‘A National Holiday That I Do Not Recognize’– Reflections on Columbus Day 2015

Today I am not at the office in observance of a United States national holiday that I do not recognize, a day commemorating that in which I recognize my complicity yet nonetheless reject; the project of settler-colonial domination and the creation and perpetuation of myths of nation which OPPRESS. Across the North American continent to the lands of historic Palestine to the city square up the way from my home here in Ankara, (and indeed across the globe) we wake daily to face the brutal and too often deadly consequences of narratives and myths of “nation.”

Today I am not at the office in observance of a United States national holiday that I do not recognize, a day which epitomizes the ‘success’ of *white-washing* history. Today I reflect on years in elementary school doing craft projects and reading story books that told truth through lies so masterfully spun they dared to call it history. The name of the class period was in fact “social sciences” which is far more fitting, for we know that there is a science, an art to the process of national mythology by which repression, displacement, and structural and physical violences against communities of difference is perpetuated and justified.

Today I am not at the office in observance of a United States national holiday which I do not recognize, and the irony of such a mandated commemoration on this the final official day of national mourning in Turkey is not lost on me. Before blood could be washed off the streets political paradigm creators began their acts of justification, of framing, of discourse, of what maybe can only be called story telling. Yet street cleaners and history-writers seem unaware that blood shed in the name of ideology cannot be washed away, for water does not erase, but flow. Innocent blood seeps down into the lands claimed as ‘homeland,’ trickles in the streams and creeks by which our children play, churns through pipes into our homes and places of work. Bloodshed is ingested, and flows without cessation, coursing through the veins of those awake to their own humanity.

Today is no holiday, but a day of mourning. As long as our brothers and sisters of humanity live chained by narratives of erasure and entitlement– of ‘manifestation’– there is no celebration, but only mournful, respectful solidarity and resistance.

 

Note: This was originally posted to my personal Facebook page on 12 October, 2015. 

Ortadoğu Kadınlardaki Statüsü: Gözlemler ve Engeller

I was given the opportunity to speak at a symposium organized by the International Relations Department Student Organization at my host university two weeks ago. Though very excited for the chance to talk about women’s status, I was more than a little intimidated at the prospect of doing so in Turkish. I wrote an original draft in English, then translated it into the best Turkish I could muster. Later, I sat for hours with a dedicated and diligent group of friends who helped me work the draft into a more professional and academic register, which was the resulting speech below. Clearly, I was struggling a little bit with the pronunciation in that more academic register (so many suffixes!) but I hope my audience was able to take something away from the talk. Because of the time restraints and the language barrier, my ideas are of course less fully formed and explicated in this presentation than in real life, but “what can I do sometimes?,” as my students would say. In an event, a transcript in Turkish and my intended messaging in English is below.

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Ortadoğu Kadınlardaki Statüsü: Gözlemler ve Engeller

Saygıdeğer öğretim üyesi arkadaşlarım değerli Kirikkale Üniversitei öğrencileri ve değeri misafir öğrencilerimiz- Yapacağım konuşma dünya üzerindeki kadınların statüsüne değinmek olacak,ve bu konulara değinirken istatistiksel verilerden ve hikayelerden çok gerçeklerden yola çıkacağım. Fakat, Ortadoğu’da yaşayan kadınlardan bahsedilmek istendiğinde nasil bahsedilebilir? Bu önemli bir sorudur. Ben Amerikan vatandaşıyım ve yaşadığım ülkedeki akademisyen arkadaşlarımla büyük bir mücadele içindeyiz. Politikacılar ve güçlü medya firmaları Amerikalılar’ın ortadoğu bölgesi ve İslam dünyası hakkinda çok az bilgiye sahip olduklarının farkındalar. Ayrıca onlar da bu konu hakkinda çok eksik bilgiye sahipler. Politikacılar ve medya birlikte çalişiyorlar. “Ortadoğudaki kadınlar mazlum, bağımlı” diye anlatıyorlar. “Zavallı kadınlar için uğraşacağız” diyorlar. Fakat sonra ne yapiyorlar? Savaşıyorlar, aynı zamanda diğer ülkere yaptırım gücü uygulatıyorlar. Bütün bunları yaptıktan sonra kadınların artik daha güvende olacaklarını, daha özgür olacaklarını, daha eğitimli olacaklarını ve daha rahat yaşayacaklarını idda ediyorlar. Amerikan halkı da aynı şeye inaniyor; fakat ben onlar gibi düşünmüyorum ve böyle bir vaatte bulunmayacağım. Çünkü; Hiçbirşey o kadar da basit değildir.

