Keith David Watenpaugh: New class to focus on Iraq culture, ethical issues





Beginning Summer Session II, Keith David Watenpaugh, associate professor of modern Islam, human rights and peace in the department of religious studies, will teach Middle East/South Asia Studies 180, "The Question of Iraq." The class will focus on the historical, cultural and ethical components of mass violence, sectarian conflict, neocolonialism, terrorism and torture.

As one of the only scholars to have studied in Iraq both before and after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Watenpaugh brings a unique perspective to the class.

As one of the only scholars to have studied in Iraq both before and after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Watenpaugh brings a unique perspective to the class.

"I'm hoping the course will shed light on the larger picture of the ethical and political dimensions of the conflict in Iraq," he said. "It's an old society with a complex culture and we need to examine its past to understand the current conflict."

Before the 2003 invasion, Watenpaugh participated in a group-study tour of the country with other American scholars at a time when it was illegal for American academics to enter Iraq. After the invasion, he led a group of Ottoman scholars in conducting an assessment of Iraq's universities, libraries and research centers, many of which had been plagued with looting and fires.

"No matter how bad you imagine things in Iraq to be, the truth is usually worse," he said. "We predicted bad things would happen, but many problems we saw have gotten worse."

It is important for students to begin to understand the complexity of Iraqi culture and the ethical concerns the United States has and will continue to encounter in the future, Watenpaugh said.

"Whether we like it or not, America and Iraq are inextricably connected and will be for years to come," he said. "And there are also some very painful questions we need to ask. Most fundamentally, 'Is Iraq better off now than it was before the 2003 invasion?' That we can even ask that question speaks volumes about the complex nature of the conflict and that there are just no simple answers any longer."

Watenpaugh's course is limited to 18 students, but will be offered again during spring quarter. The course was made possible through a U.S. Department of Education grant that allowed the establishment of the Middle East/South Asia studies program at UC Davis. The department has heretofore only offered a Middle East/South Asia studies minor, but will begin offering a major program during the 2006-2007 academic school year. ...


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