According to the story of the Tower of Bab-el, the world once used a unified language as a powerful tool for accomplishment. However, God eliminated this language and changed the name from Bab-el to babel, meaning confusion. The U.S. remains in a state of babel relative to the Middle East.
Clearing this confusion requires increased education on Middle Eastern issues. However, UGA lacks a true Arabic department. The current Arabic program is a component of the Department of Religion. In fact, UGA only began to offer Arabic as an undergraduate major in 2009.
UGA must establish and fund an Arabic department as a function of international relations rather than just religion. An Arabic department will prepare graduates to effectively engage across disciplines within government, commerce, defense and non-governmental organizations.
The U.S. has continuously acted in the Arab world for many years. We engage in commerce throughout the region. We send aid workers to refugee camps. We act as mediators in cross-border conflicts. We provide defense services and training to nearly every Middle Eastern state.
Despite all of this activity, US citizens still speak English in the homes of foreigners. Therefore, the world views the US as aggressive, arrogant and ignorant. Breaking language barriers will change this perception.
The International Relations Department at UGA is robust, covering issues from history in diplomatic and military engagement to women's political participation. Understanding these topics will lay a solid foundation for interacting with international partners.
However, personal and professional relationships are more valued when one side has clearly invested in the language of another's home country. It is unfortunate then that the US emphasis placed on Arabic fluency is not being matched by the output of Arabic speakers.
UGA must increase funding to support the establishment of an Arabic department. As it stands there are only five Arabic professors at UGA, and not all of them are full ntime. With so few instructors, only a handful of classes are offered, and a limited number of students have the opportunity to learn the language.
Introducing funding will balance the supply and demand. It will attract more Arabic professors and increase the access to resources, allowing more students to take Arabic classes.
An Arabic department will strengthen UGA's effectiveness in equipping students with the tools to enter the international arena, promote U.S. foreign policy and develop sustainable relationships with overseas governments.
Language is not simply a means of verbally communicating. It is a door to understanding culture and the thought process of societies. Producing more Arabic speakers will help transition us out of a state of babel in the Middle East.