Arab student group is reborn after five-year hiatus

After a five-year hiatus, the Arab Student Association re-organized last month and plans to soon bring events, parties and awareness initiatives back to campus.

ASA, which disbanded because of lack of membership, now plans to jointly promote both cultural and political aspects of the Arab world while providing a voice for its members to share their traditions and opinions on current events.

“We thought it was important to have an active Arab student body on campus because there is so much interest in the Arab world in general in such a political campus and unfortunately there are many misconceptions on the identity of Arabs,” said ASA President Amal Daher, a senior.

Daher helped restart ASA with recent graduate Mohammad Khateeb after deciding that the large number of Arab students on campus needed to have stronger, united presence. Through mass e-mails and Facebook invites, ASA’s first meeting in March 2006 brought almost 50 students together. They now have about 70 members.

While Arab students join other groups on campus, ASA leaders said their organization is a unique blend of other organizations including Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association.

“MSA does not aim to promote Arab culture, and ASA does not promote Muslim beliefs or Islam. The two groups are entirely different in their purpose and objectives. However, if there is an event that combines the two’s goals we would want to co-sponsor with MSA,” Daher said.

As the lone ASA member at GW over the summer Daher organized a panel discussion on the war in Lebanon during the height of violence. About 70 people attended the event from GW and surrounding D.C. areas, George Mason University and University of Maryland.

In November ASA hosted a Hafla, an Arab party, with Arabic dancing and food. Over 300 people attended the party including students from similar organizations at UMD, GMU, American and Georgetown.

“All of our events are open to anyone in the D.C. area and its surrounding communities. At our last Hafla a couple of walk-ins came … they learned more about Arab culture beyond the war-torn countries that are seen on TV,” said vice president of the group John Sakakini, a sophomore.

“With many students majoring in International Affairs, Political Science and Middle East Studies at GW, Arab culture is a hot topic,” Sakakini said.

While stressing the importance of cultural awareness and enrichment, ASA does not shy away from politics.

“It would be misleading and incomplete to just focus on the cultural part. We basically just want to portray all aspects of the Arab world,” Daher said. “When you are Arab, talking about politics happens naturally.”

As part of one of ASA’s original goals, its leaders hope to expand an internship network for members who want to work in the Middle East.

On March 23, ASA will be screening “Shoot the War,” a compilation of short movies produced in reaction to the war in Lebanon, in the Marvin Center.

ASA will be co-sponsoring OneVoice on March 26 with Students for Justice in Palestine, the Jewish Student Association and Middle East Peace Group. Arabic dancing classes will take place April 6 with professional instructors teaching both Belly Dancing and Dabkah. Throughout the last week in April, ASA is hosting its first Many Faces of Arabs Week, featuring movie screenings, an art exhibit by Arab artists in Kogan Plaza and a Halfa.

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