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Developing Empathy to Understand the Middle East: The Use of Information Technology to Help Transcend Ethno-Centric Thinking

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The study of international relations at many colleges and universities is really foreign relations, an examination of global affairs from an ethnocentric perspective. Accepting the values of their own political culture, instructors often superimpose them on other countries. If another state does not act in accordance with those values, its leaders are labeled irrational.
This ethnocentric analysis excludes a basic element needed to understand international relations--empathy. We may use empirical skills, history, law, and economics, but if we lack empathy, we’ll never fully appreciate the subtle complexities of international affairs. Students must be able to put themselves in the position of leaders from other countries, view the world from the perspective of these decision makers, and understand the problems and opportunities they face.
As part of a basic international relations course, I use a computer based, interactive simulation to introduce students to empathy while they learn about the Middle East. http://itrs.scu.edu/stover/ics_m Students choose countries to represent, and select decision-making roles within their countries: heads of state or government, foreign ministers or ambassadors, and national security advisors. These country teams are assigned advisors from the Middle East to help participants gain additional information for their research and later make realistic decisions during the simulation. These advisors include diplomats and students from Israel, Jordan and Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt. Additionally, a group of students at a university in Morocco represent the Moroccan government.
Our students’ preparation for the simulation involves research for a term paper oriented around their simulated country. Heads of state write about the goals of their country in the Middle East, foreign ministers write about the history of relations between their country and others in the simulation, and national security advisors write about their country's security situation. The research requires three types of sources: recent academic journals, current news media, and Internet sites from the countries students represent. The latter includes hundreds of sources available on our web site. This means students must look beyond the American oriented media and academic community, “visiting” sites from the Middle East made available on-line.
The papers must be subjective rather than objective efforts, probably unlike any research the participants have previously conducted. I tell them the papers should not be a neutral, balanced report. Rather, participants present research from their simulated country's perspective in a subjective format, attempting to capture the values and perceptions of their state and decision maker. For example, the confidential journal of a king, notes for a state of the world address by a prime minister, or email messages from an ambassador abroad help participants feel what it might be like to experience political responsibility in their simulated state.
After completing their papers and becoming familiar with the rules of the simulation, students receive a scenario that extends Middle East conflict several months into the future. This scenario involved American military movement on Iraq, an explosion in Jerusalem for which responsibility is unclear, rocket attacks against Israel from Syrian controlled territory in Lebanon, and a renewed effort at peace negotiations by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco. Participants consult their own country team members (including the foreign national advisors) either by email or in a "private conference" on the web site to which only the country team has access.
Having agreed upon their country's strategy, heads of state representing the country teams then respond to the scenario on the Internet, making five moves in ten days that can be viewed worldwide. They take unilateral action by using “intent” moves, bilateral or multilateral action with “diplomatic” moves. Country teams can use force or take other national security action with “military” moves. These are posted on the web site, and released by the simulation director at pre-arranged times. To further encourage realistic activity, several representatives in the Middle East serve as “international journalists”. They comment on the moves of the simulation by posting short, four to five paragraph editorials on the web site, using the perspectives and styles of influential Arab and Israeli media.
We evaluate students’ response to the simulation experience in several ways. One method asked them to take a before and after survey on their attitudes toward the group they represented—Israelis, Arabs or Iranians. This used polar adjectives like hostile-friendly, aggressive-defensive, warlike-peaceful. A second gives them a broader opportunity for expression, asking them to write an open-ended essay discussing their stereotypes and attitudes about the Middle East in general as well as the state they represented. The third involves a class discussion about their experience shortly after the simulation ends. While our survey data quite is limited due to an inadequate research design, too few participants and lack of control groups, it does confirm what the class discussion and open ended essays indicate. Students do feel a greater sense of empathy toward the people of the Middle East, and begin to view the situation from a different perspective.
For example, Members of the Egyptian country team reported minimal knowledge about that country when they started the project—just mummies, pyramids and pharos, said one student. After the simulation, they saw how much of an important role Egypt plays in Middle East peace making. “I doubt I would have learned this by simply reading a textbook,” said one student. My understanding and compassion came from actually being part of the Egyptian government and living in an ambassador's shoes. I not only read about it, I was also part of it. I experienced the intense frustration of feeling like Egypt was talking about peace and not being heard. Everyone wants peace, but no one wants to sacrifice.”
A member of the group representing Israel writes: “I began by viewing the Israelis as egocentric and arrogant. During the simulation, I found out how uncooperative and demanding the enemy countries are. I now believe Israel's toughness is understandable because other countries are so uncooperative toward peace making”.
A participant representing Palestine thought her national group was close-minded, irrational and uncompromising at the beginning “My stereotypes have changed,” she writes. “It's quite amazing how empowering knowledge is and how it reveals ethnocentric thinking. I attribute the change in my perceptions to a chain-reaction. First, I opened my mind and started research about the Middle East with sources from every angle. Second, this knowledge enabled me to assume the role of a country’s decision maker and to become involved. Ultimately it led to empathy.
Finally, a participant representing Lebanon expressed a very personal reaction to the simulation. At the start, she writes, “I felt very nationalistic about United States relations with the Middle East especially since my good friend died on one of the September 11 planes. I felt Middle Eastern countries were belligerent, unstable and terrorist. Now, I have a newfound sympathy for the Middle East, caught in perpetual struggle and misunderstanding. I no longer take America's foreign relations at face value, ignorantly accepting the nationalistic talk of our superiority and our duty to rid the world of terrorism. I feel some of the change in my attitude was brought about by research, using Middle East web sites and articles written by Arab journalists. Most of what changed my view, however, was relations within the simulation—our Arab group’s frustration and helplessness in response to America’s war on terrorism.”
This increase in empathy is likely due to four factors. First, the research requirement makes participants look at international relations differently as they seek to see the world through the perspective of another country. Use of the Internet to obtain sources from these other nations may be their first experience in viewing their world from the outside, and the requirement that they write their report from a first-person perspective helps them internalize these views in an inter-subjective way. Second, the need to act in the simulation on behalf of their assumed country further helps them internalize that perspective. Third, the students anticipate the simulation as an interesting, lively experience, motivating them to learn about the subject matter and become more actively involved in their self-education. Finally, they’re seeking to impress team members and other “diplomats” (some from the nations they represent) with their knowledge and ability to act realistically in their country roles.
In conclusion, our students’ experience in the international conflict simulation seems to have a positive affect on their understanding of the Middle East and their sense of empathy with counties in the region.

