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(AUSTRALIA) Levant 2 Report: Ancient Arabic calligraphy was known for centuries as a work of beauty and sophistication, but its depiction was tainted by association with ISIS and terrorism, and a Syrian refugee aims to correct that #AceNewsDesk report

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#AceNewsReport: May.05: Mr Zoabe believes the calligraphy, which dates back to the third century, should be better understood: He suggests that when Australians see Arabic writing they are reminded of horror, and the “negative stuff being presented in the media”.

Arabic calligraphy reclaimed for art, peace and beauty by Australian Syrian refugee: ‘Amro Zoabe, a humanitarian refugee from Levant in Syria, believes the Australian media have done Arabic writing an injustice by repeatedly linking it with images of war and conflict in the Middle East, and spreading paranoia and fear’

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Posted 2h ago

Play Video. Duration: 2 minutes 34 seconds
Changing the script on Arabic writing(Sarah Moss)

Creating an online presence called Levant 2 Australia, Mr Zoabe aims to reclaim the art form by showcasing Arabic calligraphy on popular everyday products such as t-shirts, hoodies and mugs.

Examples of designs originating from Levant to Australia website
Professional calligraphers design the Arabic writing for t-shirts, hoodies and mugs with messages of peace and justice.(Supplied: Levant 2 Australia)

“It’s about using Arabic calligraphy in an artistic sense to communicate meaningful messages that reflect values that many people in Australia, and around the world, also share,” he said.

Feeling persecuted in Australian suburbia

Arriving in Australia in 2016 Mr Zoabe noticed people smiling at him, which he found heart-warming.

“You can imagine arriving in a new country, being afraid of the negative stereotypes that you carry with you, coming from the Middle East, and then realising that people are smiling to your face and being kind, being nice to you,” he said.

A young man wearing a green t.shirt depicting Arabic calligraphy shaped like a tree, stands underneath a tree.
Amro Zoabe hopes to change perceptions about Arabic writing.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

Unfortunately, this peaceful feeling did not last long.

“It really only takes one racist incident or one person not being respectful, and just stereotyping you to really ruin your experience, and for many people this experience happens to them,” he said.

Mr Zoabe said it may seem logical to make associations between disaster, terrorism and Arabic writing but it was not a good association.

A woman wears a shirt with Arabic writing on it.
Amro Zoabe outsources the initial design to artists in Syria but all other attributes are made in Australia.(Supplied: Levant 2 Australia)

“You would be sitting on your phone checking through Facebook [in Arabic] and someone next to you would be like, what’s that on your phone?

“And you look at their face and there’s no smile, there’s just fear or even in many cases, suspicion,” Mr Zoabe said.

Tired of feeling persecuted, he set about changing that narrative for all Australians.

“Do not feel suspicious, don’t feel fearful. Arabic writing is beautiful writing, it’s an art and we really want to be perceived this way,” Mr Zoabe said.

Sharing modern values

Isabelle O’Hehir met Amro Zoabe at the University of Wollongong, and consequently purchased a shirt.

“I have noticed people looking. I always give them a nice smile and kind words. I’ve been really proud to have this conversation now that I’ve learned more about this cultural problem Australia has,” Ms O’Hehir said.

A young woman wears a grey shirt depicting Arabic calligraphy
Psychology student Isabelle O’Hehir wears her Levant 2 Australia shirt with pride.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

Ms O’Hehir understood there had been mixed messaging in Australia and she agreed many Australians associated Arabic writing with terrorism.

“There’s a lot of fear and I think there’s still Islamophobia and otherness as well here.

“People have a memory of terrorism and since then there hasn’t been much discussion, especially in Australia, that I’ve heard,” she said.

Ms O’Hehir wanted to be part of the change, breaking down those barriers.

“There’s always negative news and I think people carry that in the world with them, so exposing people to something that is beautiful might subconsciously help them,” she said.

Products depicting Arabic calligraphy ‘offer hope’

A woman stands on the grounds of a university.
Karima Laachir says any attempt to highlight awareness of the language is an important endeavour.(ABC News: David Sciasci)

Associate Professor Karima Laachir, director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies in Canberra, said Mr Zoabe’s attempts to normalise Arabic writing in Australia, by creating products depicting Arabic calligraphy, offered hope.

“I think Arabic language has been hijacked by the way it has been deployed and used ideologically by various extremist groups in the Arab and Islamic world,” Dr Laachir said.

Dr Laachir said it was the language that brought the enlightenment to Europe, and Mr Zoabe’s work reminded Australians of that.

“I think what this young man is doing is quite important in bringing that awareness of the importance of language and its richness and beauty to the Australian public,” she said.

#AceNewsDesk report …….Published: May.05: 2021:

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