Sponsored by the Turkish Student Association and Lehigh Dialogue Center, the program was held at Marywood University’s Learning Resources Center and featured Dr. Ömer Taşpınar, a faculty member at the National War College of the United States and a researcher at the Brookings Institution, and Ali H. Aslan, columnist and Washington, D.C., representative for the Zaman daily. Attendees numbered around 200 and included Marywood University President Anne Munley, faculty members, students and high-level officials from the city of Scranton, where the university is located.
Much of the conference was in question-and-answer format, with Aslan moderating. Overall, Taşpınar’s comments indicated that Obama’s efforts in the Middle East since taking office have positively affected the US’s image in the region. While noting the high expectations from Muslims due to Obama’s name and background, he noted that the US president also has an understanding of Islam and knows what he is doing -- and has the power to build a bridge between his nation and Islam and the Middle East.
“Turkish-US relations are very complex. Turkey is a very strategic partner for the US to bridge the West with the Islamic world, as it’s secular and the majority of population is Muslim, while it is more democratic than other Muslim countries. On the other hand, there are problems making the relationship a bit complex,” Taşpınar said. He noted the importance of Obama’s visit to Turkey as his first official visit to a majority Muslim nation, while noting that the people of the US, Turkey and the greater Middle East would have to be patient, as it will take time for Obama to progress on a number of issues.