Category Archives: The Civil Arab

Viva Las Vegas

I sound like a broken record, a chorus stopping and staring from apathy to tired tears. DJed by a neglected needle of a dusty player that hasn’t turned off since 9/11. The lights in Vegas will never shine as bright as they did in Viva Las Vegas, or as they did before Stephen Paddock’s domestic terrorism took the lives of 50 Americans while wounding countless others. I still can’t watch the videos, stomach the screams and crash of automatic rifle fire hitting living breathing people with families and friends, with stories—a mother that cooks breakfast for her family every morning, newlyweds honeymooning, a student in her early 20’s studying law. I imagine everything is slower in Vegas tonight, the show-girls just don’t look like they’re into it. The slots are filled with less coins, their mechanical cries amplified off ghost-town casino floors. The Washington Post framed this mark on American history nonchalantly, a cute millennial tagline; “gunman enjoyed gambling, country music, lived quiet life before massacre.” I woke up with the news and I can’t quite go to bed with it.

The strange sickness of tragedy leaves you with questions that have crickets as their only answers; why was a millionaire allowed to purchase so many guns, how did he get into a hotel with so many guns, what does a man need with 30 weapons of war, and why won’t they call it like it is, terrorism. Motive is moot point when the term terrorist does more to disrupt my daily life than the actual threat of radical Islam juxtaposed to mass shootings. “Terrorist” is a constant shadow over my person as an Arab American, it is the vantage point where travel bans and patriot acts are summoned, the crime to which watchlists and no fly lists are composed. The word the cement-like foundation of places like Guantanamo bay, Gaza Strip, and the black-sites of the war on terror. It is the gloom of hate notes left on my mother-in-law’s car, the ransacking of my neighbor’s house because of ‘suspicious activity’, the touch of a TSA agent on my shoulder.

I’ve had my hands checked for bomb residue as I held my baby son alone at the airport flying to meet my husband in Des Moines. At 14, traveling internationally with my grandmother a Lebanese national with no English, and my 9-year-old sister I was led to a sterile room to be strip searched. Crying out to the female agent “wallah—I swear to god, I don’t have anything” probably didn’t help my case but I didn’t know any other way to express my sincerity. “Terrorist” has evolved from political entomology to racial profile, a raging bacterium with no qualms and no cure. I wish I could keep politics out of this discussion, but it’s hard to forgo when you’re told to leave “my country” for pointing out the double standard that has replaced the American dream. I know how Stephen Paddock fell through the cracks of government surveillance, he checks the big points of privilege; white, wealthy and male. Political whiteness in this country is like the sheet obscuring a Klan’s man face; it is protection from federal and state scrutiny. It is where the clause, “innocent until proven guilty” sticks like epoxy. I threw up on the way out of customs, guilty proven innocent and the Vegas shooter is remembered as a country-music lover. With each broadcast a nail scratches across coffin-lid of my Arab peoples ready to stake the heart of my culture. They’ve warped us into caricatures and villains and have ignored the toxic reality of their own soil.

The United States of America is not perfect, we have death and terror perpetrated by citizens who have never left their home states. We have third-world poverty in our first-world nation, domestic abuse and sex crimes. We are not the protectors we imagine ourselves to be, we are the seedy secrets of Las Vegas, but this time what happened in Vegas can’t stay within its city limits. The strange sickness of tragedy leaves you with uneasy answers, a record spinning amiss, where do we go from here? What my grandma told me after I threw up; you just keep going.

Settlements are far from settling

Each time I hear a commentator say that Israeli “settlements do not impede peace,” I throw up in my mouth a little…for a couple of reasons. First, the land wasn’t “unsettled” like 19th-century western America (which was still kinda “settled”, though, yes, it sounds eerily familiar). These Israeli settlements are developments and neighborhoods, and the word “settlements” is only meant to invoke images of Laura in the “Little House on the Prairie.” These are places protected by $38 billion in US tax dollars spent building up the Israeli military.

Not only do settlements impede peace, they provoke violence. Let me break this down so even our leaders get it.

