Arab Fest celebrates diversity, showcases Middle Eastern cultures

Over the weekend, the Arab American Club of Knoxville and the Religious Studies department at the University of Tennessee held its fourth annual Arab Fest on pedestrian walkway.

The two day festival showcased food, dancing, crafts and various demonstrations of Arab and Middle Eastern cultures.

Erin Darby, assistant professor in the Religious Studies department at UT, is the co-coordinator of the event.

“It began when my students came back from their study abroad tour [in Jordan] in 2013, and they were frustrated that they didn’t have the ability to share their experience with the rest of the UT community,” Darby said. “So, between UT and the Arab American Club of Knoxville, what was a tiny, little baby idea sort of jumped forth into this crazy festival, and it’s gotten bigger every year.”

“It’s basically a way to share the best of Arab culture, not just with UT students but the whole community,” Darby said.

There were several booths lining the circle of pedestrian walkway. Authentic Middle Eastern food from Yassin’s Falafel House, Mirage and other individuals were available to attendees. People could also smoke hookah, get a henna tattoo or purchase authentic beaded home decor and clothes.

In the middle of all of the vendors was a stage for people to sing, dance and play Arab music. On Friday, there was a musician playing a doumbek, which is a style of Middle Eastern drum. Students were encouraged to come up and learn the Arab group folk dance dabke. There were plenty of smiles in the chain of individuals dancing around to the music both days of the festival.

Among guests at the event was the City of Knoxville Mayor, Madeline Rogero. When speaking to the attendees of the festival, Mayor Rogero admitted to this being her first year attending the festival.

“I love coming to our ethnic festivals in our city,” Rogero said. “Thanks to UT, and Tennessee Valley Authority, and Oak Ridge National Lab and a lot of our businesses here we are a very diverse city and I think it’s really important that we celebrate the diversity we have here.”

Some students like junior Jasmine Parks attended the event as a volunteer for extra credit.

“I just love cultural things,” Jasmine said. “Professor Darby asked that we all come out, and I did, and it is a lot of fun.”

For future Arab Fests, Darby would like to see more people come out and learn about Arab and Middle Eastern cultures.

If you have any interest in being involved with or helping plan future Arab Fests, you can email Darby at edarby1@utk.edu.

Featured image by Nima Kasraie, obtained through Creative Commons

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

Middle East discussion highlights region’s views on sex, media

The University of Tennessee’s Sex Week hosted a discussion in the Howard Baker Center with Drew Paul and Ayse Ikizler about Gender and Sexuality in the Middle East on March 7.  Ikizler started off the discussion by describing the term “Middle Eastern” to the audience.

Ayse Ikizler and Drew Paul spoke about Gender and Sexuality in the Middle East. TNJN/Alyssa White
Ayse Ikizler and Drew Paul spoke about Gender and Sexuality in the Middle East. TNJN/Alyssa White

“Middle Eastern is usually thought of as a more inclusive term,” Ikizler said.  “Depending on who you speak to, where they were raised or what country they are from can change what it means.”

“What is generally considered as the Middle East on maps includes parts of Europe, Northern Africa and even some parts of Asia, so you are really talking about a very diverse area of countries when you are referring to the Middle East.”

The discussion then moved to comparing sexuality among different regions.

“Sexuality is somewhat of a taboo subject in the Middle East just as in Tennessee,” Ikizler said. “It isn’t that different from what you see here.”

Drew Paul also spoke about how  stereotypical activities and individual preferences portrayed through the media may not be relevant or shared throughout all of that region.

“It’s much easier to generalize when you’re talking about a culture that’s not your own.  So I want you to keep this in mind as you think and talk about another culture, in this instance the Middle East, a society that we don’t know about, and that we might only know from the news media or whatever scattered information you may have gathered from here or there.”

Margaret Cross a senior studying English and German here at UT said that she agreed that Sex Week should continue this program next year.

“America is such a melting pot, and because of 9/11, and a lot of other historical events that happened here, we have a lot of stereotypes here about people from the middle east,” Cross said. “Being able to combat those with facts instead of just with what the media depicts to us will help us to understand and know a little more about where they are from will help us to build a better picture of what the world around us is actually like outside of what the media tells us.”

Edited by Maggie Jones