Yesterday evening, the Lt. Governor delivered the keynote address at the welcome reception for the 18 international scholars visiting Seattle as part of the Study of the U.S. Institute, a prestigious exchange program administered by the U.S. Department of State.
The Study of the U.S. Institute, or SUSI, features a variety of programs for scholars and students, and is funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. For the first time in the history of the program, Seattle University is hosting the SUSI on Contemporary American Literature, and will provide academic curriculum, residency, and travel, for the 18 chosen international American literature scholars.
The Lt. Governor, who has a Master of Letters in English Literature from the University of Oxford, centered his speech on a quote by Edward Said:
“Critical thought does not submit to commands to join in the ranks marching against one or another approved enemy. Rather than the manufactured clash of civilisations, we need to concentrate on the slow working together of cultures that overlap, borrow from each other, and live together.”
As an undergraduate student, the Lt. Governor studied literature with Edward Said, and said that at the time of his studies – a time when the U.S. was invading Iraq, following 9/11 – that this quote had seemed incredibly timely. But today, he said — with the morning announcement from the Supreme Court that the Trump administration’s travel ban for six Muslim-majority countries would soon be significantly reinstated – the quote proved as timely as ever. Just as before, the Lt. Governor said, the American identity is again facing its uncomfortable sense of who constitutes the “other,” and who defines being “American,” a crisis magnified in today’s political climate.
Addressing the 18 scholars, each representing a different country, and Seattle University faculty and guests, the Lt. Governor asserted that the heightening national xenophobia is “another playing out of this false narrative – ‘this manufactured clash of civilizations.’”
Further, he asserted, “many Americans – even, I think, a majority of Americans – reject this ‘manufactured clash of civilizations.’” Of all the political outrages Americans have felt in the past 6 months, it was the travel ban, the Lt. Governor noted, that motivated people most to take to the streets in sustained protest.
The Lt. Governor recognized the strength of the SUSI on Contemporary American Literature program itself, which features a variety of literary perspectives on race, gender, religion, art, environment, and technology. The Lt. Governor urged the scholars present to take a comparative approach to their studies on these topics.
In closing, the Lt. Governor encouraged the scholars to share their knowledge, and their love of literature, with those around them. He asserted that their unique personal perspectives, and the unique literary perspectives they are able to share, have the potential to do enormous good for those who have not benefited from their education. Through this effort, he said, we can “make the calling of Said’s words a reality today,” and show how we can “live together – so we can avoid this ‘manufactured clash of civilizations.’”