Arab Fest 2014: (2: Groundbreaking minority comedian Dean Obeidallah headlines Arab Fest Panel Discussion)


(Panelists pictured above are, from left to right, Dean Obeidallah, co-founder of the  highly regarded New York Arab-American Comedy Festival; Steven Salaita, an English professor in the Virginia Tech English Department; Brian Bolton, Director of the Cranwell International Center and MC of the event; and Hannah Benninger and Nadine Sinno, Arabic Professors in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.)

Dean Obeidallah  (دين عبيدالله‎), an American comedian of Palestinian-Italian descent, was one of four panelists “breaking Arab stereotypes” in the University Libraries Multipurpose Room (MPR).

Comedy accompanied scholarly discussion last Thursday evening in the MPR. While three faculty panelists manifested Virginia Tech’s expertise in Arab culture to a diverse audience of about 75 persons, Mr. Dean Obeidallah, an Arab-American comedian born in New Jersey, peppered the evening with jokes that artfully nailed down misconceptions. Dean, who appeared on Comedy Central’s critically acclaimed “Axis of Evil” special, demonstrated that laughter can facilitate truly effective learning.

The panel thoughtfully examined stereotypes concerning Arab women, provided insights into what it’s like being an American living in the Middle East and North Africa, and told stories about overcoming obstacles as a member of a minority group in the USA. The panelists encouraged Arab Americans to strive, in whatever professional capacity they can, to influence the national media’s depiction of them. Much like other minorities, there is a need to inform mainstream America about the valuable contributions and intellectual beauty of Arab cultures. Noha Elsherbiny, Egyptian engineering student and chair of the Arab Fest 2014 Committee, summarized the panelists’ viewpoints as follows:

  • Dr Sinno talked about stereotypes of women in the Arab world. Women are sometimes viewed as victims of oppression for wearing the veil and those that leave their countries are thought of as people who have fled oppression. Dr Sinnott discussed the roots of the negative stereotypes and how to avoid them.
  •  Dr Benninger discussed her experiences in the Arab World. She refuted the common stereotype that it’s not safe, or that Arabs hate Americans or the stereotype that Arab men are predators. She described her positive experiences in Beirut, Cairo and Amman shedding light on some aspects of the Arab culture.
  •  Dr Salaita outlined the negative stereotypes of Arabs post 9/11 and the difficulties faced by some American Arabs. He described the different ethnicities of American Arabs, how they are unique yet similar and how Arab Americans view themselves as part of the American community while holding onto the pride of their heritage.
  •  Dean Obeidallah gave an entertaining view of Arab stereotypes in the media where he relayed some of his own experiences as a comedian and journalist living in New York. Dean expressed the importance of combating these stereotypes by having more Arab figures in the media.