LEXINGTON, Va. Feb. 10, 2011 – Undoubtedly, many of you have received information about the controversy during the past few days surrounding VMI’s “East Meets West” Conference which will be held March 23-25, 2011. The purpose of this is to dispel some of the misinformation that is appearing in e-mail and blog postings and ensure you are aware of what this conference is truly about.
The online registration information on the VMI website contained a summary of the conference. In that overview it was stated that this year was the 1300th anniversary of Tariq ibn Ziyad’s crossing the Strait of Gibraltar and thus began the period when Muslims, Christians, and Jews began living together. The focus of the conference was to “celebrate the vital story of the achievements” when these groups thrived together and built a society that we now know as modern day Europe.
Regrettably, a blogger portrayed this as a “celebration” of a “Muslim invasion” and implied that we were hosting a conference that is some kind of pro-Islamic “celebration.” That is absolutely and unequivocally incorrect. VMI did change the wording of the conference overview on the registration website to eliminate this “confusion”; however, e-mail and blog postings have continued – including some from VMI alumni. Some have contacted VMI, and this misperception hopefully has been cleared up. For others, we hope this information answers any questions or concerns you might have.
The “East Meets West” conference is the sixth in a series of conferences convened since the opening of the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics on topics of urgent and national importance. These conferences help prepare our cadets for the future and also serve to provide current and relevant information to our faculty and staff. VMI’s Department of Modern Languages and Cultures was the recipient of a grant from the Department of Defense in support of Arabic language training. “East Meets West” was designed specifically to supplement the study of Arabic language with complex information about history, culture, politics, economics, trade, and development, along with a strong component that provides hope for future relations between the East and the West. We believe VMI, in partnership with the Department of Defense, is the perfect place to add a robust component to facilitate a good understanding of the sophisticated complexities of the region. The conference has been carefully designed, through a series of panels and speakers, to provide balance and representation across the region and across views. It includes a cultural event designed to provide a real life experience for attendees who have never visited the region. It will conclude on a note of hope for the future.
The initial materials, designed to begin to inform attendees about some of our speakers and panelists, have continued to evolve as other speakers who had been invited earlier informed us of their ability to clear their calendars and deliver presentations. Over the past few days we have talked to dozens of people who have taken the time to call or write about the conference. We have listened carefully to their feedback on our conference plans, and we have sought recommendations from each person who has contacted us. We do understand the absolute necessity to provide a conference of exceptional caliber, representing a broad range of views, and the Institute has a clear understanding of the history and delicate balance within this region.
We believe we have a responsibility to prepare our cadets for the world that all of our graduates will face, regardless of their chosen career path. It is important to note that over 60 percent of our cadets will receive commissions in military service upon graduation. Many of those who have made the decision to commission, along with others, major in International Studies & Political Science, the most highly subscribed major at the Institute. Many choose to receive training in the Arabic language. VMI has the largest college Arabic language program in the nation, another signal of our commitment to their preparedness for life after graduation.
Please assure those who have questions or concerns that the “East Meets West” conference is for the purposes stated above and are not as represented in some of the blog postings and e-mail they may have read. We can assure you that VMI is extraordinarily sensitive to these issues – particularly since we are producing graduates who serve their country… many of whom are presently deployed in harm’s way.