Dünyanın hiç bir yerindeki kadınlar ayrı koşullarda yaşamiyor. Sadece bir mahallede bile bu durum çeşitlilik gösterebilir. Yaşamları, maaşları, okuryazarlık durumları ve eğitim düzeyleri, medeni durumları, dinleri…. Aynı zamanda çevre faktörleri var. Köyde mi yoksa şehirde mi yaşıyor bu kadınlar? Isınma imkanlari, içme suları var mı? Bunlar çok önemli sorunlardır. Bu konu milletlerden ve mezheplerden daha önemli olabilir. Amerika’da yaşayan köylü bir kadınla kentli bir kadın,Türkiye’deki köylü bir kadınla kentli bir kadının ortak noktaları olabilir.

Zamanım kısıtlı olduğu için genel bir konuşma yapacağım. Şu konular üzerinde duracağım: şiddet ve savaş, eğitim, ve kadınların siyasi faaliyetleri.

Üzerinde konuşmak istediğim ilk konu şiddet. Şiddet birçok farklı türde olabilir; yapısal şiddet, ekonomik şiddet, duygusal şiddet… Bu şiddet türleri üzerinde tartışıp değerlendirme yapmamız çok önemli ama bugün ne yazıkki konumuzun odağı, bölgede kadınlara uygulanan, fiziksel şiddet. Suriye Irak ve Filistin şu anki açık örnekler. Suriye’de yedi binden fazla kadın şu anki savaş yüzünden öldü. Filistin’deki kadınlar çok kötü durumda yaşıyorlar. Bir askeri işgal altında yaşıyorlar,Gazze’de kuşatma altındalar ve sık sık şiddet görüyorlar. İnsanlar Gazze’nin açık hava hapishanesi gibi olduğunu söylüyorlar. Irak’taki kadınların durumu muhtemelen üçünün arasında en kötü olanı.  30 yıldır sürekli savaş ve işgal yaşadılar. Evrensel insan hakları bildirgesi şunu söyler: En önemli hakkımız yaşama hakkıdır. Eğer bu hak saygı görmüyorsa(bu hak tehdit ediliyorsa, eğer güvende değilseniz) diğer insan hakları korunamaz.

İkinci bir konumuz da eğitimdir. Eğitim için açılan sınıfların, kadınlarımızın mücadelesi açısından çok önemli bir yere sahip olacağına inaniyorum. Buna bir örnek olarak; Türkiye’deki kadınlarımızın bir çoğunun, eğitim seviyelerinin çok kısıtlı olması gösterilebilir. Bir çoğumuzun çevresinde bu tür kadınlarımız var öyle değil mi? Eğitimin eksik olduğu bir ortamda kadınsal değerlerin de arka plana atıldığını birliriz.Buna Türkiye bir örnekti sadece, fakat bunun yanısıra Irak, Süriye, ve Filistindeki okulların saldırıya uğraması, Ürdün ve Lübnan’da da eğitimin popüler olduğu halde pahalı  olması, çoğu yerde de ataerkil yapının hakim olması, gibi konular da  kadınlarımızın ikinci plana atılmasına sebep olarak gösterilebilir.demem o ki kadınlarımızın toplumda yer edenebilmesi, eğitimlerinin önünün açilması ve onların da söz sahibi olabilmesi için onlara her türlü firsatın verilmesi lazimdir.

Bugün Üçüncü ve son konum kadınların siyaset ve sivil toplum katılımcılığı . Geçen hafta birleşmiş Milletler’de uluslararası kadınler konferansı yüzüncü yildönümü  kutlandı ve bu yüzden bu konu Değılmek istedim. Kadın politikacilarimizdan çok örneğimiz var.mesela, Türkiyede bir dönem başbakan olarak Tansu Çiler vardı, fakat ABD’de, kadın olarak başkanı çıkmadı. ABD’de kongre üyesi olarak kadın oranı yüz’de ondokuzdur. Türkiye’de meclis üyesi olarak kadın oranı yüzde ondörtdür. Bana göre, kadınların siyasi ortamdaki yuzdelik oranının dahada artması, kadınların statülerini yukselticektir. Biz kadınlar için Filistinli kadınlar örnek olmalı çünkü orada devlet sistemi olmadığı halde kadınların siyaste atılım oranları çok yuksektir, bunlara örnek olarak Hanan Ashrawi, Leila Khaled, ve Haneen Zoabi verilebilir. Bunun yanısıra ortadoğu bölgesinde çok aktif politikacı kadınlar da var; sivil toplum kurumlarında çalişip ve yeni kurumların açilmasında öncülük ediyorlar.

