Thursday, May 1, 2014

Beyond Ethnocentric Ideals

A Contributing Article by Mona Malik

The Mesopotamian Night 2014 production in San Jose which is set for June 21st will bring on stage a ballet theater presentation called “The Little Lantern”. This ballet is a creation of Sherene Melania as choreographer and librettist and George Somi as composer.  Below Ms. Mona Malik who is currently an instructor at SFSU and also serves as vice president of the Assyrian Aid Society of America provides her perspective on this production.

Mesopotamian Night’s upcoming production is one of the most progressive and enlightening artistic endeavors ever attempted by any Assyrian group. Acknowledging and collaborating with accomplished world-renowned literary works like Ghassan Kanafani’s The Little Lantern, situates us on the world stage. This gesture of embracing non-Assyrian literary works helps promote awareness not only to our small community but by the same token, it reveals our talents and accomplishments to our culturally diverse environments in diaspora.

Why are multicultural alliances vital to our community?

    They highlight mutual concerns rather than disparities. The Assyrian community is not exclusive when it comes to in-fighting issues and it seems to have increased dramatically in recent years. Through the arts, we can begin to develop an awareness of our similarities thereby transcending our differences within our community and cultural differences outside our community.
    They bring everyone to the table and take advantage of "strength in numbers." Since most groups have some community-wide concerns, it's essential to get them to the same table. Groups with a common purpose can exert greater influence and succeed when they unite and speak with one voice.
    They promote successful interaction and shared knowledge among groups. The first step toward understanding each other is mutual respect.
    They encourage healthy communities. Since we, in diaspora, live among culturally diverse populations, we need to reach out to our neighbors who have similar concerns. Caring about our neighbors builds a sense of community and unites us in solving community-wide problems. Pursuing the work of Ghassan Kanafani is a wonderful first step in our outreach toward one of our neighbors.

Kanafani portrays the trauma of life in exile using symbolism and metaphors to communicate universal themes of the human condition. Ghassan Kanafani’s writing transcended any political, religious and cultural issues. He created a language for people in exile, for refugees, for anyone who lost their home, regardless of ethnicity. He was a Universalist and he was always conscious of his responsibility as a writer/artist. Kanafani has a way of writing that is subtle and can be applied to many regions in the world, and he does this consciously to universalize the human sentiment and communicate vivid images of what it means to live under harsh conditions. Undeniably a sentiment that Assyrians are all too familiar with…the reality of displacement.

Yet, Mesopotamian Night selected a children’s story by Kanafani, The Little Lantern, which has inspired many to hope and dream. In the same manner that Kanafani conveys his message of human resilience throughout his novels, he illustrates the metaphor of breaking down walls to reach for dreams. Just as music is a universal language, likewise with Ghassan Kanafani’s writing, cutting across all borders.

I am proud to be associated with the creators of Mesopotamian Night and with all the talented artists working tirelessly to present a magnificent event. The Mesopotamian Night team have spread their wings to embrace and welcome great works of art into our community and Ghassan Kanafani is an ideal first choice…for the mere fact that he was a wonderful human being who promoted a high standard of values by virtue of his writing.

For more detailed information about Ghassan Kanafani, click on the following links:

Mona Rasho Malik
Assyrian Humanist

VP of Assyrian Aid Society of America
Born in Baghdad, Iraq
Delegate to the United Nations ECOSOC in Special Consultative Status
M.A. student at San Francisco State University – Humanities Dept.
Instructor at SFSU