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Submitted by Genevieve Bleidner '13 on November 11, 2010

On the evening of November 8, 2010, Fairfield University welcomed Jared Cohen, former adviser to both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, Adjunct Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and recently announced Director of Google Ideas, to the Quick Center for the Arts to deliver the University’s 13th Annual Jacoby-Lunin Humanitarian Lecture. His talk was entitled “Children of Abraham: Muslim and Jewish Youth in Constructive Dialogue,” and was co-sponsored by Fairfield’s Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies and Open VISIONS Forum through the generosity of the Frank Jacoby Foundation of Bridgeport. Moffly Media is the media sponsor of this Arts & Minds event.

Cohen shared his perspective on trends in the Islamic world based on his travels in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestinian camps where he interviewed terrorists from various militant groups.  Challenging the way many Americans view technology as a tool for terrorists, he explored how it is impacting foreign policy and changing power dynamics, stressing the importance of technological advances, especially for the common good and the youth in these nations. Cohen explained how technology is not something to be feared; it is inevitable for advances to be made, and although there is some risk with these advances in which terrorist groups now have greater access to more information, there is also the greater advantage of the youth using the Internet and cell phones as a tool to educate themselves, communicate with each other, and rise up against oppression.

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After the talk, Cohen was joined by the following Fairfield faculty to discuss his journey and struggles, as well as how he has grown as a person in the past 10 years:

  • Dr. Ellen Umansky, Director of the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies
  • Dr. Martin Nguyen, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
  • Dr. Philip Eliasoph, moderator and Professor of Visual & Performing Arts

The conversation especially focused on Cohen’s strategies related to counter-terrorism, the Middle East, and how to address a growing percentage of youth around the world. Cohen has played a huge role in cultivating the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter to empower citizens and promote diplomacy in developing countries.

Though I admittedly know little of Middle Eastern culture and youth, it was fascinating to hear how technological advances are helping to foster stronger citizens and promote connections between nations. I never would have thought that young adults in the Middle East would be using technology to thwart oppression, and now see how privileged I am to have taken technology for granted as a way to entertain myself. The fact that youth in the Middle East take the time to learn how to use technology such as cell phones and Bluetooth to skirt around the grip of oppression and government rulings is ingenious and I am glad to have been able to learn so much through Cohen’s anecdotes about his travels. Jared Cohen, though young, is well on his way to helping promote peace for youth both in the Middle East and the U.S. I know understand how ordinary technology can empower and enlighten – not just entertain – and can be used to overstep terrorists who may use these tools for unspeakable acts.

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