Netice olarak kadınlarımızın statüsünün yukselmesi için başta şiddetsiz bir ortamın sağlanması ve eğitim düzeyinin yükseltilmesi gerekir. Bana yardimcı olan arkadaşlarım Sena, Kaan, ve Gülçin’a ve siz dinleyenlere teşekkür ederim.

Women’s Status in the Middle East: Observations and Obstacles  One of the most important things I have to say to you today is not a statistic or a story, but concerns the way we go about talking about the role of women in Middle Eastern societies in general. Where I come from in the United States academics are fighting a difficult battle to allow rays of insight to shoot through a bleak media and political landscape, one that capitalizes on the ignorance of policy makers and the public alike; one that allegedly seeks to empathize with and then liberate via occupation Muslim and middle eastern women who, we are led to believe, are oppressed, without agency, and without a voice. I do not intend to fall into that narrative today.

But no picture is ever as straightforward as either media nor politicians would have us believe. In every place, in every nation, the lives of women cannot be discussed as a monolith. Even within a single neighborhood, there may be numerous fractures in lived experience, such as age, education level, marital status, income or family earnings, literacy, health, religion, as well as numerous environmental factors. Is the space urban or rural? Is there access to clean water and other crucial utilities? These are important questions, the answers to which often shape the lives of women far more significantly than nationality or country of residence. Indeed, the values and lived experiences of relatively uneducated women in the rural United States and Turkey may be far more similar than either would expect. For women in opposite circumstances, the same may be true as well.

So rather than itemize the detailed statistics of women in each of the countries I’ll be touching on today I am instead going to draw out a couple themes and provide examples within those themes. Because time is short, I apologize, I will be speaking quite generally.

The first theme I want to speak on is that of violence. Violence can take many forms; there is structural violence, economic violence, emotional violence… These forms of violence are very important for us to discuss and critique but today, unfortunately, my focus is on physical violence, which is inflicted on women around the region. Unfortunately, Syria Iraq and Palestine are the current obvious examples. In Syria more than seven thousand women  have died due to the current war. Women in Palestine live in a very bad situation. They live under a military occupation and in Gaza they are under siege and experience frequent violence. People say Gaza is like an open air prison. The situation for women in Iraq is possibly the worst of the three. They have had 30 years of continuous war and occupation. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that the most important of our rights is the right to live. If this isn’t honored ( if that right is threatened, if you are not safe) the other human rights can’t be protected.

The second theme I want to discuss is education. The classroom is a very important place for the fight for women to unfold. Without education women are without the tools they need to improve their lives and their status. As an example, we can look to the situation of the women in our lives here in Turkey where, too often, especially in the past, their educations have been cut short. There are some obstacles to education. One of the biggest in the region is violence, as we discussed before. While literacy rates across the region are generally higher than they’ve been in the past, the education of millions of women has been disrupted in places like Iraq and Syria. Schools in Gaza and Syria have been under attack, making getting an education very difficult. In other places like Lebanon or Jordan, private education is both highly valued and prohibitively expensive. Patriarchy remains one of the biggest obstacles to education access. With access to safe, affordable, equitable education, women are better able to take their destinies into their own hands. Education for all is not a privilege, but a right.

This brings us to my third and final topic, which is women’s participation in politics and civil society. It is fitting that last week was the 100th anniversary celebration of the international women’s conference at the UN. There are many important examples of women serving in political offices across the Middle East. A point of important comparison/contrast between Turkey and the United States is political participation and empowerment. For example, Turkey has had a female prime minister (Tansu Ciler), but the US hasn’t had a female president yet. In Turkey, 14% of members of parliament are female, in the United States that rate is 19%. My view is that by actively participating in the socio-political process, women are able to make the changes our societies so badly need.We can look to the women of Palestine as an example, where, though stateless, they play important roles in  aspect of Palestinian civil society and political life, for example Hanan Ashrawi, Leila AbuKhaled, and Haneen Zoabi. This is also the case in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon where I have personally met women fighting for rights, representation, and a decent life.

We can conclude by saying that while the situation for some women in the Middle East is very positive, too many still live under threat of violence and without access to safe education. Despite obstacles, women across the region work in powerful positions and in grassroots movements to affect change in their communities. If we know one thing, it is that as long as violence persists, the status of women, and indeed of all people, cannot improve. The cessation of violence is the first and most crucial step on the road to the betterment of women’s status in the Middle East, and indeed, across the whole world.

“This has to stop.”

