SECWAC Quarterly Colloquium Meeting (Q4 2019) and SECWAC/Essex Meadows Community Partnership Recaps
On October 10, about 90 members and guests gathered at the First Congregational Church in Old Lyme for the inaugural Quarterly Colloquium SECWAC meeting. We were treated to a thorough review of developments in the Middle East since 9/11/01 by Emma Sky, Director of the Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellows Program and a Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute of Global Affairs. Her comments were based on her new book, “In a Time of Monsters: Travels Through a Middle East in Revolt”, signed copies of which were on sale after the presentation (as usual, SECWAC bought two to donate to the Old Lyme and New London Public Libraries, in honor of the two towns in which we hold the majority of our meetings).
Professor Sky began by reading a passage on a trip she made to the Quandil Mountains inside Iraqi Kurdistan, giving us a flavor of what it means for a woman from London to travel to such far-off places in a time of war. She then took us through a whirlwind tour of Middle East politics from 9/11, against the backdrop of the end of the Cold War and the (apparent, at the time) victory of liberal democratic internationalism. Her tour of the region in the early years of the twenty-first century was both illuminating and sobering, reminding us of all the potential promise and what had been won and lost since that fateful Tuesday. She took us up to the Syrian civil war, the resulting waves of refugees who headed for Europe, and the implications for the rise of nativism across the continent, including its role in the Brexit referendum of 2016. She reminded us that the Iraq war was the catalyst for many changes in the region and farther afield, and was evidence that Western elites – so-called experts – knew little more than the rest of us if the results of their planning and strategizing is anything to go by. The world had gone from being Unipolar at the end of the Cold war – Francis Fukuyama’s famous “End of History” – to a decidedly multipolar one in which many powers, great and small, elbowed each other for a place in deciding the fate of the Middle East. And all done in a half-hour, leaving plenty of time for Q&A, a wonderful aspect of many SECWAC presentations.
Professor Sky’s lecture was a perfect follow-up to “Coming to America: A Refugee Story,” a program on refugees and global migration that took place at Essex Meadows on September 26, as part of the new SECWAC/Essex Meadows Community Partnership. Some 80 attendees joined us to watch an informative film overview of the topic produced by the Foreign Policy Association for its ‘Great Decisions’ Program and then hear from two individuals affected by refugee resettlement in the United States. Speaking first was Will Kneerim, Director of Education and Employment for Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven, who spoke about the hundreds of families he has helped resettle since joining IRIS after a long career in global logistics. Will described the intense vetting process refugee families must go through before being admitted to the United States, a process that is becoming even more difficult as the federal government further restricts the number of refugees allowed into the country, and also described some of the remarkable contributions he has seen resettled individuals make in their new communities. He also described the invaluable contributions of local communities who have welcomed refugee families, including individuals from three Old Lyme churches who came together as Community Co-Sponsors to help resettle four families in recent years. Among those families is the Hamous of Lyme. Originally from Syria, the Hamous arrived in Connecticut from Turkey in 2016. Yaldiz and Hani Hamou, the parents, now work at Essex Meadows, while their three children attend school in Old Lyme. Their youngest, Mohamed, a charismatic public speaker, delivered a TEDx talk as a 6th grade student, having only spoken English for a year. His talk was shared with the audience, and then Mohamed, now an 8th grader, joined Will at the podium for Q&A. A great conversation ensued, but the words that perhaps best encapsulate the program were issued by the then-6th grade Mohamed at the end of his TEDx talk: “I just want to say something for all those kids around the world, and especially in Afrin because they are getting bombed right now. I just want to say I hope they live in peace, I hope they’re safe, and I hope that all their dreams come true as mine did. I want to keep dreaming, and I hope all of your dreams come true. ”
We hope to see you at the next SECWAC meeting on October 24 at the First Congregational Church in Old Lyme, when Jonathan Starr will speak on his founding of the Abaarso School for Science and Technology in Somaliland and his book, “It Takes A School: The Extraordinary Story of an American School in the #1 Failed State”.
Paul Nugent and Liz Lightfoot,
SECWAC Board of Directors
The mission of the Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council (SECWAC) is to foster an understanding of issues of foreign policy and international affairs by study, debate, and educational programming, primarily through a Speakers Series of 8 to 10 monthly meetings.