who talked about: “Integrating Dialect in the Arabic Classroom: Students’ Perspectives”. The theme of the panel focused on the importance of the integration of an Arabic dialect into the Arabic curriculum, a practice we began to implement this year since I became the coordinator of the Arabic Language Program. Our evidence is that it is working at Yale as it works elsewhere and our students are happy to have it commensurate with Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). They felt the difference and shown their admiration.
Another panel I attended was: “Breaking Shackles of the Traditional Classroom”. All panelists come from the American Univeristy of Cairo. Hebatalah Salem discussed “Beyond Classroom Borders Through Community Learning: Challenges and Benefits”. Laia Al-Sawi talked about “Classroom Swap: From Passive to Active Learning”. Rasha Essam tackled online learning. Her title is: Addressing Complexities of Teaching Arabic Online”. The gist of her topic is that even if you provide workshops for teachers to adopt technology, they always need an assistant because there is always something wrong that the teacher cannot fix. Teachers are equipped with the necessary knowledge of their subjects but they are not experts in technology. In conclusion, despite the fact that we cannot separate between language and literature, my paper focused on the higher form of the language that deals directly with literature. With this diversity, the trip was worth it.