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October 1, 2014 at 10:56am

Olympia Arab Festival - peace be upon Shuruq II

Shuruq II will celebrate Arab culture from all 22 Arab countries. Photo courtesy of rachelcorriefoundation.org

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It's a story most South Sounders know well: on the afternoon of March 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old Olympian peace activist, planted herself in front of an armored Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza strip city of Rafah. She was in Rafah to aid the International Solidarity Movement, a nonviolent pro-Palestinian organization, and that confrontation resulted in her untimely passing. Yet a death sometimes brings new things to life, and so it was with Corrie: her activism and determination inspired the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, a grassroots effort that seeks peace in the Middle East and around the world. The group's mission includes "foster(ing) connections between people, that build understanding, respect, and appreciation for differences." In that spirit, then, the Corrie Foundation (along with numerous cosponsors and individual donors) presents Shuruq II, otherwise known as Olympia's second Arab Festival.

Shuruq is the Arabic word for sunrise. As used here, it evokes a new day in international relations and intercultural understanding. According to Masjid al-Nur, the Islamic Center of Olympia, the capital community boasts Islamic people of more than 25 different ethnicities, yet even in this liberal bastion Muslim culture seems poorly understood. The Corrie Foundation's Arab Festival proceeds from the belief that deeper understanding and appreciation puts many concerns to rest and engenders a sense of intercultural responsibility which, in turn, inspires greater activism.

Having said that, the festival is really about fun over anything else. The festival staff welcomes visitors at 11 a.m., followed quickly by a presentation of Gulf and Saidi (upper Egyptian) dancing by the Shahrazad Dance Ensemble of Seattle. House of Tarab, the band performing at noon, is a well-regarded septet of Egyptian-style magicians; the tarab in their name refers to the joy of being transported by the evocative power of music. The one-o'clock hour is devoted to Arab fashion. Belly dancer Sabura takes the stage at 3:15, followed by the Levantine folk dancers of Jafra Dabke at 4:45. The festival finishes huge when Al Andalus, an internationally recognized ensemble fronted by oudist Tarik Banzi, plays from 5:30 to 6:30. The Olympia Center will also host a half-dozen side presentations, including lessons in Arabic for people from kindergarteners to adults at 11 a.m.

Just don't get so wrapped up in the day's entertainment that you miss out on the food! The intersection of State and Capital Way is the site of the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural. This weekend it'll also host the "Mural Café and Hookah Lounge," a center of (as the Golden Arches once had it) food, folks and fun including more music and dancing. Here's hoping the café's menu includes harissa-spiced merguez sausage, a standout of north African Islamic cuisine, as it is just ridiculously tasty. And yes, there will be hookahs, so smoke 'em if you got 'em.

This Saturday marks the eve of Eid al-Adha ("Festival of the Sacrifice"), an Islamic holiday which honors Ibrahim's (Abraham's) obedience to the will of Allah. Eid al-Adha is a day of sacrifice, devout prayer, and charitable acts - but hey, there's nothing that says we can't get our party on the evening before.

OLYMPIA ARAB FESTIVAL-SHURUQ II, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. NW, Olympia, free admission, 360.754.3998

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