Student group promotes understanding on Middle East

In what’s being called a first on North American campuses, students at York University have joined together to promote peace and understanding in campus debates about the Middle East. For their first event “Peace is Possible”, members of Shalom-Salam@York invited noted scholar and former diplomat Michael Bell who will speak tomorrow, Jan. 21. The event begins at 4:30pm in the Founders College Assembly Hall, and is open to students and the public.

Shalom-Salam@York is led by an executive, including two co-presidents, Hina Khan and Miriam Yosowich, both students at York. The aim of the group, which numbers approximately 100 students, is to provide an alternative forum for discussion about Israeli-Palestinian conflict where supporters of both sides can meet to foster better relations in a more positive atmosphere.

“Our goal is to bring together students from the Middle Eastern community who can look past their political differences and work together for the sake of peace,” said spokesperson Rabia Siddiqui.

The former Canadian ambassador to Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Michael Bell is senior scholar for diplomacy at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. Professor Saeed Rahnema, political science coordinator at York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies and noted Middle East commentator, will also speak at the event.

Rahnema, who teaches “War and Peace in the Middle East”, encourages his students to work together and Shalom-Salam@York grew out of an end-of-the-year classroom debate. “I am delighted to see how these students, many of whom hold strong views on the subject, are now working together and have started a dialogue,” says Rahnema. “Unlike conflict and confrontation, peace requires partnership and, in order to foster partnership, a dialogue needs to be established. The students are learning the art of negotiation in practice and at the same time are contributing to peace on our campus”.

Shalom-Salam@York welcomes all students with positive and peaceful ideas for resolving Middle East conflict. As part of its strategy of promoting understanding, the group brings supporters of both sides together to work on events such as Wednesday’s inaugural discussion.

Following the talk there will be a reception featuring kosher and halal Middle Eastern food and music. Tickets are $5 ($3 for York students).