Guest speaker Juan Cole lectures on U.S.-Islamic relations

Elijah Ringler

Photo by Katie VasholtzA handful of new problems and dangers have presented themselves in the past decade.

And one issue from the past 10 years stands out in retrospect: The rising fear of Islam.

With the Bush administration lighting the fuse and the media fanning the flames, the raging fire of concern with the Muslim world was one bred in what speaker Juan Cole frankly called “ignorance.”

Cole is looking to diminish what he calls ignorance.

The Carolyn Benton Cockefair Chair in Continuing Education welcomed Cole to UMKC on Nov. 15 for a lecture sharing the title of his latest book, “Engaging the Muslim World.”

The theme of the lecture centered on dispelling the myths of Islamic culture perpetuated by the Western world.

Cole, who has appeared on television as a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs a number of times, drew a larger crowd in Peirson Auditorium.

An additional five rows of chairs were set up when it became clear that the original ten would not suffice.

Dr. Gary Ebersole, professor of history and director of the UMKC Program in Religious Studies, introduced Cole after Benton conducted an impromptu poll through a show of hands to determine the effectiveness of their advertising efforts.

Ebersole described Cole’s education and initial foray into Middle Eastern studies.

He also provided a bit of early levity, describing the well-known Cole as “a scholar hitting his stride.”

The visual presentation of the lecture began with George W. Bush in a flight suit, circa May 2003.

The text referred to the Bush Approach, Cole explained how the former president’s use of the word crusade confused Muslims who only regard the term in an atrocious nature.

He referred to Guantanamo Bay and the Bagram prisoner torture as instances that marginalized the administration’s credibility.

“They can’t understand this American attempt to tie fascism to Islam, when fascism is so clearly a European phenomenon,” Cole said.

He transitioned into a discussion of how the current administration handles relations with the Muslim world.

“[Previous presidents] would just talk into the air to Iran,” Cole said. “They would imply that the Iranian government and the Iranian people were separate. Obama didn’t do that, Obama treated them with respect.”

Cole went on to discuss some common misconceptions the West has about the Muslim world.

He discussed how “Desperate Housewives” is very popular in Egypt and how Al-Qaeda is very unpopular almost everywhere.

The topics of how oil addiction and the increasing Muslim population will affect the world in the next 50 years closed the lecture.

Cole took a few questions to end the event, the final one being a spirited inquisition about the U.S.’s goal in Afghanistan that garnered applause from the crowd.

The greater applause was reserved for Cole however, as he walked off stage to an effusive crowd.

The excitement Cole presented on stage carried over after the lecture.

“He managed to make a controversial subject engaging,” patron Alan McDermott said.

Don Lampman of the UMKC bookstore, summed up the mood.

“Book sales are good tonight,” Lampman said. “When the lecture is good, book sales are good.”

For information about Juan Cole, please visit

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