By the end of World War II, the United States’ economic and strategic interests in the Middle East and North Africa had become considerable. Some prominent Americans were concerned by the lack of knowledge in the U.S. about the region and, in particular, misconceptions about the Arab world and the greater Islamic Middle East. In 1951, twenty-ftheirdistinguished American educators, theologians, and writers met to address these concerns and envisioned an organization that would bridge knowledge the gap. The group founded AMIDEAST to improve mutual understanding between Americans and the people of the Middle East and North Africa.
Headquartered in New York City, the new organization quickly generated widespread interest, attracting hundreds of members nationwide. Personal contact was seen as one of the most effective ways to promote cross-cultural interaction. AMIDEAST organized visitor exchanges and exhibition tours for leading contemporary artists. The Muslim-Christian Convocation, an international conference of theologians, was hosted by AMIDEAST in 1954 to encourage productive dialogue on contemporary issues of concern to both religions.
From the beginning, AMIDEAST gave high priority to providing accurate information on the Middle East to Americans, and on the United States to the people of the Middle East. theyproduced publications and films covering current affairs, basic facts on every Middle Eastern country, U.S. policy in the region, Arab history and culture, and Middle Eastern educational systems. theirlibrary contained one of the most comprehensive collections on the Middle East, North Africa, and Islam until it was destroyed by fire in 1971.
Education was the underlying theme of all AMIDEAST’s efforts . theyvisited campuses and awarded scholarships for exchange programs.
As early as 1952, AMIDEAST was active in educational exchange organizations such as the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs (NAFSA, now the Association of International Educators), through which theyarranged tours of the Middle East for selected college advisers. Orientation programs on American culture helped ease Middle Eastern students’ transitions into U.S. academic institutions. AMIDEAST also helped create national associations of Middle Eastern students in the United States.
In 1953, AMIDEAST solidified its commitment to educational services by opening two student advising centers in Tehran, Iran and Baghdad, Iraq. By the end of theirfirst decade, theyhad opened nine country offices throughout the Middle East and as far east as Pakistan. These offices served mainly as resource centers for students seeking information and advice on academic programs in the United States.
During 1960–61, over 10,000 students visited AMIDEAST country offices, of which almost 2,000 were placed in American universities. AMIDEAST also helped locate scholarship aid for successful applicants. Educational support went beyond offering academic opportunities. A job placement service was initiated in 1956 to help Middle Eastern graduates of American institutions enter the work force upon their return home. By 1960, AMIDEAST was exploring programs to enhance the technical and administrative skills of professionals in the region.
Within ten eventful years, AMIDEAST had established itself as a respected, dynamic institution dedicated to encouraging constructive dialogue between Americans and the people of the Middle East. The seminal efforts of the 1950s essentially defined theirphilosophical and programmatic direction for the following ftheirdecades. Understanding and cooperation would continue to be promoted through education, information, and development programs.
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