The Arabs Students for Peace and World Change and UTMSU hosted an intellectual debate on Wednesday on the role of the Arab diaspora amid the populist uprisings in the Middle East.
Among the panelists were some prominent members in the academic and political arena, including NDP MPP Raed Ayyad and professor Rima Berns-McGown, accompanied by PhD candidates Mai Taha and Oscar Jarzmik. Professor Jens Hanssen, a Middle Eastern and international relations expert, facilitated the debate, which took place in the Instructional Centre.
“Out of all the universities in Canada, U of T prides itself on being one of the most multi-cultural institutions of higher education, and UTM perfectly exemplifies this fact,” said Mazin Hassan, a UTM student and the president of ASPAWC.
“In order to truly appreciate and admire the richness of this cultural diversity, debates and discussions on issues of diaspora are incredibly important,” Hassan said.
Dr. Rima Berns-McGown, a professor in the Department of Historical Studies and an expert on diaspora communities, echoed this sentiment and highlighted the importance of dual identities, which she considers a “conflicting yet rich space”. She urged the audience to form a “nuanced position” and to use their voices to spur change.
One of the central themes that emerged during the debate was the power of the West and the legitimacy of the United Nations as a peacekeeping institution.
Ayyad stated that the UN Security Council’s members that wield veto power are “flexing their muscles” when it comes to international affairs, whereas the panelists unanimously opposed any form of military intervention, for example in Libya.
The audience, mostly composed of Middle Eastern students, expressed their concerns and their opinions on the issue with a vast majority alleging that the hegemony of the United States is a primary obstacle in achieving peace in the politically volatile Arab world.
ASPAWC, a UTM organization whose mandate is to provide an arena for expression of cultural concerns, is hoping to organize another political debate in March.