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Middlebury College Hosts Discussion: "Terror and the Mass Media"

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MIDDLEBURY -- The explosions erupting across the Middle East may seem far removed from the bucolic Middlebury College campus, but the chaos will come a little closer next Sunday, when the College Summer Language Schools host a "Symposium on Terror and the Mass Media."

The daylong event, which is free and open to the public, aims to foster dialogue between American citizens and students and a host of visiting foreign journalists, scholars and political strategists. Discussion topics include "The Politics of Terror," "Is Terrorism Challenging Press Freedom?" and "Marketing Fear." The presenters -- all lecturing in English -- include the director of research for the office of the French president, and the deputy chief of the International Terrorism Group at the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington.

There are also two Arab speakers in the mix: Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, a journalist affiliated with Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper, an Arabic international daily, and Dubai-based Al-Arabiyya TV; and Mahmoud Abdalla, director of Middlebury's Arabic School and assistant professor and coordinator of the Arabic program at Wayne State University.

Abdalla, an Egypt native, will open the event with a discussion of the role of Arab media in shaping public opinion. He intends to discuss the linguistic and emotional challenges facing Arab reporters trying to cover war stories fairly. He points out, for example, that Americans are fighting something called the "War on Terror," but American and Arab audiences may not agree on the definition of "terrorism." He stresses that honest, accurate and knowledgeable media coverage is vital. Even one biased article based on misleading stereotypes "may bring Arab-American relations back 10 years."

That applies to Western journalists as well. Abdalla says he'd like to see more of them enrolled in his Arabic language courses. And he'd like to see ordinary Vermonters attend the symposium. "This is a wonderful opportunity for direct, face-to-face contact with a person, flesh and blood, an educated Arab journalist and reporter," he says of Al-Rashed, adding that he hopes participants "can ask what questions they have about the Arab world, or concepts like terrorism and jihad openly and freely."

Symposium on Terror and the Mass Media, Sunday, July 30, 8:30 a.m. - 6 p.m., Robert A. Jones House, Middlebury College. Info, 443-5510.

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