Middle Eastern art groups cautious

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. _ As Arts and entertainment organizers cancel performances in the aftermath of Tuesday’s horrific attacks, Middle Eastern events in the Bay Area have the added concern of contending with backlash as suspicion begins to point toward Arab terrorists. Some have decided to cancel events amid concerns for their workers and attendants, while others see it as an opportunity for solidarity.

“In light of the horrendous national tragedy which has befell our free and benevolent nation, St. John Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church has canceled her planned Middle Eastern Festival which was scheduled to take place this weekend, September 15 and 16, 2001,” reads the cancellation notice for this weekend’s Orinda Festival.

The Arab Film Festival had already concluded a successful run in San Francisco and San Jose, but canceled its Wednesday through Sunday screenings at Berkeley’s Fine Arts Cinema.

Organizers behind both festivals made their decisions hours after the attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. “Being in Orinda, I don’t think there would have been any problems,” explains Jay Cawog, Danville resident and Orinda festival director. Still, “all it takes is one crazy person to go to the parking lot to break a few windows,” or worse.

Film festival founder Dina Saba agrees. “All it takes is one individual or one anything to cause pain or hurt the audience, and that kind of chance we did not want to take.”

Ironically, the purpose of the film festival for the past five years has been to “negate” stereotypes such as the one “that all Arabs and Muslims are terrorists.” Saba cited the support from the Berkeley community, “and that’s why we have our festival there. . . . (However) we didn’t want to take any chances.” The organization has already received hate e-mail along with supportive e-mail through its Web site.

The cancellations also allow time to mourn and pay respects to the victims of the tragedy, according to Julie Dudum, one of the Orinda organizers. “We had a world-changing experience this week,” she says and adds that the event would have been called off if it had been an Irish or Italian festival.

“We also want to send our condolences to all innocent civilians who are victims of these acts, all over the world,” Saba agrees.

The decisions have been met mainly with support and the acknowledgment that while evidence has yet to come in, blame is being laid upon Middle Eastern terrorists. Given past history, finger-pointing can become sweeping accusations. “Whoever did this horrible act . . . does not represent the Arab and Muslim community,” Saba says.

Later events scheduled to continue include Iranian.com’s sixth anniversary celebration Oct. 6 at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts in Berkeley.

“There’s no point in being defensive about this,” says publisher Jahanshah Javid. Muslims or not, “these were madmen who did this. We had nothing to do with it.” The San Francisco-based site has only received two hate mails, and Javid is sure he’ll get more later, but “we don’t want to hide anything.”

Anne Bluethenthal and Dancers’ dance piece, “Tears of Rock,” unites Jewish and Palestinian choreographers and musicians. The modern dance company will see how the events of the weeks develop, but for now the performance is still scheduled for Sept. 20-23, the “days of awe” between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, at the Dance Mission Theater in San Francisco.

“We hope people will come and see this as a vigil for peace,” Bluethenthal says, and to ensure that no group is singled out for blame.

“What better time than now to stand together against hatred of any kind?”


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(c) 2001, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.).

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