Few people had heard of the group known as ISIS when the St. Ambrose Middle East Institute was unveiled last spring.
The newest layer of conflict in Iraq only serves to heighten the importance of the MEI, said Ryan Dye, the Institute's director and the director of the SAU Center for International Education.
"We can no longer say, ‘Well, it was just 9-11' or ‘It is just Iraq,"' Dye said of the implications of Middle East tensions on life in middle America. "The issues impacting the Middle East will continue to impact our community for generations to come. And we need to become better informed as a community about what is going on and how we can shape change there."
An informal gathering at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 17, in the dining room of the Figge Art Museum in Davenport will help the public learn what the Middle East Institute is and can be, Dye said. As importantly, the opening event of the MEI's inaugural fall semester will give the public a chance to influence future programming and areas of focused study.
"It is very low key," he said. "The Institute's advisory council wanted to get feedback from the community on topics of interest related to the Middle East. We also wanted to remind people we are here and that we have some exciting events coming up."
The Fall 2014 agenda also includes a pair of roundtable discussions. The first, on Sept. 24, will commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I and examine how decisions made during and after the war continue to impact modern-day conflicts in the Middle East. The second, on Nov. 6, will enlist SAU students and community residents of the Muslim faith in a forum intended to help others better understand their perspectives and experiences.
"That is a need reflected at St. Ambrose, where we have an increasing number of Muslim students," he said. "We want to seize opportunities as the come."
The anchor event of the fall schedule will be a film festival conducted over six nights at three sites from Oct. 15-24.
The St. Ambrose Middle East Institute Film Festival will highlight the artistic perspectives of filmmakers from Israel, Egypt, Iran, Palestine, Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria and the United States.
Among the scheduled films are award winners from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and the 2012 London Palestine Film Festival.
Screenings will be held at Rozz Tox in Rock Island, the Figge and the Rogalski Center on the St. Ambrose campus. All sessions are free and open to the public.
Dye said the film festival is in keeping with an Institute goal to showcase the region's art. Yet, while several of the chosen films show there is more to the Middle East than ethnic and religious conflict, he noted that three nights of the six-night festival will feature films about war.
"That is unavoidable, I'm afraid," he said. "It is the reality in a part of the world where you don't have a lot of stability right now and where you essentially haven't for 100 years."
In March and April, the Middle East Institute will welcome its first visiting scholar. Hamideh Sedghi, PhD, is an accomplished author whose work includes Women and Politics in Iran: Veiling, Unveiling and Reveiling. In keeping with the 2014-2015 Exploring Gender project series, Sedghi will give an April 6 public lecture titled Engendering Politics in the Middle East. She also will host a half-day symposium on April 25.