Most Common Document Word Stems:

simul (56), countri (56), intern (44), middl (34), particip (33), east (28), relat (27), empathi (26), nation (24), student (23), understand (21), repres (21), chang (21), world (20), polit (20), state (18), use (16), one (16), valu (14), research (14), attitud (13),

Author's Keywords:

empathy, simulation, middle east, inter-subjectivity.constructivist teaching
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Stover, William. "Developing Empathy to Understand the Middle East: The Use of Information Technology to Help Transcend Ethno-Centric Thinking" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the APSA Teaching and Learning Conference, NA, Washington, DC, Feb 19, 2004 <Not Available>. 2009-05-26 <http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p117489_index.html>

APA Citation:

Stover, W. , 2004-02-19 "Developing Empathy to Understand the Middle East: The Use of Information Technology to Help Transcend Ethno-Centric Thinking" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the APSA Teaching and Learning Conference, NA, Washington, DC Online <.PDF>. 2009-05-26 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p117489_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: The study of international relations at many colleges and universities is really foreign relations, an examination of global affairs from an ethnocentric perspective. Accepting the values of their own political culture, instructors often superimpose them on other countries. If another state does not act in accordance with those values, its leaders are labeled irrational.
This ethnocentric analysis excludes a basic element needed to understand international relations--empathy. We may use empirical skills, history, law, and economics, but if we lack empathy, we’ll never fully appreciate the subtle complexities of international affairs. Students must be able to put themselves in the position of leaders from other countries, view the world from the perspective of these decision makers, and understand the problems and opportunities they face.
As part of a basic international relations course, I use a computer based, interactive simulation to introduce students to empathy while they learn about the Middle East. http://itrs.scu.edu/stover/ics_m Students choose countries to represent, and select decision-making roles within their countries: heads of state or government, foreign ministers or ambassadors, and national security advisors. These country teams are assigned advisors from the Middle East to help participants gain additional information for their research and later make realistic decisions during the simulation. These advisors include diplomats and students from Israel, Jordan and Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt. Additionally, a group of students at a university in Morocco represent the Moroccan government.
Our students’ preparation for the simulation involves research for a term paper oriented around their simulated country. Heads of state write about the goals of their country in the Middle East, foreign ministers write about the history of relations between their country and others in the simulation, and national security advisors write about their country's security situation. The research requires three types of sources: recent academic journals, current news media, and Internet sites from the countries students represent. The latter includes hundreds of sources available on our web site. This means students must look beyond the American oriented media and academic community, “visiting” sites from the Middle East made available on-line.
The papers must be subjective rather than objective efforts, probably unlike any research the participants have previously conducted. I tell them the papers should not be a neutral, balanced report. Rather, participants present research from their simulated country's perspective in a subjective format, attempting to capture the values and perceptions of their state and decision maker. For example, the confidential journal of a king, notes for a state of the world address by a prime minister, or email messages from an ambassador abroad help participants feel what it might be like to experience political responsibility in their simulated state.
After completing their papers and becoming familiar with the rules of the simulation, students receive a scenario that extends Middle East conflict several months into the future. This scenario involved American military movement on Iraq, an explosion in Jerusalem for which responsibility is unclear, rocket attacks against Israel from Syrian controlled territory in Lebanon, and a renewed effort at peace negotiations by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco. Participants consult their own country team members (including the foreign national advisors) either by email or in a "private conference" on the web site to which only the country team has access.
Having agreed upon their country's strategy, heads of state representing the country teams then respond to the scenario on the Internet, making five moves in ten days that can be viewed worldwide. They take unilateral action by using “intent” moves, bilateral or multilateral action with “diplomatic” moves. Country teams can use force or take other national security action with “military” moves. These are posted on the web site, and released by the simulation director at pre-arranged times. To further encourage realistic activity, several representatives in the Middle East serve as “international journalists”. They comment on the moves of the simulation by posting short, four to five paragraph editorials on the web site, using the perspectives and styles of influential Arab and Israeli media.