As I prepare to leave for Turkey, and as I continue to absorb the onslaught of the news and reflect on this harrowing summer, the words of Rachel Corrie echo,* written in an e-mail to her mother from Rafah, Gaza three days before her death:

I’m having a hard time right now. Just feel sick to my stomach from being doted on very sweetly by people who are facing doom. I know that from the United States it all sounds like hyperbole. A lot of the time the kindness of the people here, coupled with the willful destruction of their lives, makes it seem unreal to me. I can’t believe that something like this can happen in the world without a bigger outcry. It hurts me again, like it has hurt me in the past, to witness how awful we can allow the world to be….

….It is my own selfishness and will to optimism that wants to believe that even people with a great deal of privilege don’t just sit idly by and watch. What we are paying for here is truly evil… Just want to tell my mom that I’m really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us to all drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore. I still really want to dance to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comic books for my co-workers. But I also want this to stop. Disbelief and horror is what I feel. Disappointment. I am disappointed that this is the base reality of the world and that we, in fact, participate in it. This is not at all what I asked for when I came into this world. This is not at all what the people here asked for when they came into this world. This is not what they are asking for now. This is not the world you and Dad wanted me to come into when you decided to have me. This is not what I meant when I was two and looked at Captiol Lake and said, “This is the wide world and I’m coming into it.”

My ears ring and my heart implodes with Pochter’s letter as well:

I hope you will never stop your curiosity for the beautiful things in life. Go on hikes in canyons, forests and mountains, go fishing, research wildlife, and get out of the city if you can. Surround yourself with good friends who care about your future. Fall in love with someone. Get your heart broken. Then move on and fall in love again. Breathe life every day like it’s your first. Find something that you love to do and never stop doing that thing unless you find something you love more.

Don’t blame others for their mistakes. It makes you weak…. Speak with conviction and believe in yourself because your personal confidence is just as important as your education….

Try not to forget me.

You told me how proud you were, and so I’m not going to let you down. I’m going to learn a language and connect with real people. I’m going to eat regional foods and learn how to make them myself, with friends, in a kitchen.  I’m going to find the most beautiful mountain in Turkey and hike it and plant a tree for you there. I’m going to read, and ask questions, and write poetry, and I will never, ever forget you.

Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Israel, Lebanon, Iraq… my heart breaks and my resolve deepens. This has to stop.

*This quote is excerpted from My Name is Rachel Corrie, adapted by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner.

ثورة

A Prayer by Naguib Mahfouz

from Echoes of an Autobiography, translated by Denys Johnson-Davies

I was less than seven years old when I said a prayer for the revolution. One morning I went to my primary school escorted by the maid. I walked like someone being led off to prison. In my hand was a copybook, in my eyes a look of dejection, in my heart a longing for anarchy. The cold air stung my half-naked legs below my shorts. We found the school closed, with the janitor saying in a stentorian voice, “Because of the revolution, there will be no school today.”

A wave of joy flowed over me and swept me to the shores of happiness.

From the depths of my heart I prayed to God that the revolution might last forever.

 

Eighteen months after uprisings began across the Arab world, hope and heartbreak coexist in struggles that indeed seem as though they may last forever. As bombs detonate in Damascus and Baghdad, as Libya churns in uncertainty, Bahrain trembles in brutally imposed silence, and Egypt debates its future, I pray for the realization of dreams of self-determination and for the safety and preservation of the dignity of the citizens of the region.

Imagine Her

This past semester I wrote a poem for my Intermediate Arabic class. It was composed in Arabic, but my translation appears below. I  post it today in remembrance and in solidarity with all those girls whose dreams are marred by the reality of occupation. May you find peace.

