The Crown Center for Middle East Studies hosted its opening event Thursday afternoon, celebrating the generous support of the Crown and Goodman families, the inauguration of the Charles 'Corky' Goodman Chair in Middle Eastern History, and a panel discussion with highly published faculty about current hot topics concerning the Middle East.
Following Lawrence's introduction, Dr. Steve Goldstein '78, Brandeis Provost, invited the event's main speaker, Naghmeh Sohrabi to accept her place as the first incumbent of the Corky Goodman Chair in Middle East History. Sohrabi did so tearfully, and then proceeded to speak of her youth in Iran and how she came to study Middle Eastern history.
Sohrabi described how as a 10-year-old, she decided that she wanted to win the Nobel Prize in the sciences, and as a back up plan, she thought she might win a Nobel Prize in the humanities. By 13, Sohrabi decided she had to go to MIT, however, as a child living in Iran this plan did not seem possible. By chance, three years later Sohrabi's parents decided to move to the United States, following the Iran-Iraq war. As luck would have it, Sohrabi attended MIT as an undergraduate biology major. One year later, she happened to meet Kanan Makiya, Brandeis Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. From that meeting, "the world of humanities opened up to me," Sohrabi said.
Sohrabi concluded by discussing three hot topics between Iran and the United States. First, Sohrabi spoke of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency, and how Ahmadinejad is part of a generation defined by the Iran-Iraq war. Next, Sohrabi suggested that Iran's hostility toward the United States may be strategic, rather than ideological. Finally, Sohrabi spoke of what might have been the real rupture behind the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
"Iran's security outlook is not mere ideology," Sohrabi said. "It is much deeper. Perhaps what we are seeing is an ambition of political and national thought in Iran. It is likely that both Iran and the United States overestimate and underestimate each other's abilities."
Students, faculty and visitors traveled from across campus and across the country to attend the highly anticipated Crown Center opening. The Crown Center's research and academic accomplishments are possible due to the donations of two generations of the Crown and Goodman families. In attendance were Lester Crown and Corky Goodman, who each made brief remarks applauding the Crown Center for its great strides.
"I was originally concerned about the information that came forth from other centers for Middle East studies," said Crown. "These centers didn't seem to be based on real research, and were promoting propaganda. Over a period of seven years, the Crown Center has accomplished what we hoped it would ultimately be able to do. It is respected by Washington, as well as by the non-academic world."
"The Center's programs have been powerfully balanced and effective," added Goodman. "The younger members of the Crown and Goodman families will continue to support Brandeis University and the Crown Center."
"This is a very very special kick-off event," began Shai Feldman, Director of the Crown Center. "This year we are celebrating both the hugely generous continued support of the Crown and Goodman families, and we are also inaugurating a new chair."
After a brief introduction, President Fred Lawrence spoke highly of the contribution the Crown and Goodman families have made to the Brandeis community as well as to the broader academic world. "The inauguration of an academic chair at a university is truly a great moment in the life of a research university," Lawrence said. "To be involved in the creation of and dissemination of knowledge to our students, and the broader academic world is a testament to the Goodman vision that this chair should fall at the intersection of what it is that makes the Crown Center special."
Lawrence continued to say that the Crown Center is highly unique in the field of Middle East studies, because its goal is to avoid sheer advocacy, as well as extreme abstraction. The Crown Center prides itself on, above all, a balanced and dispassionate approach to the Middle East.
Since the Crown Center began its journey as an academic research center seven years ago, Lester Crown and Corky Goodman have dealt with both President Lawrence and past President Jehuda Reinharz. Speaking on behalf of Reinharz, who was unable to make the kick-off event, Lawrence added "when we created this center, I promised Lester and Corky that this would be the best center in the United States. We would seek out the best experts in the field, regardless of their faith and point of view. We are blessed to have such enlightened donors."
Lawrence told Crown and Goodman on behalf of the greater Brandeis community, "Brandeis is deeply grateful for your contribution. You are eternal members of the Brandeis family."