By Amanda Hunt
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Kristin Wolff is not another foreign leader making history by shaking Yassir Arafat's hand.
Wolff, a University of Arizona graduate student, had the opportunity to meet and talk to Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, as part of her summer trip to Tunisia.
Wolff was an escort for a month-long study tour sponsored by the National Council on US-Arab Relations. The council is a non-profit organization based in Washington D.C. that provides educational programs for teenagers.
The study tour group consisted of 10 high school students from across the country who were awarded the Malcolm H. Kerr Scholarship in Arab and Islamic Studies.
Kerr's wife established the scholarship to enable students to tour Arab and Islamic countries in order to increase understanding of their cultures, Wolff said.
The tour consisted of a combination of lectures, language classes, cultural excursions and other activities throughout the country of Tunisia, Wolff said.
The high point of her visit, Wolff said, was meeting Arafat at the PLO headquarters in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. The group spoke to him for two and half hours. She said it is unusual for a world leader to take that much time out of his day to speak to a group of students.
"I was surprised at how frank he was. I expected to him to go on and on about 'the rights of the Palestinians' but he was very open and spoke English very well," Wolff said.
"It was a neat experience," she said.
The group also spent two days at the Tunisian Parliament. Huda Kanoun, a female member of Parliament, spoke with the group and was also open and frank, Wolff said. "I was so impressed by her. We could ask her anything."
Wolff visited Tunisia three years ago during the Persian Gulf War, and also prior to this spring's peace treaty between the Palestinians and Israel. She said she found everyone to be hospitable and embracing on both occasions.
The services the council provides include lectures, interviews with papers and other educational activities to inform people about Eastern cultures and diminish stereotypes and fears about them, Wolff said.
Wolff compared this problem with her own experience. When she tells someone she is a feminist who studies the Middle East, they ask her how she can do both. "There are different means of oppression," Wolff said.
As an example, women losing their jobs after taking maternity leave in the U.S. is not progressive, she said.
Wolff said that she believes Americans are fooled too much by symbols, that they see a woman wearing a veil and assume she is oppressed. "The veil is not a big decision [to Islamic women]. It is their identity," she said.
Wolff also said for many women it is quite practical. For a woman working outdoors in such hot climates "a veil is the best way to keep your hair out of your face."
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