We evaluate students’ response to the simulation experience in several ways. One method asked them to take a before and after survey on their attitudes toward the group they represented—Israelis, Arabs or Iranians. This used polar adjectives like hostile-friendly, aggressive-defensive, warlike-peaceful. A second gives them a broader opportunity for expression, asking them to write an open-ended essay discussing their stereotypes and attitudes about the Middle East in general as well as the state they represented. The third involves a class discussion about their experience shortly after the simulation ends. While our survey data quite is limited due to an inadequate research design, too few participants and lack of control groups, it does confirm what the class discussion and open ended essays indicate. Students do feel a greater sense of empathy toward the people of the Middle East, and begin to view the situation from a different perspective.
For example, Members of the Egyptian country team reported minimal knowledge about that country when they started the project—just mummies, pyramids and pharos, said one student. After the simulation, they saw how much of an important role Egypt plays in Middle East peace making. “I doubt I would have learned this by simply reading a textbook,” said one student. My understanding and compassion came from actually being part of the Egyptian government and living in an ambassador's shoes. I not only read about it, I was also part of it. I experienced the intense frustration of feeling like Egypt was talking about peace and not being heard. Everyone wants peace, but no one wants to sacrifice.”
A member of the group representing Israel writes: “I began by viewing the Israelis as egocentric and arrogant. During the simulation, I found out how uncooperative and demanding the enemy countries are. I now believe Israel's toughness is understandable because other countries are so uncooperative toward peace making”.
A participant representing Palestine thought her national group was close-minded, irrational and uncompromising at the beginning “My stereotypes have changed,” she writes. “It's quite amazing how empowering knowledge is and how it reveals ethnocentric thinking. I attribute the change in my perceptions to a chain-reaction. First, I opened my mind and started research about the Middle East with sources from every angle. Second, this knowledge enabled me to assume the role of a country’s decision maker and to become involved. Ultimately it led to empathy.
Finally, a participant representing Lebanon expressed a very personal reaction to the simulation. At the start, she writes, “I felt very nationalistic about United States relations with the Middle East especially since my good friend died on one of the September 11 planes. I felt Middle Eastern countries were belligerent, unstable and terrorist. Now, I have a newfound sympathy for the Middle East, caught in perpetual struggle and misunderstanding. I no longer take America's foreign relations at face value, ignorantly accepting the nationalistic talk of our superiority and our duty to rid the world of terrorism. I feel some of the change in my attitude was brought about by research, using Middle East web sites and articles written by Arab journalists. Most of what changed my view, however, was relations within the simulation—our Arab group’s frustration and helplessness in response to America’s war on terrorism.”
This increase in empathy is likely due to four factors. First, the research requirement makes participants look at international relations differently as they seek to see the world through the perspective of another country. Use of the Internet to obtain sources from these other nations may be their first experience in viewing their world from the outside, and the requirement that they write their report from a first-person perspective helps them internalize these views in an inter-subjective way. Second, the need to act in the simulation on behalf of their assumed country further helps them internalize that perspective. Third, the students anticipate the simulation as an interesting, lively experience, motivating them to learn about the subject matter and become more actively involved in their self-education. Finally, they’re seeking to impress team members and other “diplomats” (some from the nations they represent) with their knowledge and ability to act realistically in their country roles.
In conclusion, our students’ experience in the international conflict simulation seems to have a positive affect on their understanding of the Middle East and their sense of empathy with counties in the region.

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Teaching and Learning Empathy: An Interactive On-line Diplomatic Simulation of Middle East Conflict William James Stover Santa Clara University Teaching and Learning Empathy: An Interactive On-line Diplomatic Simulation of Middle East Conflict The study of international relations at many colleges and universities is really a study of foreign relations the examination of global affairs from an ethnocentric perspective. Accepting the values of their own political culture instructors often superimpose them on other countries. If another state does not act
3.9 3.5 AGGRESSIVE-DEFENSIVE 4.0 3.8 WARLIKE-PEACE LOVING 4.1 3.8 EXPANSIONIST- 3.9 3.0 SATISFIED SUCCESSFUL- 2.6 3.5 UNSUCCESSFUL (n=12) Table 3 William James Stover teaches international politics and international law at Santa Clara University. He earned an M.A. in international relations from the American University (Washington) School of International Service and a Ph.D. from the State University of New York (Buffalo). His research and writing have included work on military politics international crisis behavior and information technology in world affairs.


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