“So why is it important to learn about Arabic culture?” I ask.
Eastern student Maddy Lee smiles. “I’m very interested in the idea…of getting us out of our own heads and our cultures,” she says. Lee is a member of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Executive Council at Eastern University. The Executive Council is part of AEI, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C. As a Christian college, Eastern is a member of AEI’s Values and Capitalism chapter.
Eastern students Maddy Lee and Liz Margolis formed the Executive Council with the goal of fostering conversation on issues of public policy and economics on campus. As they discussed what they would like to accomplish through the Executive Council and considered what types of events they might like to hold this semester, political science professor Alexios Alexander brought Philadelphia nonprofit Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture to their attention. Lee explains that the goal of Al-Bustan, which means “garden” in Arabic, is “to promote Arab culture through education and language.” The opportunity to partner with this organization was of interest to Lee, so she decided the Executive Council would facilitate groups of Eastern students and faculty to attend an Arab arts and culture festival hosted by Al-Bustan, as well as a leadership dinner at which Al-Bustan representatives were present.
Eastern’s political science department helped the Executive Council coordinate a group of students to attend Al-Bustan’s Arab arts and culture festival. The event, which took place on Saturday, Oct. 1 in Philadelphia, featured various presentations, including a drum circle, quartet and choir; stations, one at which participants learned how to write their names in Arabic; and lots of delicious Arabic food.
On Thursday, Oct. 13, the Executive Council again partnered with the political science department to take a group of Eastern students and faculty to a leadership dinner hosted by Al-Bustan. The dinner was held at Philadelphia restaurant Aloosh, where attendants met representatives from Al-Bustan. They heard from Hazami Sayed, Executive Director; Max Dugan, Program Coordinator; and Adam Amin, Marketing Associate.
The Al-Bustan speakers addressed the topic of Middle Eastern politics on a global scale as well as the work Al-Bustan does at the local level. Amin and Dugan spoke on the subject of politics in the Middle East, while Sayed spoke about the founding of Al-Bustan and their work with Syrian refugees. Sayed also addressed “how recent anti-Muslim sentiment has affected her work.” Eastern’s group took the opportunity to converse with Arabic people as they enjoyed a variety of Arabic food.
In speaking about the importance of these events, Lee says, “I think that having these conversations is important, and bringing together people from other cultures…is vital.” She believes Arabic people are often “demonized in the media” and emphasizes that learning about Arabic culture helps people see the ways in which we have “similar ideologies” and “shared values.”
Lee shares that Eastern’s Executive Council plans to host several events each semester, including debates, panels, lectures and leadership dinners. She expresses her desire for Eastern students and faculty from all academic departments to attend these events and for any department, club or organization interested in issues of public policy to partner with the Executive Council and host their own event.
Lee hopes that all members of the Eastern community, regardless of their perspective on these issues, will come to these events with open minds.
“People who disagree with us? Awesome–come,” Lee says. “It’s a great experience to learn from people who are different from you.”