Settlements equate to displaced Palestinians. Palestinians with no homes means more refugees. More refugees make great “Uncle Sam”, a “Great Uncle Sam.” (He’s a Great, Great, Great, “Uncle Sam” to be historically accurate.) Today’s settlers are not orphans abandoned in the streets of Palestine. They are retired (fill in the blank) that decide instead of Costa Rica, they’re going to Israel. But “The Greater Israel” that they speak of does not exist under international law. As a matter of fact, it is illegal under UN Resolution 252, which it continues to be in violation of.

UN Security Council Resolution 252 (May 21, 1968) – “Deplores the failure of Israel to comply with” General Assembly resolutions 2253 and 2254, considers Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem “invalid”, and calls upon Israel “to rescind all such measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any further action which tends to change the status of Jerusalem”.

“Big Daddy” (a.k.a. UN) was so pissed that three months later another resolution passed.

UN Security Council Resolution 256 (Aug. 16, 1968) – Recalls Israel’s “flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter” condemned in Resolution 248 (condemning Israeli attack on Jordan), observes that further Israeli air attacks on Jordan “were of a large scale and carefully planned nature in violation of resolution 248”, “Deplores the loss of life and heavy damage to property”, and condemns Israel’s attacks.

My “cousins” on the other side will have you believe that those resolutions are just proof of anti-Semitism, how far in the past it goes, how mean, and how unfair Big Daddy and all his “friends” are. Yes, Big Daddy is a douchebag who is powerless without Uncle Sam, and ignores Palestinian suffrage, while engaging in anti-Semitism by killing, maiming, displacing, ethnically cleansing its indigenous people, Philistines, native to the land-in the West Bank… “the Semites.”

That wasn’t even the first of them. Just a year before that, the UN passed other stuff:

UN Security Council Resolution 237 (Jun. 14, 1967) – Calls on Israel “to ensure the safety, welfare and security of the inhabitants where military operations have taken place” during the war launched by Israel on June 5, 1967 “and to facilitate the return of those inhabitants who have fled the areas since the outbreak of hostilities”.

And the year before that was so bad that Big Daddy censured the Golden Child it created:

UN Security Council Resolution 228 (Nov. 25, 1966) – “Deplores the loss of life and heavy damage to property resulting from the action” by Israel in the southern Hebron area on November 13, 1966, and “Censures Israel for this large-scale military action in violation of the United Nations Charter” and the armistice agreement between Israel and Jordan.”

That was 50 years ago, and that’s not the first violation either. Most recently, in December 2016 there was another tongue-lashing by “Big Daddy” you know, the one that preceded the Golden Child’s temper tantrum, because “Uncle Sam” didn’t come to its rescue like we always have.

“14 Delegations in Favour of Resolution 2334 (2016) as United States Abstains. The Security Council reaffirmed this afternoon that Israel’s establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders.”

Its time for “Uncle Sam” and the $38 billion of taxpayer money that cannot seem to cover the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) to cut the cord. But since Dr. Frankenstein (a.k.a. Big Daddy, a.k.a. the UN) created the monster, “Uncle Sam”  tried to tame the beast and failed. There is only one solution left: Frankenstein’s monster needs to marry his bride and move out of “Uncle Sam’s” basement. It’s time for Israel to get honest and get integrated. If you cannot find a solution, then you must at least agree on the problem. The settlements are a problem.

The truth is out there, you just have to read it… and no it’s not on FOX, Mr. President.

Palestein in my house

So our favorite “smart and funny” Arab, Amer Zahr, gave you a utopian society in which Palestinians and Israelis get rich together, share the same food, and cultivate those olive branches with peace  in a land known as “Palestein.” Impossible, right? Well, not in my family.

