To get the best information on any topic it is always a good idea to go straight to the source. Edward S. "Ned" Walker Jr. '62 has been that source on the Middle East for the U.S. government for many years. He shared some of his knowledge with the audience at the Alumni College event, "An Insider's View on United States Diplomacy" on Friday, June 7.
Walker is a former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Egypt and currently President of the Middle East Institute.
Walker said that in Saudi Arabia, teachers bring anti-American sentiments into the classroom. Arabic television stations broadcast negative stories about the U.S. and this is helps develop deep prejudices, particularly in the younger generation, toward the U.S. Walker elaborated saying, "We are a hair's breadth away from serious differences between the U.S. and the Middle East."
Walker thrilled a packed Chapel of alumni, family members, faculty and other community members with his massive accumulation of first-hand information. Perhaps, inspired by his return to "the hill," education was the underlying theme of Walker's talk. He has been engaged in the Middle East for more than 35 years, and stereotypes, misunderstandings, policy disagreements and unrealistic expectations are the four areas of deepest concern to him.
According to Walker, media and the entertainment industry along with biased educational systems are responsible for these stereotypes. One of his current projects is appearances on Middle East television stations, such as the El Jazeera TV network. There he tries to educate Arabs on U.S. motives and initiatives, hoping to offset some of the negative depictions of America found on these foreign networks.
He also strongly supports studying abroad, through student exchanges between the U.S. and Arabic countries. Walker says he is concerned about the U.S.'s new mandatory fingerprinting of foreign students entering the country.
The differing perspectives of the same reality are also disconcerting to Walker. Walker cautioned the audience saying, "Differences can't overshadow our same goals to achieve similar objectives." He continued by saying that the U.S. and Arabic countries need to overcome negative views and be determined to bring about peace.
An eager audience jumped at the opportunity to ask this former ambassador a variety of questions. Topics ranged from Jay Welsh's '62 question on whether or not Arafat could be replaced, to if the poor U.S.-Middle East relations are a question of have vs. have nots.
One alumna also asked Walker what set him on his track to foreign diplomacy. Walker credited an extraordinary group of men in the philosophy department and in particular a visiting professor from Cairo University who taught an Islamic issues class. He also joked that after spending four brutal winters in Central New York it was inevitable for him to gravitate to warmer weather!
Jay Welsh '62 asks a question to his fellow classmate