10 Arab TED Talks You Must See
By: Riley Bryant / Arab America Contributing Writer
One pops up on your YouTube explore page and every so often, one makes the news. If you went to school in the US, I can guarantee you had to watch one in class. Maybe a Facebook friend reposted one they felt had a powerful message. Regardless, if you are ever on the internet, odds are you have come across a TED Talk at some point.
The premise is simple: you have 10 to 20 minutes to get on your soapbox and deliver a well-prepared presentation on just about anything: there are TED Talks on topics ranging from the next scientific breakthrough, to current events, to my personal all-time favorite, Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator. TED’s mantra, “ideas worth sharing,” is practiced across the globe as the organization seeks to promote the free sharing of information with as few limitations as possible. With the right team, anyone can organize a TEDx event and give a Talk; in fact, I personally did just that in 2021 with my Talk on the impact of color on Arab Spring photojournalism.
Since TED can have such a profound impact on the representation of a particular idea or demographic, it is critical that they are spread to as wide an audience as possible. With the mission of TED in mind, here are Arab America’s top picks for Arab “ideas worth sharing.”
Don’t Erase Me: The Modern Arab American | Jeremiah Stinnett, TEDxOhioStateUniversity
Jeremiah (Jerry) Stinnett, born and raised in Del City, Oklahoma, has a Bachelor of Arts in Human Relations with a minor in English from the University of Oklahoma. His work focuses on supporting low-income and marginalized communities by creating opportunities and access through education. In this talk, Jerry details his experience growing up Lebanese-American during and post-9/11, and how he can’t “just be white” despite everyone from the census to his peers telling him otherwise.
How I’m using LEGO to teach Arabic | Ghada Wali
Egyptian graphic designer Ghada Wali resolved to represent her culture in a fun, accessible way after being bombarded with fear mongering messages about the Arab World. The result: a colorful, engaging project that uses LEGO to teach Arabic script, harnessing the power of graphic design to create connection and positive change. After all, “graphic design can change the world- you just need someone to take a glimpse, feel, and connect.”
I love America | Amer Zahr | TEDxDetroit
Amer Zahr is a Palestinian comedian that uses his skills to tell stories of his experience growing up Arab American. In this Talk, he criticizes the media’s portrayal of Arabs as exaggerated, stereotypical, and downright damaging, citing instances like Ahmed “Clockboy” Mohamed’s viral arrest during school hours. Through a series of deeply relatable personal anecdotes and impeccable comedic timing, Amer laments that “I love America, I just wish she would love me back.”
What Islam really says about women | Alaa Murabit
Alaa Murabit’s family of 13 moved from Canada to Libya when she was 15. Before, she’d felt equal to her brothers, but in this new environment she sensed big prohibitions on what she could accomplish. As a proud Muslim woman, she wondered: was this really the religious doctrine she was so devoted to? With humor, passion, and a refreshingly rebellious spirt, she shares how she discovered examples of female leaders from across the history of her faith — and how she launched a campaign to fight for women’s rights using verses directly from the Quran.
Trusting the Process | Ahmed Mohamed | TEDxYouth@DPSMIS
Remember “Clockboy” from Amer’s “I Love America”? Dive deeper into that story with Mohamed’s own Talk on his experience, who wants to reiterate: “one incident does not define who I am.” Although he might not be the most dazzling speaker, his message of moving on from past experiences and not letting other people define you is a powerful one that is especially powerful on the backdrop of Mohamed’s fight against Islamophobia.
Misunderstanding the Middle East | Frank Gardner OBE | TEDxYouth@Bath
Why would Frank Gardner want to return to the region where he so nearly lost his life? BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner is fascinated with the Middle East, choosing to study the region in school and live in Jordan for a period of time. However, in 2004, Frank and his cameraman Simon were ambushed by terrorists while filming in Saudi Arabia; Simon was killed and Frank survived with extensive injuries. After recovering, he was awarded the OBE by HM The Queen in 2005 for services to journalism, awarded Honorary Doctorates of Laws by six British universities and voted Journalist of the Year in the European Diversity Awards.
In his Talk, Gardner talks about his connection to the Arab World, why he loves this misunderstood and much-maligned region, and why young people should take up languages and travel the world. Gardner assures the world that the Middle East is so much more than the terrorism that consumes the news outlets rather, it is a region rich in diverse cultures with so much more to offer the world.
The Punk Rock Hijabi | Sara Salmani | TEDxTurku
Sara Salmani is a Muslim activist, who is passionate about creating work that breaks stereotypes. Her Talk details her endeavors to destigmatize the image of the hijab post 9/11, while also fighting against society’s expectation that one person can be an accurate representation of an entire community. She seeks to empower Muslim women to “take control of the narrative” and break past the generalizations that might hold them back.
An Immigrant Love Story | Amer Zahr | TEDxDetroit
A familiar face, it was impossible to narrow down Zahr’s several fantastic Talks to just one, so Amer’s quippy anecdotes are back with the story of his refugee parents and their wholesome love story of overcoming barriers and facing the unknown in the pursuit of a better life. This time around, Zahr is standing up for the refugees that get beaten down and discriminated against, saying “Refugees might stumble, but they make it work.” Don’t underestimate the refugees- they have already proven they are capable of achieving anything they put their mind to.
What it’s like to be a parent in a war zone | Aala El-Khani
Dr. Aala El-Khani is a Syrian-British psychologist who has dedicated her professional career to supporting mothers and children affected by the current Syrian crisis. During the course of her research where she supported — and learned from — refugee families affected by the civil war in Syria, she asked: How can we help these loving parents give their kids the warm, secure parenting they most need? In this warm-hearted talk about family and supporting your fellow human, El-Khani emphasizes the practical application of the saying “it takes a village” and how one can support those in unfortunate circumstances where they need it most.
What it’s like to be a Muslim in America | Dalia Mogahed
In a post-9/11 world, Islam is viewed as a “tumor in the body of America.” Those who proudly display their faith, such as hijabi women, are at larger risk for prejudice at the hands of ignorant Americans. In this personal, powerful talk, Dalia Mogahed clarifies for the bigots: Muslims are not all terrorists, and Islam does not promote violence. She urges, in this polarizing time, to fight negative perceptions of her faith in the media and stand together with your Muslim neighbors.
I hope these talks had as profound an impact on you as it did myself. Ideally, they stirred up your own thoughts of what it means to be Arab in America, abroad, and in the homelands. These Talks are merely limited glimpses into one perspective on massive issues; they are not the end result, but rather the start of a much larger conversation.
If you’re looking for a comedic break after the heavier picks from this list, check out this bonus Talk joking about the nuances of Middle Eastern culture.
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