My father told me stories of Palestine before 1948. In that Palestine, my great-uncles, Muslim Palestinians, co-owned a butcher shop with Palestinian Jews. It was a Kosher-Halal marriage. During the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, my father, thirteen at the time, would sit under the tent day after day with his Jewish Palestinian friends until the rain came to feed the earth. When it was Easter, his Christian friends would invite their peers (Jewish and Muslim alike) to decorate eggs with onion peels, spinach leaves and red currants. During Ramadan, my great-uncles would fast, and their Jewish partners would starve in solidarity. On Yom Kippur, the whole village shut down in observance. During World War II, Muslim Palestinians opened their homes to Jewish families fleeing persecution in Poland and elsewhere. My father remembers how smitten he and his friends were with the blonde-haired, blue-eyed European girls.

Not everyone is as fond of my father’s stories. Some refuse to believe them, and others remark that today the region “is not your father’s Palestine!” Maybe not, but my home is, and has been for nearly 18 years. Yup! Although my father’s stories sound like far-gone nostalgia, fast forward about 50 years, and to me, it sounds like a place me, my husband, and our five children call home.

Somewhere in a corner of this crazy world of separation walls lays a house with a white picket fence (literally, it’s nauseatingly American-dream-esque) is our own version of “Palestein.” There, my husband (raised Jewish) knows more about Islam than I do, and he jokes “You’re a better Jew than me.” (I make a mean latke!) My front door has a mezuzah on one side and ayn il hasud mas’baha on the other. My children know better than to use the toaster to heat Arabic pita bread. Only an open flame on the stove will do. My husband’s blond-haired, blue-eyed niece (without a lick of Arab in her) comes to my house to eat labneh with zayt-zaytoon (“and mint please, Aunt Shirin!”). My children would not be caught dead eating “Sabra Hummus,” no matter what DJ Khaled says. And when we go shopping they whip out the “buycott” app on their smartphones reminding me what is and isn’t on the BDS list (Oh, Gap and Old Navy how I’ve missed you!).

I guess you could say that my great-uncles and their partners brought Muslim and Jewish meat together. And so have me and my husband.

During Passover, we eat our hummus with matzah and when we light the candles for Channukah, I attempt to convince my children that it had to be olive oil because there is nothing that shit can’t fix. During Easter, we still color eggs and try to answer the same awkward question that our children ask, “What do eggs have to do with the Easter Bunny?” The kids remain on their best behavior during December (because they believe in Santa) and we celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus, (Peace be upon him), who happens to be praised in the Quran more than the Bible. We all celebrate the Feast of Ramadan, and honor Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), who declared in “The Charter of Medina”:

Non-Muslim minorities (Jews) have the same right of life protection (like Muslims).

THAT was the 7th century. Back then, everyone was a Jew, even Muslims, because Islam, like Christianity, came from Judaism, and Muhammad, like Jesus, was fully aware of his roots.

Do we argue? Of course! We still cannot agree on who has cornered the market on falafel and who makes better Shawarma (my father, hands down). But ask my children what they celebrate and they will say, “Respect.” Ask them what their religion is and they will break out in Ziggy Marley’s, “Love is my religion.” Our parents (Teta and Jiddo, and Momo and Poppy, as they are known to us and each other) couldn’t be prouder (hippies!).

So, is the extended family in awe of the “Palestein” we created? Some are, and some aren’t. And some pretend to be ok with it until they become a “born-again Muslim,” where their distorted version of Islam doesn’t allow it. Of course, Muslims aren’t the only ones who have difficulty understanding our “arrangement.” If Zionists and/or “#Trumpenyahu” supporters run the numbers, the demographics would have settlers with pitch forks chanting “Death to Arabia!” Generally, my interethnic clan is not something I talk about for that reason. I am well aware that we are Bibi’s worst nightmare.

Sorry Bibi, I know the thought of Palestein has caused you many a restless night. But those of us who have been to my father’s Palestine? Well, we sleep just fine.

Dancing is Haram

Flashback: I am nine years old and spend the summer listening to hip-hop with my cousins. We play 400 (Arabic card game) and eat Flaming Hot Cheetos while inhaling secondhand hookah smoke. When September hits and Islamic school opens up for the year, I bravely share my summer with our chadored ‘sister’ (teacher) that posed the question to get our all-girl class cozy.

