Middle Eastern Studies Forum: Peace through Arts

On the afternoon of April 11th, 2016, the Middle Eastern Studies Division at the School of Arts and Sciences held the last of its monthly MEST (Middle Eastern Studies) Forums of the 2015-2016 academic year, titled “Peace through Arts.” The event consisted of MEST students showcasing visual art, songs, poetry, dances, and food that symbolize peace.

The organizers, Dr. Nadia Wardeh and Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, began the event with short introductory speeches. Dr. Wardeh presented first a dictionary definition of peace: “a state of non-violence or truce” and stressed the importance for peace to become “the nature of the human state, not a temporary phase in human life.” She then emphasized the “ripple effect,” in which everyday actions such as a smile or a hug between individuals can easily lead to world peace. According to Dr. Wardeh: “To say it frankly, unfortunately, peace is what is missing in the world around us (…). In our war-torn world, it seems like there are no human values, thus, no peace. But today we want to prove that peace can be big and small, seen in the entire globe or in brief moments.  Indeed, peace is what we are doing today (…). Think of when you drop a stone in a pond. It generates a small ripple at first, but after a while, that little ripple spreads throughout the entire pond. Now, think of world peace. If someone apologizes to someone else, if someone smiles to someone else, if someone feels the meaning of the greeting he/she uses all of time, Peace be upon you, imagine what we can achieve!”

Dr. Chrabieh followed by specifying the fundamental motivations behind organizing this event: “The madness of some religionists who try to win followers by hook or by crook and the misinterpretation of sacred scriptures for various interests have led to religious persecutions and holy wars. Despite these terrible experiences, as Middle Eastern Studies faculty and students, we believe that religions’ fundamentals play an essential role in people’s search for inner peace and peace in society. We believe that war begins in the minds of people, therefore it is in the minds of people that peace should be constructed”. According to Dr. Chrabieh, the pillars of peace’s defenses are dialogue, education, mutual respect and conviviality. “Differences in religious beliefs and practices should not hinder the progress of many individuals and communities working for common causes such as the causes of humanity and peace. The Middle Eastern Studies division envisions an AUD community in which people of different backgrounds and identities live together in respect and mutual support, creating paths to peace. Today, we celebrate this vision and the initiatives of many professors and students who work in harmony and cooperate in the true spirit of service (…); we celebrate through various arts. Art has the potential to raise awareness. It also serves as an avenue for creative and collaborative learning, and engagement”.

Following the introduction that also included the recitation of sacred scriptures emphasizing peace by Dr. Wardeh and Dr. Chrabieh, Qamar Tahboub, student host of the day, announced the performances awaiting the participants: Christian and Islamic heritages in songs, Dabke dance as a symbol of unity in diversity, peace poetry recitation – from Palestine, Azerbaijan, Japan… – and self-produced poems by students. Hala Abulhawa’s poem for instance narrated her inner thoughts from when she was first introduced to the “Peace Through Arts” event. Abulhawa explained her initial difficulty in thinking about a way to represent peace, and finally concluded that “[she] realized [she] could not just find peace in the air […] it comes from within us.” Omar Shazly’s poem, written in Arabic, responded to the stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists, pointing out that the very name “Islam” is derived from the word “peace” in Arabic. Videos of all these powerful performances and more can be found on Dr. Chrabieh’s YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/nemr76

The final event of the forum was the “peace buffet,” in which food brought in by students from different cultures was shared. The students who prepared the food provided explanations on its meanings while serving it to their peers. The food was united under the theme of peace; some dishes are traditionally made to welcome visitors, and represent hospitality, while others are made on wedding days and represent joyful community occasions, or represent national unity such as Tabboule in Lebanon.

During the buffet there was a screening of videos created by Dr. Chrabieh’s Islamic Art and Architecture students. Participants were also invited to visit the art exhibition held at the entrance of the venue, which featured paintings, calligraphy, digital images, photography, and installations about peace, all created by Dr. Chrabieh’s students. Dr. Chrabieh shared also the story of a real life example of peace achieved through art. In Redlands, California, a mass shooting caused few months ago the rise of Islamophobia in the region. A good friend of Dr. Chrabieh, Katia Aoun Hage, organized an Arabic calligraphy workshop for students at the Grove School, a public school in Redlands. Ms. Hage is a musician, poet and art teacher, and used her artistic skills to teach the Grove School students the calligraphic strokes of the Arabic letters. During the session, Ms. Hage was able to deconstruct misconceptions and build bridges, truly embodying “peace art.”

The Forum and real life examples of peace achieved through various arts provided a hopeful conclusion to the semester, inspiring all individuals present to cast their own ripples of peace in the world. Dr. Wardeh concluded with a poetic note: “The MEST Division’s mission is to break any cultural, religious, ethnic, and social barriers among people and to build bridges of acceptance, tolerance, respect and appreciation of the “other”.  I had tears in my eyes and my heart danced while watching MEST students eagerly and actively contributing to and participating in this event. I can claim that today, we have succeeded in finding an amazing ideal kingdom of love and peace.  Our kingdom is composed of diverse musical notes which was built by each citizen in the MEST program. Today our message was: religions and wisdom command love, tolerance and forgiveness to bring the entire world together around peace”.

Dr. Chrabieh also concluded with the important function of art: “that of helping in creating and promoting a culture of peace; this culture is not something we wish for or an unattainable ideal; it is a culture we make, we embody and we share”.

Credits: Dr. Pamela Chrabieh and Ms. Haeley Ahn

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