Dr. Entessar: Middle East Analyst in Demand
When one thinks about an expert on the Middle East and foreign policy one might not necessarily think the expert is also a connoisseur of American pop culture. However, Dr. Nader Entessar, department chair and professor of political science at the University of South Alabama, is truly unique in his balanced knowledge of international relations, foreign policy and cultures of the Middle East and United States. “The number of Iran experts in American universities has dwindled significantly in the past 30 years,” Entessar says. “As a result, most Americans who write about contemporary Iran are non-experts who work for ‘think-tanks’ or magazine/newspapers with a political agenda to push.”
Entessar was born and raised in Iran but has lived in the United States since 1966. He often participates in discussions broadcast on international TV and radio programs, especially those on the British Corporation (BBC), Voice of America (VOA) and programs based in the Middle East. Recently, he participated in programmed dialogues discussing Iran’s 2013 presidential election, Turkey’s foreign policy and the continuing political turmoil in Syria and Egypt. Regarding the recent conflict with Syria, he believes things will more or less stay the same in the immediate future, “The Syrian conflict will continue to go on with devastating impact on the ordinary citizens of that country,” he said. “Much of the Syrian opposition is composed of extremists who are being funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other pro-Western Arab dictatorships for reasons that are too complicated to explain here.” Entessar believes cultural understanding necessitates that experts must study a particular country for years to ensure they have real knowledge of that country. Experts are then in the position not just simply to parlay information but to provide decision makers with the wisest and best understanding of cultures because the experts are true scholars of particular countries. As Entessar asks, rhetorically, “Can you imagine somebody writing about the United States without knowing anything about U.S. culture, society or politics? Somebody who doesn’t read English or use American sources?” Entessar said.
Because he is familiar with both American politics and the Middle East, Entessar can “provide a nuanced analysis of the issues discussed and avoid presenting complex topics in black and white.” While there currently are many university experts on several Arab countries in the U.S., Entessar says that they tend to become outnumbered by the agenda-driven individuals outside the academic community that today dominate the public discourse. His experiences and knowledge has given him a unique balance of being an expert in the field of Middle East politics, but also American politics. He loves teaching American foreign policy because it is a “dynamic subject and deals with issues that affect everyday life in the rest of the world, positively or negatively.”
Entessar hopes students studying political science at South Alabama always remember to step out of their comfort zone and constantly question their way of thinking. He loves to experiment with innovative and different teaching methods and use new technologies in his lectures. He also likes to introduce primary sources into the classroom when discussing issues of American foreign policy. When talking about “the seminal role of the National Security Council Memorandum 68 in shaping the contours of American foreign policy during the Cold War,” Entessar says he refers “students to the actual document so that they can have a better grasp of why the U.S. Cold War policies developed the way they did.” When he is not busy teaching, Entessar enjoys keeping up with American pop culture and reading and following many things in this area. He relaxes watching classic cowboy and gangster films, Woody Allen comedies, and reruns of old detective shows like Columbo, The Untouchables, Dragnet and Matlock. “This may seem cliché,” Entessar says, “but we do live in a truly globalized world today. I hope that students will get a better appreciation of how events beyond their immediate lives can and do impact what happens to them.”