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Iranian Filmmaker Sarmast and Rapper YAS to Visit Campus

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March 26, 2009

This Friday, Swarthmore’s Middle Eastern Cultures Society (MECS) will be hosting a screening of Iranian documentary “Nobody’s Enemy” followed by a performance by the popularly-known King of Persian Rap, YAS [7 PM LPAC Main Stage]. The event, entitled “A Glimpse into Iranian Youth Culture” will showcase Iranian society from the perspective of its adolescents and college students, an angle often missed in the American media’s coverage of the country.

MECS co-presidents and event organizers Christine Ernst ’10 and Camilia Kamoun ’11 hope the event will educate the campus on how the majority of Persian society actually lives, what their young people do, dream of, and listen to. Nearly 70% of the Iranian population is under the age of 30, a statistic Ernst confirms is “due to the considerable violence in Iran’s recent past, so this generation is interestingly the only that has grown up entirely under the current government.” Samarsat’s hour-long documentary attempts to address emerging cultural phenomena of the large younger generation growing up in the relatively closed-off Iran.

Kamoun explains that “the overall purpose of the event is to expose students to a different side of Middle Eastern culture, one that’s not shown in the media…to, in a way, show the commonalities between people of the Middle East and people here and all over the world.” Both Ernst and Kamoun further pointed out that conceptions of Arabs and Iranians in particular are largely negative. “All you hear is: Iran is building nuclear weapons. Iran is part of the ‘Axis of Evil’,” Kamoun observed, “That’s just politics. It doesn’t really tell you anything about the country or its rich history or its people.”

“Quite frankly, there haven’t been Iranian events at Swarthmore beyond the political and religious rhetoric that surrounds it,” Ernst continued. Ernst said MECS was motivated to bring Sarmast because of how she showed that Iranian culture thrives despite the current regime. Through the national network of Americans for Informed Democracy, MECS was able to contact Sarmast for a screening on the film. As an added cherry on top, Sarmast mentioned that Yas, a well-known rapper featured in the film, could also visit Swarthmore before returning to Iran at the end of the month.

Yas’ career in hip-hop is intriguing solely because of its existence. In a country where public dancing is expressly forbidden and releasing songs requires permission from the government, it’s difficult to imagine a thriving rap scene. But Yas has done it and within the law. After repeatedly requesting to put out a few songs, Yas finally broke out onto the scene with a rap about the 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran. His lyrics are clean and largely non-provocative; the beat is extremely catchy and blends well with Yas’ flowing, rhyming Farsi. The event certainly promises to be exceptionally entertaining.

As for what MECS will be up to for the rest of the semester? The group hopes to release a documentary of their own, inspired by the “Obama Muslim Rumors” controversy this past fall, regarding local perceptions of Islam and Arabs which Kamoun hopes “will start to reduce the effects of negative stereotypes or at least get people to think more critically about what they see and hear”.

Other events in the making include more screenings and various cooking or artistic workshops. MECS was founded to expose the campus to various aspects of Middle Eastern Culture and has always been open to those who would like to share and/or learn more about the Middle East. If interested in joining MECS, contact Camilia or Christine at ckamoun1 or cernst1.