Cal State San Bernardino President Al Karnig wants to raise $15 million in private money to start a center for Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at the university by 2006. Karnig cited the Iraqi war, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Arab-Israeli conflict as reasons that study of the region is important.
"I think the Middle East is the key linchpin in promoting peace for the future because it is the place where so much of the conflict is taking form," Karnig said.
The San Bernardino campus would become the first in the Cal State system with a center focusing on Middle Eastern studies. Cal State San Bernardino already offers Arabic classes and has hosted three conferences focusing on the region in the last six months.
"If there is a belief that exists in the Muslim world, it is that the U.S. has declared war on the Islamic world," Karnig said.
Cal State San Bernardino would join institutions such as UC Berkeley, the University of Chicago and Harvard in offering a center specializing in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies.
Because of California's ongoing budget shortfall, there is no state money to fund the center, Karnig said. He hopes to receive contributions from representatives of foreign countries who have attended some university events.
The conferences' guests have included scholars from Gazi University in Turkey and King Saud University in Saudi Arabia. Friday's Middle East conference featured Thomas Simons, the former ambassador to Pakistan, and Yvonne Haddad of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University.
No one has committed any funding yet, Karnig said.
Recent events make learning more about the Middle East all the more vital, said Ralph Salmi, associate professor of National Security Studies at Cal State San Bernardino.
"We would hope that we would create a generation of thinkers that would be reasonably informed about the peoples, culture and religions of the Middle East," Salmi said.
The center would host conferences, classes and researchers, Salmi said. Officials plan classes featuring experts from political science, history, communications, anthropology, literature and languages, he said.
Senior Gail Kirtley, a political science major, said the center would be a valuable resource.
"If students don't familiarize themselves and become comfortable with the new focus of our government, I think that the government is destined to make serious, irreparable mistakes in foreign policy," said Kirtley, 36, of Victorville.
Grad student Alisen Moon, 24, of Riverside said that having Middle East experts on campus would help students.
"Many in the United States don't have any knowledge about the Middle East or Islam," Moon said. "We never get the perspective of those in the Middle East. I have to go to international newspapers to get the perspective of citizens in the region."