The Middle East and America are connected in many ways, yet present in each of these connections are potential or actual ruptures. In some cases, the connections themselves are built upon ruptures; in others, ruptures can be read as the result of connections. Violent conflicts and economic upheavals, for example, have driven many people from the Middle East to the United States. This movement, in turn, has created the possibility for establishing different connections but also new types of rupture. Adding to the intricacies of these interactions, the very conflicts and upheavals that dispersed people have sometimes been impelled by the economic and political presence of the U.S. in the Middle East. Although the encounters between America and the Middle East have often been asymmetrical, there has always been a relational dynamic between the two. Today there is a kaleidoscope of narratives and theories that vie to define these encounters, but those that move beyond simplistic notions of polarization begin with the realization that neither America nor the Middle East can be fully understood apart from the other. CASAR's third international conference examined the ruptures and connections created by current and past encounters between America and the Middle East—whether economic, political, or cultural—as they have been narrated and as they have been experienced.
We used the words “America” and “Middle East” as part of an evocative shorthand, rather than as an attempt to exclude non-USAmericans or the people of the Maghreb (who do not see their region as part of the Middle East). Explorations of such connections and ruptures were welcomed.
The conference brought together scholars from North America, Europe, the Middle East, and other regions in a place deeply affected by the connections and ruptures between America and the Middle East. The American University of Beirut, the City of Beirut, and Lebanon itself, have all been described as meeting places between the Middle East (or the “East”) and America (or the “West”), yet through the center of each runs a fault line created in part by that meeting.
In an attempt to engender new insights and perspectives, the conference provided considerable time for free interaction.
The Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR) at American University of Beirut was launched in 2003 with a major gift from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud. It is an independent academic center that seeks to promote better understanding between the people of United States and those of the Middle East through teaching, research and outreach efforts.