“But Dancing is haram, Yasmine. Music is haram. Do you want to go to hell?!”

My cheeks flush red and I scratch at the hijab that became part of my uniform. “No,” I say, sinking back into my seat wishing I never said anything at all. But then I say the next thing: “I don’t think dancing sends you to hell.”

I am made to write lines. “Dancing is haram.” Over 100 times. I would also have to write “I will not bring magazines to school” in other upcoming years, alongside a suspension for nail polish. But even as a young girl, I learned what was really my oppression: those in charge of Islam. At home and with my family, I lived my whole life as Muslim authentically, because I am a Muslim.

As the world and the west misinterpret and misrepresent Islam, we here at home are hit hard with uncertainty. We struggle with our faith, but instead of looking in for clarity and purpose, we lash out. We start calling ourselves anti-western without defining ourselves first. We reach for the things they say are “bad” and hold tightly to its fur, without looking the beast totally in the eye. Is it really in the spirit of Islam that women are often met with a dimension of sexism that is sold as “for their own good,” or “the natural cosmological order of things”? Is it really in the spirit of Islam that minorities like gays, genderfluid and the like are barred from being openly Muslim, that they must deny parts of themselves to be amongst the believers, to get us to vote for their secular rights? Does opting to be a wrapped piece of candy rather than an unwrapped one really make or break my status in the club?

I never did well at this forbidden dabkeh, only to be done via anasheed (instrument-less Muslim anthems), even though everyone expects me to pull off flawlessly, as a Muslim Arab woman. I was born with a pristine sandal on one foot and a Batman-clad Converse on the other. My religion isn’t a performance, a dance, something antithetical to the western imagination. It’s nowhere as simple as the haram police assert. All the books, schools of thought, philosophy and history of the interpretation and integration of Islam outside the Quran say as much. Too many muslims and Orientalist tools alike conflate the legacy of Islam, along with its beautiful divine universal and timeless text, with its human implication and interpretation across the last millennia or so. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a joke, Iran is no better, and most political factions of Islam in modern times have more things in common with right-wing terrorists in the US than they do with me. I’ve been called a “moderate Muslim” from imperial tools as often as I’ve been branded “as bad as the Taliban” with conservatives in my own community.

I hate to break it to you all kindly, but I may as well be the new standard. I don’t live in dissonance. I pay homage to the secularism that birthed me and privilege it has afforded me. I’ve gone through the indoctrination, through Islamic Sunday schools. I have read into my religion, beyond what appears thereof and am entertaining the idea of house. I’m educated in both purported cultures, passed both at the top of my class, and I have to report: There is no culture war. The same texts that inspired jurisprudence used at the height of the golden age to not only answer the questions of mudane for time- and culture-specific Muslims also helped usher in the sciences and brought the enlightenment to the “West” we all find ourselves seeking asylum in.

What I’m saying is that I’ve seen too many commonplace hadith, with chains of transmission so weak you might as well have quoted your grandmother, floating about endorsing the status quo. I am seeing too many Muslims drop the dance entirely because the inconsistencies in “practice versus prophet” are too jarring for even the most skilled. “Dancing is haram, but why?” You are not allowed to ask. To too many in our community, questioning a hadith about stringed instruments is not about intelligence or faith, but about obedience to this fear about not being Muslim enough and becoming like “them,” the “West,” the “Amreeki”.

I am 25 years old and I make myself write lines, mismatched shoes and all, through the seasons, over a thousand and one times. And I’ve decided for myself. Dancing is not haram.

One state in Palestein

The events of the past couple months circulating around the Palestine/Israel saga have been even more intriguing than usual. From December’s passing (and controversial US abstention) of United Nations Resolution 2334, to the Obama-Bibi breakup, to John Kerry’s 70-minute speech in his last days as Secretary of State, there has been no shortage of drama. And today’s joint press conference between Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu brought us some new theater. Trump said he would be okay with a one-state solution in my homeland. “I’m looking at two-state and one-state… I can live with either one,” he told the world.

