Middle East Studies

Crisis in Syria: A Teach-In by Brown Faculty

Monday, September 9, 2013

5 p.m. – 7 p.m.


  • Beshara Doumani, Director of Middle East Studies
  • Naoko Shibusawa, Associate Professor of History
  • Elias Muhanna, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature
  • Mayssun Succarie, Cogut Postdoctoral Fellow in International Humanities and Modern Arab Culture and Society

Presentations and discussion of the causes, key developments, and consequences of the Syria crisis for the people of Syria, the region, and US involvement in the Middle East.

An overflow crowd of over 300 members of the Brown community attended the Crisis on Syria: A Teach-In by Brown Faculty, hosted by Middle East Studies.

Four faculty members gave presentations that discussed the historical context, causes, current developments, and political implications of the Syrian civil war and potential American involvement. Cogut Postdoctoral Fellow Mayssun Succarie began by outlining the transition in Syria from popular protests to an internationalized sectarian civil war that has left 100,000 dead and displaced 7 million people. Director of Middle East Studies and History Professor Beshara Doumani followed by discussing the conflict’s roots in the territorial partition and “divide and conquer” sectarian division employed by the French in Syria during the early twentieth century mandate system. Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature Elias Muhanna then outlined the muddled geopolitical influences at play in Syria, noting the role of private donors as well that of state actors in fueling the numerous armed groups involved in the conflict. Associate Professor of History Naoko Shibusawa concluded the presentations by discussing the social, economic, and political implications of the US involvement in Syria, cautioning against continuing the historic pattern of military interventions. The presentations were followed with a question and answer session, in which audience members raised questions ranging from the humanitarian implications of nonintervention to the roadmap for a diplomatic solution. Following the event, a vigil for the people of Syria took place on Brown’s College Green.

Workshops, Conferences, Seminars


I’m a junior at Brown, but I’m currently studying abroad. I just wanted to thank you for holding the Syria teach-in. I was able to watch it online, and it answered many of my questions, concerns, and doubts.

I fully acknowledge that I am incredibly ignorant of the current (and historical) political state of the Middle East. Because of this, I’ve found it difficult to take to a stance on America’s potential involvement in Syria. Like many of the students who asked questions, I feel strongly that some action must be taken to address the humanitarian crisis, but I hesitate to support an American attack. Perhaps I haven’t been referencing the best information sources, but the message I’ve been taking from news media is that the US has two options: attack or do absolutely nothing. After hearing from you and your colleagues, I feel reassured that a more moderate, diplomatic approach is possible, however complex and challenging.

Thank you again, and please continue to share your knowledge with students and the general public. America could use better informed citizens!

Hannah Kolus
Undergraduate Student

As a student, I found the event simultaneously enlightening and disillusioning. While the faculty members argued that the limited military involvement proposed by the Obama administration would be ineffective in forcing the conflict’s conclusion, they also highlighted the difficulty of attaining a solution. Questions from fellow students and Brown community members highlighted the struggle to grapple with the sense of helplessness in the face of human loss, with some individuals passionately supporting a humanitarian military intervention. The historic context provided by the faculty, especially their discussion of Syria’s ethnic distribution and colonial history, was valuable background for my understanding of the current conflict yet also deepened my sense of its intractability. I left the event with a deeper comprehension of the Syrian conflict’s sociopolitical complexity, yet also stymied by the lack of straightforward military or diplomatic solutions.

Reva Dhingra
Undergraduate Student / Senior / MES concentrator

I’m currently in Ankara for the start of my Fulbright year here and I just finished watching the Syria teach-in with several other Fulbrighters here. I was incredibly thrilled to hear Brown would be hosting a teach-in today, and actually managed to get several other Fulbrighters to watch the webcast with me- I think it helped a lot of people over here to get a better understanding of a crisis that is definitely going to impact our time here.

As always, the whole event was fantastic. Thank you (and thanks to the whole MES department) for continuing to hold these incredibly important conversations and importantly, to make them accessible to us as alums. It’s amazing to have access to such great resources even several continents away, and I’m definitely going to be tuning in to MES’s upcoming events. It was lovely to feel like a Brown student again, even just for a couple of hours.

Meghan Koushik ’13 MES Concentrator

I wanted to thank you for an illuminating panel yesterday!
The different layers that you juxtaposed on the somewhat already blurred picture one may have of the situation in Syria — and the whole middle east — made it clear that what is needed is a civil imagination and no any statehood intervention….

Ariella Azoulay
MCM and Comparative Literature
Brown University

We saw you (Beshara Doumani) on a large screen last night, in a room crowded with students and faculty who found no seat in the hall where the teach in on Syria took place. It was a huge success and the 4 speakers, especially the historian… were very interesting, The discussion as a whole was a demonstration of what engaged scholarship can and should be.

Adi Ophir
Visiting Associate Professor, Cogut Center for the Humanities

I thought that the teach in was fantastic. I was in the overflow room since I arrived a bit late and that room was full!

Thanks for organizing this important event. It was everything one hopes for at a university.

Richard M. Locke
Howard Swearer Director, Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies

External to Brown

I’m a prospective Brown student from Brookline, MA, and I am especially interested in Brown’s program for Middle East Studies.

I watched the online video of the recent “teach-in” on the situation in Syria (which I’ve been following closely since its genesis) and learned a lot from your summary of the history of European involvement that shaped today’s dynamics. That event looked amazing, and it says a lot about the Brown faculty that made the effort to put it together and the student body that was so eager to come and participate.

The more I explore the program, especially with all its new developments, the more excited I am about the prospect of a future as part of your community.

Ben Gladstone