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Hamoud Salhi: Working to Demystify the Middle East



Photo by Joanie Harmon

Hamoud Salhi: Working to Demystify the Middle East

Hamoud Salhi, assistant professor of political science at California State University, Dominguez Hills, presented “Sunni and Shi’ia: What’s the Problem and Why it Matters” at The Center for Religious Inquiry in Los Angeles last month. In trying to demystify issues surrounding the Middle East, he says that his insider’s perspective from having lived in an Arab Muslim country benefits his students.

“The fact that I lived in the Gulf region, which is totally different, adds the idea that the Middle East is not just a single unit, it’s not homogenous,” says the native Algerian, who serves on the advisory board for the Center, an interfaith educational organization that explores the relationships between religion, spirituality, and politics.

Salhi points out the stereotypes that perpetuate a certain image of the Middle East saying, “We really come to know foreign countries through crisis and the down side to that is that we’re controlled by the media and scholars who label certain groups.”

Such has occurred in the years following the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. Shortly after 9/11, Salhi began hosting a show on the Middle East on CSU Dominguez Hills’ cable station, DHTV, where he was able to bring different sides of controversial topics to the local community via the university.

“We used to get a lot of [viewers] to call in who were interested,” he says. “One week, I interviewed the Israeli consul on the air. The next week, we brought a Palestinian representative on the show. We did that for many years. We were very happy to get that balance. We all have our biases. But as long as we know where we come in, it’s fine.”

Salhi came to the United States in the early 1980s on a scholarship from the government of Algeria. He studied at the University of Southern California and was one of only four students from the political science school at the University of Algiers chosen to receive the scholarship. Having originally aspired to a diplomatic career, he turned to teaching as a way to extend his visa while a graduate student at USC working on his master’s. He began his career at Dominguez Hills as a lecturer in 1989 and has taught here regularly over the last 19 years.

“I was trying to find a way to extend my stay until Algeria was done with terrorism,” he says. “I really, really like the environment here. I’ve taught at many other places like USC and Loyola. I like it because I think the students are real.”

Salhi, who teaches a model United Nations course, enjoys the diversity of the student population at Dominguez Hills and says that it plays a big role in his classes. He also underscores the importance of being able to resolve issues quickly, regardless of the parties involved.

“The multi-diversity is excellent here, but we have to know how to handle it,” he states. “When I taught intercultural communication for three hours in summer school, the students would leave class happy. Why? Because we were able to explore issues and come to resolutions.

“When I taught it during the fall semester, it was a disaster,” he continues. “Classes were one hour and 15 minutes, so when we started to talk about an issue, we wouldn’t finish it. They would leave angry. So I learned that time is a factor.”

The advisor to the Association of Political Science Students at Dominguez Hills, Salhi is planning several forums on the presidential election, gender, and race for this semester. He is heartened by the increase in voter participation this year, particularly at the primaries, saying, “I think for the first time, Americans are realizing that their vote matters. My argument is this: if you have a problem with one perspective, it’s your turn to present your perspective. So in other words, let’s all be active [participants].”

Salhi is currently a columnist for the Algerian newspaper El-Khabar and the Gulf News in Dubai. He is a regular political commentator on Algeria National Television and Radio. Last year, Salhi contributed “Assessing Theories of Information Technology and Security for the Middle East” to the book, International Relations and Security in the Digital Age, published by Routledge . Additionally, Salhi’s review of History and the Culture of Nationalism in Algeria by James McDougall, was published in the winter issue of Middle East Policy last fall. He also wrote an endorsement of An Introduction to the Middle East by David Sorenson and uses the text in his classes.

- Joanie Harmon and Amy Bentley-Smith

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2008, 2:41 p.m., by Joanie Harmon