As I watched today, the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Israel (who I affectionately call #Trumpenyahu) gave me hope. Yup, you read that right. Now, I’m optimistic by nature (There’s no other way to be a Palestinian, I think). But today I thought to myself, “#Trumpenyahu could actually liberate Palestine!” Not on purpose, of course. But I’ll take it!

Netanyahu and his government want all the land. All of it. Gaza too, after they found natural gas there. (As a rule of thumb, countries don’t usually bomb places they don’t want to control.) The Israelis do have the small problem of deciding what to do with us pesky Palestinians, though. A couple days ago, Israeli president Rueven Rivlin suggested that should Israel annex the West Bank, the almost 3 million Palestinians living there should get full citizenship. Sounds good to me. Rivlin is an old-school right-wing hardliner, by the way. He’s no dove. Many on the left are scared of annexation, even going as far as to initiate a billboard campaign throughout Israel warning citizens that it would lead to a Palestinian majority in “Greater Israel” (that’s all of Palestine to all you Palestinians out there). Sounds good to me too.

It’s time, and has been for some time, for us Palestinians to get on board with Israel’s right-wing and advocate for one state in all of historic Palestine (Israel, Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza). I’ll be the first to say to #Trumpenyahu, “I’m with you.” Let’s go for a “Greater Israel.” In fact, I have a slogan for it: “Make Israel Great Again.”

One state in Palestine is a great idea. Here’s why:

  • The Solomon effect. If you ask Palestinians to draw their country, each one of us draws the same thing, that triangular land that consists of Israel, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. That is the land that makes us Palestinians. When you ask Israelis, guess what they draw? The same thing! Let’s not “split the baby in half.” By the way, Solomon was from Palestine, and I’m sure he would agree.
  • We wouldn’t have to change the system of currency. Israeli shekels are used throughout Israel, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and even Gaza. Yes, those crazy “independent” (not) Islamist Hamasites in Gaza use the shekel too. So Palestinians are totally okay with it. Jesus even used shekels. If they were good enough for the most famous Palestinian of all time, they are good enough for me.
  • The settlements can stay. Hey, Bibi, if there’s one state, you don’t have to answer any more questions about settlements. That’s right, they can just become part of the new state. Great, right?
  • Jerusalem can be the “undivided eternal capital” of the state. No more fighting over the Holy City. Jerusalem is essential to the three Abrahamic faiths. Two states means a never-ending quarrel over the city. The world already rejects Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. That’s why no country locates its embassy there. One state means we can all enjoy Jerusalem equally.
  • Palestinians have too many babies. Yup, Palestinians in Israel have a growth rate that is triple the global average. In 1948, Israel kicked out almost all of the Palestinians from its new state. Almost. About 150,000 Palestinians remained in Israel. If those 150,000 grew at the average global population growth rate, after 69 years they should be around 450,000 people. Well, today, they’re 1.7 million. One. Point. Seven. Million. We’ve taken that “be fruitful and multiply” thing pretty seriously. It turns out that Palestinian reproductive organs are more effective than any helicopter or tank in Israel’s artillery. This is mostly Israel’s fault. Unemployment and restriction of movement lead to an abundance of free time. Israel drops bombs. We drop babies. We were gonna be the majority anyway, two states or not. Just embrace it.
  • Our economy would be the best in the world. Seriously, this is the most important element of all. God chose Palestine. Everyone wants to visit. As things stand now, billions of people don’t. Whether it’s for political or security reasons, much of the world never even considers coming to the Holy Land. One state could solve all of that. Peace and equality would mean the land would be open to the world. Imagine if Arabs from the Gulf could visit. How much money would they spend, year after year? Imagine if Lebanese, Jordanians, and Egyptians could freely come. Cha ching! We’d have to build hundreds of hotels and resorts everywhere. It would be Holy Disney! God is our natural resource. And unlike oil, He will never diminish.

Those are just some of the reasons one state is an awesome idea. Of course, political, religious and social equality is good too. But for some reason, Israel has never gone for that argument.

