Arab Association celebrates culture

David Anderson

In the mid of internal troubles, members of the Arab Student Association are trying this week to erase negative stereotypes and celebrate Arab culture with the University community.
Nael Banat, the group’s president, said the association might disband because membership dropped significantly since its formation in 1997. In addition, the Arab community on campus failed to get its own cultural center last year.
On the other hand, computer science senior Wessam Sonbol from Egypt said the recent success of the association’s meetings and events might save the group from extinction.
The Arab association held a music-and-dance cultural evening Monday night at Willey Hall as part of the second annual Arab Awareness Week on campus. The event featured the Palestinian Dabkeh dance group Zahrat Al-Mad’in.
Jehad Adwan, a nursing graduate student and group member from Palestine, said the celebrations are meant to show what Arab culture really is.
“The Arab people share a similar, more than different, culture,” Adwan said. “We have our own perspective of seeing things and doing things.”
Banat, who is also from Palestine, said although most members are from North Africa or the Middle East, the association’s goal is to expose Arabic culture to University students and bring Arab students and American students together through events like Arab Awareness Week.
Banat said he hopes the events will help change students’ perception of Arab people, which he said is tinged by negative stereotypes.
“A lot of (University) students avoid us because it’s an Arab association, and they think of terrorists,” he said.
Hisham Khalek, a professor of Arabic language for the Department of Afro-American and African Studies, said cultures that are perceived as different from the dominant one are treated indifferently.
“A lot of people here don’t know about the Arab culture,” said Andrea Rauzi, a linguistics senior and U.S. native. “They have to see the good in Arabs because they’re some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”
In parallel, the association is working with other Arab student groups in the United States to organize a nationwide event next year.
Last year’s awareness week, which the group held at the end of May, was a success, and members hope to make Arab Awareness Week a tradition on campus.
Banat said even if the association disbanded next year, he plans to continue the awareness week as a group effort from some Arab students at the University.
Arab Awareness Week is sponsored by the Minnesota International Student Association and the Minnesota Student Association.
Other events this week are a picnic on the West Bank Plaza on Thursday and an Egyptian movie, “Ara’ Al-Balah,” which plays Friday at the Bell Museum.
The association will hold a forum today on the 1996 massacre of Palestinian civilians in Qana, Lebanon.
“Since we have a number of students that are originally of the Arab world, a celebration such as this is intended to bridge the gap for cultural understanding between the diverse student body,” Khalek said.

David Anderson covers international perspectives and professional schools and welcomes comments at [email protected]