Response to 'The Long Read: Opinion: "An Injustice to Syrians"'

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Having read the recent criticism of our Syria event published in The Cambridge Student, we thought it only appropriate to issue a short response to some of the claims made about the nature of our society and our affiliations. Dealing with controversial issues relating to the Middle East is a complicated business, and accusations of bias are essentially inevitable. That is likely why we are the first society in the University to dedicate our events exclusively to discussing the region's politics, inviting speakers from across the political spectrum, to speak at our events and engage with students and staff alike. The way we know we are doing our 'job' correctly is when we receive accusations of bias from both sides, which we are very proud to report as being the case. The accusation against our neutrality as a forum is unfair, based on information taken wholly out of context and impede what we maintain is a worthy goal: creating a space for real debate and dialogue in Cambridge about Middle East politics. 

We accept speakers and funding from across the political spectrum, all of which have different agendas and none of which we seek to promote more than others. Having accepted money from "Israeli interest groups" to fund events such as the hosting of the Israeli Ambassador does not make us any more beholden to "Israeli interest groups" than accepting money from sources sympathetic to the Russian government, the Kurdish cause, or any other, for that matter. We want to present a variety of viewpoints because we see value in broadening the discourse on campus. Moreover, we could have hidden our sources of funding but did not, precisely for the sake of transparency and because we do not seek to be 'subversive', but an open platform for discussion and debate. 

All members of our committee come from different walks of life, and have different political alignments and commitments - none of them are promoted through our society. Similarly, we are not beholden to any organisation including those listed in the article and because of that, we have the freedom to host whatever events we believe would best engage students. 

Regarding the Syria event, we have addressed the confusion that arose from it, clarifying that the event did not at all go as planned; the writers of the article clearly read the apology we put out immediately after the event. The event was indeed "co-opted by the veiled propagation of special interests", something we did not intend to be the case, immediately admitted to, and apologised profusely for. The suggestion that any of what happened was premeditated by the committee is both deeply hurtful and wrong. 

We are always looking for ways to develop our still-new society and to host events that will attract students from across the political spectrum. We are more than happy to engage in discussion and have, indeed, taken on the suggestions of our members. We really do thrive on constructive criticism and we found that taking it on made great improvements to our latest event, "Russia in the New Middle East" - ideas for improving format or interesting speakers you want hosted? Let us know. We want to know what people think of us, how to do better, and we intend to continue working to be an impartial platform for a diverse and exciting range of voices.

For all further enquiries, feel free to contact us at committee@cmenaf.org

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