The Arab Students Association-International Students Organization (ASA-ISO) mixer this past weekend was not about celebrating the death of thousands in the face of change. It is regrettable that Benjamin Preminger insinuated in a column Friday (“Less party, more earthquake,” Feb. 25) that we are jubilant because “countless bereaved families mourn over the bodies of their loved ones.”
Many of us in the Arab community at Yale have lived through times where we had to make the choice between political action and passivity. We have lost family and friends to war; we have lost others to supposed peace. Many of us attended peace protests before we could walk and have organized more since coming to Yale, and we don’t plan on stopping in the near future. Students in our community grew up during political unrest in Bahrain in the 1990s, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the Palestinian Intifada, the 2006 Lebanon-Israel War and the Gaza War, to name a few. Thus, the Arab community at Yale is a living embodiment of the values that Preminger describes as the environment he himself grew up in. In the face of injustice, the Arab community at Yale is more than well aware that “one must act, unequivocally.”
It is surprising that Preminger feels the need to use this single party as an example of what people are not doing. The ASA is extremely active politically. We have hosted everything from plays about peace to protests, panels, workshops and lectures featuring prominent political activists. The ASA has consistently strived to inform progressive action through varied media.
For instance, in response to the current wave of non-violent protests that are fundamentally remolding the Middle East, the ASA decided to completely reorganize the initial schedule of political events it had mapped out for the semester.
On February 7, ASA members were deeply involved in the demonstration on Beinecke Plaza in solidarity with the Egyptian people organized mainly by members of Students for Justice in Palestine.
On February 8, the ASA collaborated with the Council on Middle East Studies (CMES) and several other major organizations on campus to hold “Teach-in: Current Unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.” The well attended teach-in brought together experts from both Yale and Harvard, and was broadcast on Yale’s YouTube channel.
Today, we encourage everyone to attend a lunch discussion co-organized by the ASA and the CMES entitled “Tense Tehran 2009, Critical Cairo 2011: Social Unrest and Popular Revolt in the Middle East,” to be held at noon in Luce Hall, room 202. The discussion will feature journalist Iason Athanasiadis, who covered the elections in Iran in 2009 and who was in Tahrir square for the Egyptian revolution of 2011.
Throughout the rest of the semester, too, the ASA has planned a Teach-in series that will include speakers from Yale and elsewhere and deal with Middle Eastern issues from a variety of perspectives. The first, on Bahrain and the Persian Gulf, is scheduled for March 24.
Finally, we are contacting students in Manama and Cairo, and hoping to organize video conferences that would be open to the Yale Campus, in order to complete the scope of coverage of the unrest in the region and ensure that the voice of those protesting daily on the streets of the Arab world are heard.
Our region is finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The intent of the barbaric attacks conducted by Col. Muammar Qaddafi on his own people is clear. Similar to the multiple attacks conducted during the Lebanese, Egyptian, Tunisian and Iranian uprisings, these attacks do not detract from the undeniable fact that these movements are something we will be proud of and continue to celebrate. Regarding the mixer itself, we had initially decided to hold it as a celebration of the ousting of two long-time criminal dictators in Egypt and Tunisia. When the events in Libya took the deplorable turn they did, we had to reevaluate hosting the party. But the crimes of barbaric dictators should not prevent us from celebrating the yearning for a life finally free from injustice and illegitimate authority.
From people in the “Pearl” Roundabout in Bahrain to people in the streets of Algeria and Morocco, these Arab peoples have decided to take their fates into their own hands after more than five decades of oppressive and dictatorial rule. Some of them have achieved tangible, irrevocable results, and some of them, we hope, will. We are aware of the fact that the situation is very difficult, and that people are falling on the road to freedom. But by no means, as you may infer from the multiple events we are organizing on campus, are we saying that celebration is the only thing that we should be doing. The desire to hold the event simply shows that the sentiments of the Arab community at Yale mostly mirror the general mood of the Arab World today: a complex juxtaposition of long-yearned for agency, hope and enthrallment on one hand, and grief and sorrow for the martyrs of freedom on the other.
Samer Sabri is a sophomore in Saybrook College and the political chair of the Arab Students Association.