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Spreading Peace from Humboldt to the Middle East

By Sarah Hardy

Hayley Umayam is a melting pot of different cultures; a mixture of Filipino, Chinese, German, Finnish and Scottish. But like most students that are part of the Arabic Peace and Culture Club, she doesnt come from an Arabic background. Umayam, a junior French and international studies double-major, has been interested in Arabic culture since high school when a project on Darfur introduced her to African affairs. Seeing that Arabic culture can be so diverse and found in places like Darfur and Sudan as well as Iraq and Palestine really opened my eyes, she said. She attended two demonstrations last winter in Seattle at the height of the IsraelPalestine conflict. Seeing [the demonstrations] was one of the first times that Middle Eastern issues directly affected the people around me in terms of people I knew and could see and not just in the news, she said. When Umayam returned to HSU after winter break she joined the club in order to learn more about the history behind current issues. The club formed in the fall of 2008 as a way for students to explore Arab societies and learn about common misconceptions. The club encourages open-mindedness and awareness as a way to achieve peace with other cultures. Dan Duncan, a senior citizen taking classes at HSU, is a vocal member of the small club. Duncan began studying Arabic with a Palestinian man in order to read the Quran almost 40 years ago. Duncans world view changed when he heard the story of how his teacher was driven from his home in Palestine in 1948. Palestine is now a part of the country of Israel.

He believes clubs like the Arabic Peace and Culture Club and the message they bring are important in order to redress cultural blindness and acts done to people of the Arabic and Middle Eastern culture. He acknowledges his own background as a reason for joining the club. I was raised Americans are nice and then you find out that Americans are not all that nice, he said. Duncan is passionate about recognizing stereotypes of Arabic culture and the sometimes negative influences America has had on Arabic countries, particularly with its involvement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. There are only about 10 members officially in the club. Many of the members who joined last year have graduated or are studying abroad. Katrina Nystrom, a senior international studies major and the clubs president, said the current lack of students from Arabic cultures in the club is because meetings are held on Friday, which is a holy day in Islamic culture. The clubs meetings are held on Fridays this semester due to scheduling issues, but may change in the future. Members are eager to increase the presence of the relatively new club on campus. Future goals include fundraising in order to bring guest speakers to campus, as well as collaborating with other clubs, especially the Jewish Student Union, for events and discussions. The club also hopes to have Al-Jazeera air on local television in the future as another news source for students and locals. Al-Jazeera is the Middle Easts only independent news network. The network is a common source of information and reference when club members watch videos or have discussions. Its a controversial network, because most people dont support them showing videos of terrorists...[but] its a very professional, reputable and unbiased news source, said Umayam. It would let Humboldt students know so much more around them from an unbiased media source that doesnt cater to a Western agenda. Nothing has happened yet to achieve this goal, but club members are attempting to get in touch with local television networks.

Although the Israel-Palestine conflict is a very sensitive topic, Umayam believes that both sides working together for peace is extremely important, even if it only achieves peace and partnership between Arabic and Jewish cultures on campus. There are going to have to be compromises on both sides, but it doesnt mean that human dignity needs to be sacrificed, said Umayam about the conflict as a whole. Umayams favorite aspect of Arabic culture is the diversity found within the Arab world and over 200 million Arabs worldwide. I think the fact that most Arabs are not Muslim and most Muslims are not Arab is a very interesting misunderstanding, she said. Thats definitely one of my favorite things to tell people. The club meets every Friday from 3 to 4 p.m. in the Behavioral and Social Sciences building, room 406. It is open to anyone. The club will begin tabling on the quad to give students more information about meetings, events and Arab culture. Although most of the clubs members are not from an Arabic background, they are devoted to educating themselves and others about issues and facets of Arabic culture. The first step to peace is simple open-mindedness and understanding, said Umayam.