In the first Academic Affairs Table Talk of the semester, Professor Mitchell Orenstein of Penn’s Slavic Department delivered a lecture on the Syrian refugee crisis.
With a foggy, Philadelphia-skyline as backdrop, Professor Orenstein presented a powerpoint that covered the background of the situation. He opened by telling the attendees that his ten year-old daughter had confidently stated that if Trump were elected President of the United States, she wanted to move to another country. Though people tend to make these dramatic statements, in reality It takes much more for someone to leave their home. Professor Orenstein reported that after years of civil war, about 25% of Syrians have fled their home country; a phenomenon that is unprecedented in the post-world war II international community. Most have gone to Turkey, Lebanon, and recently to Eastern European countries. The extreme nature of this resettlement was shown in an image that depicted hundreds of Syrians walking across the border with literally only the clothes on their backs to begin their new lives. Perhaps most troubling about the crisis, the Professor noted, is that Western countries would likely not be so concerned were many of the refugees not seeking asylum in Europe. So far, European countries have failed to come up with a longterm solution to resettling the thousands of refugees that have arrived. The immigration crisis in Europe has destroyed a central tenet of European identity: the right to travel freely. Additionally, many European countries and leaders have come to appear racist and homophobic as a result of their reluctance to assist the refugees.
After delivering his lecture, Professor Orenstein took questions from an evidently captivated crowd. Tensions rose when questions concerned the United States’ policy in the Middle East arose. Professor Orenstein agreed that as long as the United States is reliant on Saudi Arabia for oil, it is unlikely that we will ever be able to truly disengage from conflicts in the region.
The Professor offered a gloomy outlook on the situation: there is no foreseeable solution, and Syria will most likely cease to exist as a result.
The event was an excellent kickoff to this semester’s Table Talks. Thanks to Academic Affairs for organizing!