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SMS political science professor Ken Rutherford spent last Spring teaching at the University of Jordan in Amman. He was the only American in his department. KSMU's Missy Shelton recently spoke with Rutherford about his experiences in the Middle East.
Shelton: Ken, give us an overview of what you were doing in Jordan last Spring.
Rutherford: I was appointed to the faculty at the University of Jordan and I taught a course called The Study of Politics. My students were either Palastinian or Jordanian. There was a strong fascination with America. All conversations seemed to focus on America's role in the world. So, I adjusted the course to teach more about American foreign policy. There is a strong frustration in the Middle East with American foreign policy yet there's an underlying a fascination with America itself.
Shelton: So your students were fascinated with America but what were their overall feelings about America?
Ken: They hate American foreign policy yet my students and the many Arabs and Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians I met could separate US foreign policy from Americans themselves. I never had a negative incident because of my nationality in the Arab world.
Shelton: How did you respond to the criticisms of American foreign policy that your Jordanian students had?
Rutherford: There were times I felt I had to defend American foreign policy. I don't believe in everything we're doing in that part of the world. We've made mistakes but so has every country. Rather than becoming defensive about it, as an academic who's lived and worked in that part of the world, I wanted them to question and look at their own country. Jordan hasn't been a perfect country. Egypt hasn't been a perfect country. A lot of their problems are not US or Israeli induced. They're home grown problems and to blame US foreign policy for poverty rates, unemployment rates, lack of opportunity is not accepting responsibility for their own societies. So that's how I tried to change the conversation.
Shelton: How will your experiences in Jordan benefit your students here in Springfield?
Rutherford: Many of my students at SMS, as many people in Springfield I believe look at Islamic terrorism and fundamentalism as the major threat in the world today. My students and colleagues in Jordan believe the number one security threat to the world today is US foreign policy. So there's a huge divide and the only way to cross that divide in my mind is cross-cultural understanding. If I can bring my experiences into the classroom here in Springfield, that all Arabs aren't terrorists, then I think the world will be a better place. Moreover, I hope that what my University of Jordan students experienced was that America is a good country, that we have a lot to offer the world. Now, there's a handful of Arab students running around Jordan who had an American professor in the classroom and who I think and hope are better able to explain America to their parents, their friends, to elevate this misunderstanding about America. The hardest lesson I believe for my students to understand in Jordan was believe it or not, bad things happen in the world that the US has nothing to do with.
Shelton: I've been speaking with SMS professor Ken Rutherford about his experiences teaching this Spring at the University of Jordan.