 طفلة

هنالك طفلة صغيرة

فتخيلوها

خدينها زهرية

كالورد في حديقة جدتها

الشمس فوقها من ذهب

كمسجد قبة لصخرة

في مدينة عائلتها

هنالك طفلة صغيرة

فتخيلوها

في مستقبلها هي تصبح طويلة

كشجار فاقها

ليمون و تمر

هنالك طفلة صغيرة

فتخيلوها

الوان حياتها كالوان علمها

اسود كالحبر من هوياتها

اسود كاسلاك شائكة حول بيتها

اسود كالليل التي تنام

الوان حياتها كالوان علمها

هي صغيرة و قلبها ابيوض

تحلم املها في قلبها

و ليس في اقلها

الوان حياتها كالوان علمها

شفيتها حمراء وتفتحهما مع اغنية لحرية

كدمها حمراء

دم فلسطنية

الوان حياتها كالوان علمها

هنالك طفلة صغيرة

الوان حياتها كالوان علمها و

عندي امال اخضر لمستقبلها

كشجار الزيتون في عرض والدها

كزعتر فطورها

هنالك طفلة صغيرة

الوان حياتها كالوان علمها و

ليس لها دولة و لكن عندها هضارة و ثقافة غنية

و حتى حياتها ليس سلوية

و لكن دائما يبقى حلمها الاخضر

فتخيلوها

****
there is a young girl
imagine her
her cheeks are pink
as the rose in her grandmother’s garden
the sun above her is gold
as the Dome of the Rock
in her family’s city
there is a young girl
imagine her
one day she will become as tall
as her fruit trees
lemon and date
there is a young girl
imagine her
the colors of her life are as the colors of her flag
black as the ink on her identity card
black as the barbed wire that surrounds her house
black as the night in which she sleeps
the colors of her life are as the colors of her flag
she is young but her heart is white [pure]
she carries her hope in her heart
and not within her faculties of reason
the colors of her life are as the colors of her flag
her red lips open with a song of freedom
her blood is red
Palestinian blood
there is a young girl and
the colors of her life are as the colors of her flag
i have hope for her future
it is green
as the olive trees on her father’s land
as the za’atar she eats for breakfast
there is a young girl
and the colors of her life are as the colors of her flag
There is no state for her
but she has a civilization and a rich culture
and even when her life is not peaceful
always she continues to have green dreams
imagine her.

Separate Cannot Be Equal

Following publication of “A State of Denial: Candidates, Consequences, and the Road to Peace”, a letter to the editor written by Professor Fred Baumann was published in the Kenyon Observer which rejected my argument regarding the role of Palestinian identity in the conflict. This letter provided has provided an excellent opportunity for me to refine my positions on this issue, and engage friends in debate. In my response to that letter, below, I address the necessity of providing honest narratives to address these challenges,and react to Prof. Baumann’s valuation by sharing what I believe to be an ideal solution to the conflict. In previous posts I began the articulation of my vision for a pluralist, democratic “one-state” in Israel/Palestine, and I continue that discussion below. I am excited to attend the One State Conference at Harvard next month to continue to expand and inform my views on this issue. A special thank you to all those whose advice and editing I have sought in the last few weeks. Your support is invaluable.

An excerpt of this post was published as “Context Matters” in the February 15, 2012 edition of the Kenyon Observer.

* * * * *

In his response to my article, “A State of Denial: Candidates, Consequences, and the Road to Peace,”(TKO January 2012) Professor Baumann, “[goes] back into history” to define the central issue of the occupation by Israel of Palestine. This issue is inherently complex and any brief discussion requires selective presentation of information; however, the result is a misleading picture of the aims of Palestinian nationalism. By insisting that “the issue has never been the right of Arabs to be what they want and call themselves what they want. The issue has always been the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own,” he ignores any rights of the Palestinian people to live on the land they inhabited prior to 1948 and he does not acknowledge the unjust process that led to the state’s formation. Denying Palestinians and Israelis equivalent rights to the land creates an ethnic, religious and cultural hierarchy which plagues the region to this day.

 According to Professor Baumann, “…the issue isn’t and never has been, about a Palestinian state or a Palestinian national identity. It is, whether the attempt…to delegitimize any Jewish presence in the land of Israel and call it all for the Arab, should and will succeed.” Though I find it reprehensible, I cannot deny that anti-Jewish sentiment exists within the conflict. I fully agree it is important, “on a subject as historically fraught as the Arab-Israeli issue, to be able to go back into history and see how the present circumstances came about.” Professor Baumann quoted Zahir Muhsein, a former representative of the PLO. Zahir Muhsein was simultaneously a National Command member of the Syrian Baa’thist party, which espouses a pan-Arab ideology. Muhsein’s argument that Palestinian cultural and political identity is a means of political expediency should be understood within this historical and socio-political context. For many Pan-Arabist groups, liberation of Palestine conveniently advanced their desire to create a Greater Syria. Muhsein, and others Professor Baumann quoted, are single voices, rather than the definitive voices, for Palestine. When actors within political movements speak, they do so as individuals and as representatives of the causes to which they have aligned themselves. Any one person cannot fairly represent this issue, which is heavily debated within Palestinian society and in the global Palestinian diaspora.

