Several University of Rhode Island student organizations will hold a discussion on conflicts in six Middle Eastern countries during an Instagram Live on Sept. 21 at 7:30 p.m.
During the “Let’s Talk Countries” event next Monday, Lulu Alryati, a junior nursing and political science major, will host a one-hour discussion about conflicts in Middle Eastern countries through the Brothers of a New Direction (B.O.N.D.) and Multicultural Unity and Student Involvement Council (M.U.S.I.C.) Instagram accounts. Alryati is the service and events chair for M.U.S.I.C.
During the conversation, Alryati will discuss the causes and impacts of modern conflicts in Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Yemen and Iraq.
“I feel like a lot of people don’t really know what’s happening, and when they do, it’s kind of miscommunicated through the media, especially American news,” Alryati said. “We decided that an [Instagram] Live would be a great start. It’s not very uplifting, but I don’t believe in the term ‘ignorance is bliss.’”
The discussion will also raise money for a GoFundMe, organized by B.O.N.D., to provide humanitarian aid to Middle Eastern countries. The Middle Eastern Student Association also previously held a fundraiser for Lebanon, and decided they wanted to continue holding similar events. Alryati explained that the current president of B.O.N.D. contacted her after the explosion in Beirut occurred to schedule this event.
Other multicultural organizations including: Alima International Dance Association, the Asian Student Alliance, the Black Student Union, the Middle Eastern Student Association, the Cape Verdean Student Association and Powerful Independent Notoriously Knowledgeable (PINK) Women will also be involved.
“I’m personally going to look forward to all of the [organizations] getting together virtually,” B.O.N.D. Treasurer Dennis Cardoso said.
He spoke of B.O.N.D. giving out meals, Alima doing performances about police brutality and lots of awareness videos made during the summer and his hopes for the semester.
“This is going to be the first of hopefully many virtual talks so orgs can give back to the URI community but also people of color,” said Cardoso. “The majority of multicultural orgs are people of color after all.”
Alryati explained that the COVID-19 pandemic has made decades-long issues in the Middle East even more complex.
“COVID is impacting everybody, but when it comes to quote-on-quote third world countries, I hate that term, they are very much suffering,” Alryati said. “When I’m talking about Yemen or Palestine, it’s really bad over there. They can barely handle their current crises. Like Lebanon for example, after the explosion happened, the COVID outbreaks were insane, but the hospitals were already full. And on top of that you had people injured by the explosions.”
One of the topics Alryati looks forward to informing others on is the Yemeni Civil War, which she said many Americans are not familiar with. To summarize the complex conflict briefly, pro-government forces and Houthi rebels both claim to be Yemen’s official government, and have been fighting since 2015, although the conflict’s roots date even before then.
“It’s quite honestly heartbreaking,” Alryati said of the Yemen conflict. “80 percent of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance. Women, men and children are completely starving with no access to food or clean water. It’s considered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis right now.”
Beyond getting informed and donating money, Alryati said that people can help by writing to elected officials. She said that the United States has played a role in some of the conflicts, and in others, she feels the United States can do more to provide humanitarian relief. She also explained that action comes less from signing online petitions, which she said don’t do much in terms of international affairs, but more in pressuring U.S. representatives to take action.
Katrin Jomaa, a professor of political science and philosophy with a focus on politics and religion in the Middle East, explained that many Middle Eastern countries prospered for centuries before being colonized by Western powers after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the 20th century. Even as these countries released Middle Eastern countries from their control, they still have interests in the region, particularly natural resources or need to compete for influence in the area.
“The problem with the current governments is that they came after colonization,” Jomaa said. “The colonial parties left physically, but they kept structures in power. And those structures are working more for outside powers than inside powers. And because of that, they are not working properly for the good of the people.”
She also added that other conflicts, particularly those of the 21st century, have much more modern roots.
“One of the main things that I hear students or people stay is that the conflict has been going on forever,” Jomaa said. “That’s a huge misconception; this is something very recent. It mainly started with the American invasion of Iraq. It started then because they toppled Sadam Hussein and it became a breeding ground for extremists and terrorists.”
Jomaa did not hear about the Instagram Live discussion until the Cigar reached out to her, but she said that she hopes to attend if possible. She agreed that becoming educated on the subject was important not only to understanding, but also to motivate students to take action.
“I think it’s time to educate the students about the situation,” Jomaa said.” Let them know what’s really going on through academic books and scholars. That should lead to change in government and leaders here who are so much involved. I think the perspective on things and what the U.S. is doing in the Middle East and being proactive as students and citizens, you have a say to actually say how you want your country to be involved in foreign affairs. There’s a lot of fallacies being circulated. I really like this initiative.”
Cardoso said he is looking forward to learning more about how to provide aid.
“I feel this topic in general is very quiet in the sense that people aren’t very informed or aware of the issues happening all over the Middle East,” Cardoso said. “Literally the only thing people can say of the top of their head is what happened in Lebanon, and only because it was all over Twitter. Lulu is very passionate, and will educate people on what they can do to help.”
Alryati hopes to start a separate Instagram page to make “Let’s Talk Countries” an ongoing series. She said she would like to discuss conflicts in countries beyond the Middle East on this page as well.
“‘I’m most looking forward to not even the amount of people that show up or the amount of money raised, but the fact that people can see it and what’s going on,” Alryati said. “People are becoming more aware of situations outside of the United States, not just our own bubble. Starting the conversation is beginning the journey of realizing that we with our privilege in this country have a responsibility to find ways to help.”