A newly organized student cultural organization promising cultural synergy and broad integration is facing heat from at least one student who claims they are contradictory in their club promotion.
Shawn Rizvi, a second year business and communications major, was looking to join a cultural group for Middle Eastern students in his first year, but couldn’t find one.
That’s when he took the initiative to start up the Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA) on campus.
What he didn’t know was that there already was an existing MESA at York.
“Last year was my first year, and I didn’t really know about [York having] a MESA at all,” said Rizvi, president of MESA. “I always had the idea to start one.”
The old club, he says, was not officially ratified when the new MESA came into existence.
The new group’s goal, explains MESA vice-president Mohamad Hneinou, is to show how diverse the Middle Eastern culture is.
“Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Iran and Iraq […] we’re going to show how diverse the Middle Eastern culture is rather than how the media portrays it,” he said, noting the significant social division among students from the Middle East was a difficult obstacle to overcome.
However, Noam Grysman – a student who identified himself as a former member of MESA – doesn’t think the club is working toward that the right way. He is particularly displeased with a plan to bring controversial author Norman Finklestein to campus as a guest speaker.
“When a representative of the newly formed group MESA came to my class early this year seeking group members for ratification, he painted a picture of a very new type of group at York,” said Grysman. “[They said] MESA was going to be the first apolitical Middle Eastern group on campus.”
Intrigued, Grysman said he was initially attracted by the social and cultural events that were planned for the year.
“[The representative] made it crystal clear that there would be absolutely no politics in the group,” he said. However, Grysman was soon disappointed when he saw posters advertising an event featuring Dr. Norman Finklestein with MESA’s emblem on it, and brought the issue to Excalibur.
MESA executives maintained they weren’t hosting the presentation, but were approached by the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East to see if they could play a supporting sponsorship role.
Members should come directly to them with issues of concern, they added.
“We have a quality control department where people can come to us with problems,” said Raymond El-Khoury, head of internal affairs of MESA. “This person should have come to us while we were tabling [if he had concerns].”
“I asked members of the board why they had lied to me when they were seeking ratification,” said Grysman. “The response I got was that I should read their constitution, and that it specifically mentioned that it was okay for them to bring in political speakers. After looking through their constitution, I have found nothing of the sort.”
Despite the allegations, the membership is at over 700 students, and is on the rise.
“There are over 400 different cultures across the Middle East,” said Rizvi. “But this group is not just for Middle Easterners. It’s for people who are interested in the culture as well.”
Hneinou explained that there are a number of extensive social events planned for student members throughout the year.
“We’re going to have a lot more organization, and we’re going to have a lot of events,” said Hnienou. “We had a multicultural week, a shisha night and guest speakers […] there are a lot of things coming up.”