I wonder how it would be perceived were I to construct a narrative describing Israel to counter the one presented by Professor Baumann. Whose vision should I choose as my representation of what Israel should be? Theodor Hertzl? Yitzak Rabin? Golda Meir? Ehud Barack? And what if I seek to represent the consensus on how Israel should progress towards peace? Do I consult AIPAC? JStreet? The ADL? APN? Jewish Voices for Peace? Each organization cited above is pro-Israel, Jewish, and offers a different vision for Israel.

Consider this 1983 excerpt from a speech by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion. “Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves … politically we are the aggressors and [the Palestinians]defend themselves… The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country.” Is it reasonable to hold all Jewish people to this? Of course not.

And what about former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who, in a 1998 address to members of the Tzomet Party said, “It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism, colonialization [sic], or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands.” Of course, it is unfair to categorize all Jewish presence in Israel based on these remarks by Sharon and Ben Gurion. But while Sharon calls these facts “forgotten,” if we wish to engage in an honest discourse about this conflict, they should be presented. When they are explained, Arab opposition to the Israeli state is contextualized.

Professor Baumann’s dismissal of the relevancy of Palestinian cultural identity within the conflict conveniently aids the Zionist idea of “transference” whereby, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt put it in 1942, “I actually would put a barbed wire around Palestine, and I would begin to move the Arabs out of Palestine…. I would provide land for the Arabs in some other part of the Middle East…. Each time we move out an Arab we would bring in another Jewish family…” Though what Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948 was at times much more violent than this, this is essentially what occurred. Currently, there is no solution to Palestinian displacement. It continues to occur through legal battles over residency, birth certificates, and identification cards which permit and restrict travel. It is compounded by international regulation of refugee communities, settlement construction, and other zoning regulations. Too often, Arabs are presented as a monolithic entity. In addition to the argument I made in “A State of Denial,” Palestinian cultural identity is relevant because it perpetuates the notion that ‘we can pick them up and stick them somewhere else, and it’ll be fine because they’ll be with people like them.’ Though an admittedly imperfect metaphor, if Pomona students were to occupy our campus and relocate us to Bowdoin, would you feel this is just? Aren’t all liberal arts schools the same?

The historical legacy of anti-Semitism and Jewish oppression is as undeniable as it is painful. I do not deny the right of Jews to reside safely on the contested land. This does not, however, eliminate or supersede the right of other historical populations to reside there as well, nor does it excuse occupation and oppression. My opposition has always been not to a particular ethnic or religious group, but to those unjust policies and practices which fuel resentment and impede peace on both sides of the Green Line. And yet, even if I were to accept Professor Baumann’s argument that “the issue has always been the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own” I cannot help but ask, at what cost?

I agree that the decisions of Palestinian leaders have delayed the resolution of this conflict. I recognize that Palestinian leadership has rejected numerous proposed resolutions. Palestinian failures, however, do not excuse Israel’s failure to obey international law, respect established boundaries or provide just compromises which allow for dignity, agency and self-governance amongst all parties. Thus, I must respectfully disagree with Professor Baumann’s implication that Palestinian rejections were solely based on their refusal to acknowledge the right of Israel to exist. The causes for each particular rejection are deeply complex and particular to each offer. In general, proposed solutions have left the Palestinian territories economically and physically strangulated, and unable to defend themselves. To me, this does not create a viable state, nor does it create peace.

South African scholar and activist Farid Esack has written, “When peace comes to mean the absence of conflict on the one hand, and when conflict with an unjust and racist political order is a moral imperative on the other, then it is not difficult to understand that the better class of human beings are deeply committed to disturbing the peace and creating conflict.” Though I reject violence in any form, Dr. Esack’s observation reflects my support for the creative, non-violent protest techniques many Palestinians have been employing, including Freedom Riders, weekly marches and demonstrations, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. All express dissatisfaction with an unjust political order and disturb the peace, recognizing the humanity of their oppressor by adhering to the principles of non-violent activism. Palestinians want peace, but not an unjust one. When my grandmother was growing up in Cairo, she was frequently told, “maa feesh hadd ahsan min hadd;” (nobody is better than anybody else.) It is in this spirit that I offer hyopthetical, long-term hopes for a solution to this conflict.

In agreeing with Dr. Esack, (and my grandmother), I reject partition as a peaceful means by which the Palestinian/Israeli conflict can be resolved. An estimated 550,000 Jewish settlers currently reside in the West Bank. Non-Jewish Arabs make up approximately 20.4% of Israel’s population. A viable two-state solution is both logistically impossible, and, in my opinion,  morally and politically unsustainable. In this the month of February, Black History Month, policy makers should be remember the legacy of the Civil Rights movement here in America: separate cannot be equal. Similarly, King Solomon teaches us in 1 Kings 3:16-28 that splitting the baby is not the solution. Instead of creating further division via arbitrary lines that satisfy no one, let us choose the possibility of co-existence and prosperity. Isn’t it time to tear down the mental, emotional, religious, strategic, political, and physical walls that perpetuate this conflict, and start to build one nation dedicated to coexistence?

