New Paltz Professors Visit The Middle East

Last month, two SUNY New Paltz professors visited the Middle Eastern nation of Oman to study its society, culture and educational system in hopes of bringing what they learned back to New Paltz.

The trip was part of the “Educators to Oman” program and was sponsored by the World Affairs Council of the Mid-Hudson Valley (WAC-MHV), a non-profit and non-partisan group whose mission is to raise public awareness of the issues that “unite and divide nations, people and major faith communities.”

Lewis Brownstein, professor of political science, and Ilgu Ozler, assistant professor of political science, were among the 10 educators who stayed in Oman from Jan. 3 to the 13 as a part of the “Educators to Oman.”

The purpose of this program was to learn more about Oman and then come back and “raise the country’s visibility in the Mid-Hudson Valley,” Brownstein said.

An upcoming conference sponsored by SUNY New Paltz, Center for Middle Eastern Dialogue and WAC-MHV should take place later this semester, Brownstein said.

This conference will allow them to bring what they learned about Oman to the area by teaching about Oman through public events.

Ozler said that there would also be an Omani quartet playing at the conference.

During their stay in Oman, they spent 10 days in meetings learning about their society, history and educational system. They met with the ministry of education and higher education and attended meetings that were held in Sutan Qaboos University, Mazoon University College and the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.

“We had exchanges about the possibility of perhaps creating a more long term relation with Omani universities,” said Ozler. “Our goal is to have a cultural understanding and exchange about Oman.”

A few of the things Brownstein said he learned about Oman which he didn’t know before was that men and women are treated equally, their standard of living is high and they have access to free education.

Brownstein and Ozler said they also learned about the ethnic and racial make-up of the region.

Ozler said the ratio of people of Indian and Bengali descent who reside in the sultanate of Oman to Omanis are about 2-to-1 and are called expatriates. They can’t apply for citizenship until they have continuance in a country for 20 years. Until they are citizens, they can’t exercise the same rights as Omanis such as having an education at an Omani school or owning land.

“If an Omani woman was married to an expatriate, their children would not be considered Omani since citizenship is through the father,” said Ozler.

However, she said that all different religions exist peacefully.

This was Brownstein’s first trip to Oman and he was very impressed with the degree of warmth shown.

“I was impressed with the interactions [I had] with the people [I] met,” said Brownstein. “[Oman] was remarkably warm and welcoming.”

He said that while he was walking on the main thoroughfare, he witnessed a car accident between two residents of Oman. Both of the drivers got out of their cars, walked towards each other and shook hands. They got back in their cars to take them off the road, got out of their cars to talk some more, shook hands and then departed.

Brownstein said this behavior was typical in Oman.

This was also Ozler’s first trip to an Arab country. She said the trip to Oman was a good introduction to the Arab world.  She said that she expected the country to be more chaotic and disorderly, and was surprised when it was the opposite.

“In developing countries…it’s less orderly than, let’s say, a more developed country,” she said. “I was thinking that in the capital city there would be more noise…you expect more chaos in the city than you do in New Paltz.”

She said Muscat was more like New Paltz as far as peace and quiet are concerned.

The current Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, took over in the 1970s and built the country from scratch.

“What we have seen was very positive, but I wouldn’t say it was an unbiased exposure,” said Ozler. “Because I know that when someone visits your home you want to clean up and show them the best of it.”