Students Raise Iranian Voices

The Middle East has been the subject of negative political coverage for a number of years, according to the Center for Middle Eastern Dialogue. This year the Center held an event on April 9 in Parker Theatre called “Voices from Iran: Contemporary Literature and Music” to expand discussion.

This event focused on musical and literary works from or about Iran whether written originally in English or translated from Persian. There were two speakers intersected with performances of Iranian composed piano music by Ariana Barkeshli, music educator and scholar.

The main goal of the event was to enhance the cultural dialogue between America and the Middle East as well as for the New Paltz community as a whole, according to James Schiffer, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Schiffer established the Center for Middle Eastern Dialogue during the 2008-2009 academic year.

“The center provides a forum for students faculty community members scholars and diplomats from various points of view to exchange ideas in a respectful way that will promote regular understating of this complex and often volatile region if the world,” Schiffer said.

Schiffer said their first event was in April 2009 focusing on U.S. policy in the Middle East, 2010 was about Islam and the world order and 2011 was about diversity in the Middle East whereas this year’s lecture focused more on scholarship and writing.

The first speaker was Manijeh Nasrabadi, a doctoral student at New York University and co-director of the Association of Iranian-American Writers. She read the first chapter of her memoir, “A Far Corner of the Revolution,” which was published in Callaloo in 2009.

The first chapter of her memoir described her relationship with her Iranian immigrant father who returned to Iran for the revolution, when she was three years old. Nasrabadi said he encouraged her to take part in activism at a young age by singing a song called “Funeral of a Revolutionary” into a tape recorder, even though she did not know Persian.

The message of dialogue and activism guided the night of events. Nasrabadi was followed by a lecture by Dr. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, professor and director of the Roshan Center for Persian Studies at the University of Maryland.

His lecture, titled “In Search of Responsive Understanding: Iranians Bring their Story to the World,” featured excerpts from Iranian writers and interpretations of their work. He said information like this is essential to understanding a country’s national and international circumstances.

“Events of this nature are really what makes a university a university,” Karimi-Hakkak said. “It is a different part of the community exacting lessons in various ways.”

The next event by the Center for Middle Eastern Dialogue will be “Back from Oasis: Oman From the Perspective of Educators,” a series of panels on April 26, from  2 to 6  p.m. in Student Union Room 100.