The Demonization of an Entire Culture

When we say, “Let’s hear from you,” she advances to us
chanting fluently, her glance languid, in effortless song.”

  • - From the Ode of Tarafah

These are the words of a Qasida, an early Arabic love poem, from a time where Arabic culture was known for its richness, beauty, and its contributions to the modern world. We are living in a world where, because of the acts of a small but dangerous few, an entire culture, its language and people, are the objects of suspicion, discomfort, and hazard.

When I was 5 years old, I would ask my mom to not speak Arabic to me in public because I wanted to be considered more American. I asked her to make less Ta3amiyya, less mulukhiyya, and more spaghetti and fried chicken. What I put into my body would make me what I was. My mom however, wasn’t so happy with my need to hide my culture.

Ironically, it was 5 years ago when my mother asked me to not speak Arabic in public so much, because she was afraid for my well being.

It is 5 years after September 11th, and recent threats that are no doubt very real, are being reported by the media in such a way to induce paranoia of people from Arab descent. Why is it, that the bravery of Korean War hero James Jabara and the leadership of NATO commander George Joulwan are overshadowed by the tyranny of Al-Zarkawy? Why are we forgetting the political contributions of Selwa Roosavelt or Victor Atiyeh every time we hear a report of a terrorist attack? Why don’t we think of Frank Zappa, Ralph Nader, or Steve Mansour, instead of imminent danger, whenever we see an Arab man on an airplane?

The response I get from people is very trite and simple: “Well, if these terrorists didn’t do what they were doing, then Arabs wouldn’t have such a bad reputation. It’s understandable.”

Am I really in control of what religious extremists from the Middle East do? Not more so than an average white person from New York is in control of actions by the KKK, or Timothy McVey? Is it then my right to bear extra scrutiny? Haven’t we seen enough news reports, films, TV shows of what happens when African Americans have been the target of unnecessary blame because of paranoia that’s gotten out of hand?

I, by no means, make light of the clear and present danger that our world is in at the hands of terrorist groups, and these fascist radicals. I am Coptic. My people have been under the threat of persecution for decades in Egypt at the hands of extremists groups. My people have known this real threat first hand for many, many years before Americans had any taste of what it is like living with the threat of these people. I stand against terrorism as much as the next guy, but if we want to see this world become peaceful, we cannot conversely adopt the same extremist mentality that our enemies employ on a daily basis.

The following headlines are but a warning sign to what may be happening to us if we let paranoia take us out of control:

The answer is not a witch-hunt. The answer is not demonizing an entire race or language. The answer lies in the hands of our leaders and our protectors to improve security. To have better leads in where danger is happening and where it’s not happening. It’s calling on people to get off their asses and and learn about what it means to be a terrorist, and who can be a threat, and who absolutely is not one. I am not talking about people taking extra precaution on me, because I look like I’m from Middle-Eastern descent. I’m not talking about that at all. Trust me, I feel safer when I’m more thoroughly checked, because I have nothing to hide. I want TSA to do their jobs, and I want them to be diligent, but there is such a thing as extremism.

By telling people what kind of shirts they can and can’t wear, they’re just giving terrorists a clear cut recipe of what they can look like, sound like, act like, if they want to get away with blowing up a building! If TSA is doing their job, they can tell a paranoid person, “Look, we investigated this man, and he is safe.”

Look, I want my family here to be safe. We’re tax-payers, we’ve been contributers to this nation for almost 40 years. We are as American as Pepperoni Pizza. I just think that some middle ground needs to be taken. It’s not an easy answer, and there has to be a balance between freedom and safety. My friend who works in law enforcement tells me I can’t have both, what do you think?


Peter Jackson Wrote Me a Letter

For those who’ve been following the story over the last 8 months, I wrote a letter to Peter Jackson, director of Lord of the Rings, thanking him for the work he and the crew had done in making the movies, the masterpieces that they were, and I told him how it was his film that provided a platform for me and the guys from Kibera to start some life work together. I drew up the letter, printed some photos, and sent it to not one, not two, but three possible addresses where he could possibly receive it (yes, I have connections.)

On Saturday I received one of my letters back, with the all-too familiar stamp which screamed REJECTED. Yes, it was the “Return to Sender”. After a brief moment of wonder and melancholy, and while the violin played it’s mournful tune, underneath the unopened artifact which symbolized red-tape and indifference, was a letter from Wingnut Films in New Zealand! Score!

It was a letter from someone at Wingnut Films on behalf of Peter. And I know you’re all thinking, that I received some sort of form letter with a generic, “Thanks for being one of our zillion trillion fans out there, we know you love us!” No it wasn’t that at all. It was actually very personal, and contained words, thoughts, and feelings that Peter had for the experience and the people I’d written about.

I was very touched that the letter I sent had affected him, and I’m not suprised as it is a beautiful story. It IS real life, and real people, and their struggles and victories. It’s about hope, and it was an honor to have witnessed hope, and be able to share it with someone I greatly admire, and to have that which was shared, directly acknowledged.

I wish the cycles of modern-life were less vicious and more like this.

When I return in November, I can’t wait to show the letter to the guys. They’re going to be thrilled! Junae, if you’re reading this, don’t tell them yet I want it to be a surprise.

It’s midnight, and I have a long commute to the city tomorrow so I should get some rest. I’ll leave you with the lyrics of the next song that pops up on my shuffle, let’s see what fate has for us tonight.

Yo La Tengo – Deeper Into Movies

I may have been gazing out too late at night
I see a deeper window into my eyes
Every day they screech outside my window,
The crashing cars never seem to collideSometimes when I’m staring out my window
To catch the stars, I watch as they go by
I’ve been getting messages from outer space
They expire light in the window in the sky
There goes my mind
If we dare walk onto my window
I could hear them if I open my eyes
Sometimes flashing lights seem soulful in the window
You may have seen them circle me at night
I keep sending signals into outer space
They expire by your window in the sky
There goes my mind

Every day when restlessness takes over me
I can’t see it as I’m closing my eyes
I keep sending signals into outer space
They expire light in the window in the sky

Sometimes when I’m staring out my window
To catch the stars, I watch as they go by
I’ve been getting messages from outer space

They expire light in the window in the sky

By your window in the sky