I recognize that in advocating a what is known as a one-state solution, I deny Israel its exclusively Jewish character. I certainly do not intend a malicious position toward the Jewish diaspora, yet the status quo is untenable. The logistical implementation of such a state is daunting, perhaps chimerical, but I cannot in good conscience justify support for any other solution. With regards to Alexander Pope, admittedly, my hopes for coexistence spring eternal, despite a historical legacy that may (or may not) suggest otherwise. Explusion of Jews from places like Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, represent an ugly part of 20th century history. Yet history also provides us with beautiful examples of coexistence and idea-sharing. And yet, has there ever been a successful nation-state that has expressed exclusive homogeneity on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion? In the modern era, (as was so eloquently stated on literature in support of the protest movement in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem) “Democracy cannot co-exist with ethnic privilege.”

And so with all due respect to Professor Baumann, I refuse to accept his myopia regarding this conflict. The issue has always been much larger than simply the rights of Jews. The issue is also about the rights of Palestinians. And the rights of Palestinian Jews. And the rights of Christians. And the rights of Muslims. And the rights of Baha’is. And the rights of Bedouins. And the rights of the Druze. It is about the right of all people to live in a truly democratic state where each person has a vote, an education, access to fair legal representation, and where they and their cultures are protected and cherished.

Why I Don’t Call It The Arab Spring

This article was originally published in Kenyon College’s MESA Journal, Vol. 3, Ed. 1 (November, 2011).

I can already see the entries in future history books: what began with self-immolation by a frustrated young fruit vendor in Tunisia launched unprecedented revolution across the Arab world. Aided by Facebook, Twitter and other social media, movements spread and autocratic regimes fell. It was the dawn of nonviolence in the Middle East, a time of rapid change: the Arab Spring.
I’m not so sure.

It is not my place to attempt a retelling of the events in the Arab World in the past ten months, nor could I begin to address the scope and complexity of various national movements. Instead, I wish to address the way these events have been presented and interpreted, as well as how the Obama Administration has responded. Finally, I will conclude with how American foreign policy should proceed.

Complexity is at the core of my opposition to the usage of the term “Arab Spring” to describe recent uprisings across the Arab world. The common narrative alludes to a process of rolling ignition, seen in the language of “first Tunisia,“then Egypt” followed by a smattering of other countries in varying chronology. This mode of presentation detracts from the existence of opposition movements that predated the uprisings in various Arab countries, and implies a simple progression from Country A to Country B to C and D and E (with the obvious inclusion of social media as the disseminating agent of protest organization) without acknowledgement of the unique circumstances underlying the protests in each individual country. Tunisia is not Egypt is not Syria is not Libya is not Bahrain, and a euphemistic categorical umbrella does not help our understanding of the unfolding events, nor in accommodating a climate of progressive change across the region.

Many of my objections to usage of this term draw heavily from an editorial in Lebanon’s The Daily Star by Dr. Rami Khouri entitled “Drop the Orientalist Term ‘Arab Spring.’” In the article, Khouri notes that the terminology most popular with Western media, “Arab Spring” does not reflect the language used by those engaged in the movements themselves. The implicit temporality and passivity of the word “spring” should also give its users pause. The phrase does no justice to the millions who have courageously stood up to brutal, malicious regimes, and to the thousands who have lost their lives in those struggles.

The collective movements that allegedly began with vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation did not end with Tunisia’s successful elections last month. While the developments in each country will follow their own respective trajectories, each transition will be most unlike those between seasons (buds to blossoms to barren). The analogy oversimplifies what is certain to be a long, arduous, non-linear process. The reclamation of the political agency of Arab peoples is not a seasonal phase, but a dramatic shift that will take more than passive observation of changing foliage and clime, but tireless activism, strong will, and honest governance. The transition taking place doesn’t involve leaves falling from trees, but people dying at the hands of ruthless autocrats.  Reducing their struggles to an Arab Spring minimizes the importance of their efforts.

The language we use to describe these events is symbolic, to be sure; however, it can serve as a useful mark of the more necessary shift: one in attitudes and actions by Western leaders towards the Arab peoples and the governments that represent them. Khouri argues:
Western powers for the past century and a half or so have assumed that they can shape and control most aspects of power and policy across the Arab world, whether due to imperial self-interest, energy requirements, economic needs, or pro-Israeli biases….Perhaps some in the West also do not want to acknowledge the full reality of Arabs reconfiguring their power structures, because Western powers (including Russia) supported those old, failed authoritarian systems that are now being challenged and changed.

