02/09/11 — Duke professor describes women in the Middle East

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Duke professor describes women in the Middle East

By Gary Popp
Published in News on February 9, 2011 1:46 PM

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Dr. Miriam Cooke gives a lecture on the role women have played in wars in the modern Middle East and how women are affected by those wars. Ms. Cooke's lecture at the Arts Council was part of the Wayne County Reads program.

Americans should pay attention to the plight of individual women in the Muslim world and not consider them as a single, undifferentiated oppressed minority, Duke University professor Dr. Miriam Cooke said at a Wayne County Reads event Tuesday night at the Wayne County Arts Council.

Muslim women, whether they are in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, are individuals just like we are, she said, and each has her own ambitions in life and her own problems to overcome.

As a professor of Asian and Middle East studies, Ms. Cooke was selected as a speaker to expand on the ideas presented in two books currently featured in the Wayne County Reads 2011 program.

The books in this year's countywide reading program are "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time" and "Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan," both authored by Greg Mortenson.

About 75 people were in attendance for the lecture and the subsequent question and answer session.

Cooke said she was surprised by the number of people who turned out and the interest shown by the audience in what life is truly like for women in a society that often considers them second-class citizens.

"I think there is a level of attention and focus that one does not get in a bigger city," she said. "There is a tremendous sense of openness that I wasn't expecting with (Wayne County) being so rural and the connection with the military base. I was expecting it to be more conservative."

Cooke said part of her mission as a a specialist in Middle Eastern culture is to reach out as much as she can to share her knowledge with others.

"Here, it is an opportunity to make people who are not in a classroom rethink some assumptions, maybe try to give a little bit of an insight into a society that otherwise they only hear about through the media," Cooke said afterward.

"Dr. Cooke brings a new perspective that we have not seen," said Tara Humphries of Wayne County Reads 2011. "That is one of the things we like to do with Wayne County Reads, to put new ideas in front of people and let them decide what they think."

The lecture was one event in a nearly two-mont-long series of activities that build on the principles found in the pages of Mortenson's books.

"We reach outside every book that we do to look at the topics and issues of the book and find the best experts we can," Humphries said. "To bring (Cooke) to the community to Wayne County is extraordinary."

Humphries added that through Mortenson's works and Cooke's lecture she gained a new respect for women of the Middle East.

"Instead of just the pity, I see the strength, and that gives me hope," Humphries said.

Wayne County Reads 2011 organizers are looking forward to more events exploring the Middle East including a festival celebrating Afghan culture that takes place on Saturday, Feb. 19, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Wayne County Arts Council on East Ash Street.