By Phil Nast October 3, 2012 9:53 am
Last February, my daughter and 23 other students from the US, UK, Israel, Indonesia, and Palestinian Territories spent a ten days in Wales hiking, coasteering, bridge-building, canoeing and participating in discussion workshops and skills sessions with Encompass. The mission of Encompass is to bring together young people from different cultures and backgrounds to foster self-awareness, develop confidence to interact with others from different backgrounds, and gain skills that will help them use their experience to benefit others in their own communities. Encompass honors the memory of Daniel Braden, a young man from Brighton who was killed in the 2002 Bali bombing.
What participants learn during their time with Encompass and other similar programs is that though they come from very different situations they often have more in common than not. Remember the Thomas Hardy poem “The Man He Killed”? The poem ends:
…quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half a crown.
We define ourselves by nationality, religion, political and sports affiliation, age, physical attributes, income, fashion, etc. The list is endless. We excel at identifying differences and are slow to acknowledge likenesses. Some of us make poor decisions based on single factors, like the wearing of an opposing team’s jersey. Participants also discover that long running conflicts are seldom as one-dimensional as the media portray them. The hostility in the Middle East is not solely a consequence of religious differences. Religion just makes an easy handle.
Though we’re not always able to meet and get to know people from other cultures, we can become familiar with them. That’s what social studies is all about. Recent events in the Middle East have demonstrated that ignorance isn’t bliss and that cultural insensitivity can be disastrous.
Much of the tension in the Middle East arises from questions of sovereignty. The following resources will introduce the region and its tensions. Israel-Palestine in Maps illustrates and explains changes in territorial boundaries between 1949 and the present. The same website has a Timeline of the Middle East Conflict. Geography of the Middle East (17 pages, 225 KB) is to help students in grades 4-12 better understand the causes and potential consequences of conflict in the Middle East.
Global Connections: the Middle East features a Flash and text-only timeline of Middle Eastern History since 1900, a modern socio-political map, and educator resources. The website explores the themes of economics, politics, science and technology, geography, and religion. The theme section on politics reveals that Middle Eastern politics is “far from being solely an issue of Islamic resurgence as is often presented by Western media, actually reflects a complex mixture of issues that include nationalism, religion, social and economic concerns, anti-colonialist sentiments, tribal loyalties, and ethnic identities.” The theme section on religion reveals the relationship of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Another PBS resource is Islam: Empire of Faith The three part documentary can be viewed on YouTube. Part 1: Prophet Muhammad and Rise of Islam. Part 2 : The Awakening. Part 3 : The Ottomans. The companion website has five lessons for grades 6-12 which can be used with or without the video.
Monotheistic Religions of the Middle East (23 pages, 2 MB) is for grades 7-10 though is appropriate for grades 6-12. The resource reviews characteristics of the three monotheistic religions and teaches about their growth.
A Table of the Major Faiths compares the three monotheistic religions of the Middle East: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.