Prior to the outbreak of large-scale revolutionary activity, this sentiment was put another way by Iraqi-Canadian rapper The Narcycist in his book, Diatribes of a Dying Tribe: “If the restaurant of life were an Arab establishment, dictators would be the waiters to a Capitalist chef.” As regimes shift or topple and tides of public sentiment grow louder, it is time for Washington to listen to some Bob Dylan : “The times they are a changin.” What is the intended result of the uprisings of the past year? Agency for Arab peoples.

I hope to look back at the last year as a watershed in the history of American foreign policy
towards the Arab world. I hope to watch Arab political power expressed justly through free and fair elections, through leaders who are appointed by the masses to serve the masses. I hope to see genuine structural changes to the power structures in Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, and other nations that face unequal and unjust representation. I hope to see the monarchs of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco continue, however gradually, to shift power to elected legislatures and executives.

As desirable as those outcomes may be, it is not the role of American foreign policy to produce them. Instead, the U.S. should craft a foreign policy that respects the agency of Arabs, encourages struggles that align with our nation’s founding principles, and rejects political violence against civilians. The continued hypocrisy of the Obama Administration toward unfolding events in the region violates our nation’s values and ideals and inhibits our ability to act as an impartial arbiter of peace within the international community. While our economic and national security needs may remain, the means through which America meets its strategic interests in the region must change.

The fall of Hosni Mubarak has revealed that the military holds the real power in Egypt.  The seasonal change that seemed so evident in February has not occurred at a rate suitable to anyone save the army and its interests in the business sector. Delayed elections, difficulties in developing and organizing new political structures and military trials of civilians by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces have shown that Egypt’s revolution remains incomplete.  Political stagnation isn’t the only issue facing Egypt: recent incidents of violence by security forces against Coptic Christians, growing popular support for well-organized Islamist political factions, and an attack on the Israeli embassy have left many concerned about Egypt’s prospects for a smooth transition to representative democracy.

These problems are real and complex and will need to be solved through persistence, cooperation, and empathy by the Egyptian people and their leadership. Yet, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

The great stumbling block in [the] stride toward freedom is… the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; … who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom….I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.

Dr. King’s description corresponds with what has been labeled the Arab Spring, and it is far from over. Rather than set a paternalistic timetable, or attempt to gloss over the distinctive aspects of each revolution, we must allow change to take its natural course. Majorities in many Arab countries have chosen instability over injustice, and the U.S. should no longer stand in the way of their causes to advance American interests. What is required is not a new season in American foreign policy, but an entirely new paradigm: one that replaces collectivism toward the region with informed analysis, and shuns convenience in favor of integrity and legitimate governance.

Land Swaps?

Here’s an excerpt from Obama’s  speech last Thursday, regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:

“So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”

and here is the reality:

It’s no wonder that in his meeting with Obama on Friday, Netanyahu said,

“While Israel is prepared to make generous, compromises for peace it cannot go back to the 1967 lines because these lines are indefensible…They don’t take into account demographic changes that have taken place on the ground.”

Demographic changes.

Fabulous euphemism. What Netanyahu fails to mention, what seems to be omitted from Israeli discussion of the logistics of creating borders, is that their illegal settlement construction which has occurred for decades is the cause of the “demographic changes” that frankly make a two state solution inconceivable.

Just what sort of “land swaps” do you ever see happening that could possibly resolve the “demographic realities” of that map?

Asking the Right Questions

Just finished reading Yassin Alsalman’s “Diatribes of a Dying Tribe,” his master’s thesis and multimedia collaboration with Omar Offendum, Excentrik, and Ragtop in “Fear of an Arab Planet, also known as the Arab Summit. I thoroughly enjoyed his analyses of the interactions between hip hop, identity, cultural appropriation and the political realities of “Middle Westerners,” those of us of Middle Eastern descent living in the West who are faced with the types of questions that have risen to thematic ubiquity in my recent writings and musings. The questions of home and belonging, otherness and loyalty are important and contentious; i.e. what does it mean for me to have watched Egyptian police throw tear gas that was “Made in the USA“?

The book is academic poetry, and well worth the read. Download the Arab Summit or buy the book here.

“If the restaurant of life were an Arab establishment, dictators would be the waiters to a Capitalist chef.” (37)