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May 14, 2004 :: No. 247

Cal State Fullerton Professor Provides Insight Into Middle Eastern Cultures

“Understanding the culture and being able to speak Middle Eastern languages is critically needed today,” said Alan Kaye, a professor of English, comparative literature and linguistics at Cal State Fullerton. That’s why he agreed to serve on a committee to select Fulbright scholars who would participate in programs centered in the Middle East and North Africa.

“With all the attention being focused on the Middle East, Fulbright scholars are more important than ever,” Kaye explained. “These individuals are dedicated to learning about different places and experiencing different cultures. They then share their knowledge with others. Through personal relationships, we can better understand one another.”

Kaye, a Fullerton resident who has traveled extensively through the Middle East, speaks Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Persian and Urdu. He believes that many Americans, especially in light of the military actions taking place in the Middle East, don’t fully understand or appreciate Arabic cultures.

“There is a great deal of interest in learning Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages,” he said. “That’s good because language is so important when it comes to furthering our knowledge of this area of the world.”

He believes that sending Fulbright scholars to these regions is critical because it provides Americans with a different point of view on the Middle East.

“Of course, we’re not going to send scholars to areas that are deemed dangerous,” he explained. “However, with a war going on in Iraq, most Americans have a very one-dimensional view of the Middle East. For instance, most Arabs and Middle Easterners are extremely friendly and hospitable. This sense of graciousness and courtesy often doesn’t end up in our news reports. Many of their customs and traditions are quite beautiful. And sometimes we simply don’t understand why they may behave in the ways that they do. Fulbright scholarships are a great investment of American money because it demonstrates our country’s willingness to help and learn more about others. It broadens our world view.”

One of Kaye’s faculty colleagues, American studies professor Michael Steiner, currently is in Poland as a Fulbright scholar teaching classes at Marie Curie Sklodowska University’s Lublin Institute of English.

Kaye, himself, has lived in various parts of the world. He served as a Fulbright scholar in Egypt in the 1960s and in Sri Lanka in the 1970s. In 2000, he was invited to teach at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia.

“Living in Saudi Arabia was quite interesting,” he said. “For instance, education is free to all citizens, however, the men and women attend school at different universities. There is a high percentage of university-educated men and women. However, particularly in the southern areas of Saudi Arabia, there is a great deal of poverty, and this breeds fundamentalism. That’s why I believe that Saudi Arabia is interested in having Americans come and teach. There is a national interest in squelching this kind of fanaticism. And that’s also why programs such as the Fulbright, the Peace Corps and service programs are critical. They demonstrate America’s commitment to helping others and trying to understand different cultures and points of view.”

Currently, those who speak Arabic, as Kaye does, are in demand from a number of government agencies.

“Thousands of Americans are now learning Arabic,” he said. “That’s great. Understanding the language and the culture will enable us to build better relationships with our Middle Eastern neighbors and help cultivate a cultural awareness of the tenets of Islam.”


Media Contacts: Alan Kaye at 657-278-3722 or
Valerie Orleans at 657-278-4540 or