Of course, both sides would have to give up something very dear. The same thing, actually. Neither side would get to say the land is totally theirs. No Palestinian state, no Jewish state. Just a state of its people, respecting all faiths, based on secularism and equality. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Of course, we would have to change some things. The flag is a little too exclusive right now. I suggest a new one that represents all of us. Maybe three stripes. Brown-Green-Brown. To represent a falafel patty. Or maybe just a drawing of a hairy person with a big nose. That could represent all Semitic peoples. Men and women.

We probably also have to alter the name of this new state. “Israel” sort of only represents one religion. Maybe we call it “Holyland.” Or “Abrahamistan.” Or just call the whole place “Jerusalem.”  We could even call it “Palestine.” Jews should be okay with this. I’ll even change the spelling to “Palestein” to make everyone happy.

Let’s do it. Let’s unite. Let’s stop fighting over land, religion, and hummus. Most of all, let’s all get rich together. Let’s put Palestein on the map!

Sam Harris, Bill Maher, and their amateur hour on Islam

It is quite easy to identify the Islamophobia of Donald Trump and many on the right. The “Muslim Ban,” manufactured rage about sharia law, Muslim registries… these things are quite simple to get worked up about. Civil rights organizations, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, rightly point these things out and criticize them roundly.

But these things are not our main problem. We can build coalitions against such in-your-face bigotry (one of the positive offshoots of Trump, if I’m looking for any). Countering blatant Islamophobia is necessary. But it is not a brave exercise. The challenge is how to deal with the latent sort, the brand of Islamophobia that cloaks itself in liberalism.

We all remember Hillary Clinton pronouncing in presidential debates that we need “to work with American Muslim communities who are on the front lines to identify and prevent attacks.” She went further, telling us that “we need American Muslims to be part of our eyes and ears on our front lines.” Her liberal framing of Muslims solely in terms of national security and their usefulness in the fight against “terrorism” is in many ways more dangerous than blatant Trumpian Islamophobia, mainly because it is more difficult to identify, while being just as treacherous.

We all remember Clint Eastwood’s widely lauded “American Sniper,” a film that basically consisted of a white American serviceman shooting Muslims for two hours. It was our country’s highest grossing film of 2014 to the tune of $350 million. The main character’s moral crisis was when he labored over whether or not to shoot a child (spoiler alert: he did). It was nominated for five Oscars and celebrated by the American left.

Sam Harris and Bill Maher serve as the intellectual, pop-culture kings of this liberal strand of Islamophobia. Last Friday, Harris sat down with Maher to discuss jihadism, Islamism, terrorism, and all things related. Harris started out with, “We have to win a war of ideas with the Muslim world.” This is the go-to mantra of those who believe in the tired idea of a “clash of civilizations.”  In other words, that Islam is, per se, incompatible with “Western”/American life.

Guys, by the way, this “clash of civilizations” stuff is so dated.  Anyone who still talks in those terms might as well be wearing an Ed Hardy t-shirt.

Harris went to say that Muslim world needs to rid itself of the stain of extremism, and that “only secular, liberal, and former Muslims can police this for us.”  In other words, only Muslims far from anything traditional, or better yet those who have rejected the faith altogether, can save Islam. “For us,” of course.

He used the way-out-of-style catchphrase “moderate Muslims.” “We need to reach out to them.”  Maher, of course, ate it all up, adding, “We are never going to defeat terrorism is we don’t reform Islam.”  He added his own colorful analysis of Muslim societies, with some really insightful commentary on female Islamic wear, telling us that “Muslims blame women for men’s horniness.”  Of course, patriarchy and misogyny are not the exclusive domains of any one society, and they are surely not foreign to America. Brock Turner, anyone?

Let me talk about this “moderate Muslims” trope for a second.  There is never any recognition by anyone who uses it that “moderate Muslim” means something totally different to a Muslim than it does to Harris and Maher.  In fact, the “moderate Muslims” Harris is attempting to refer to (I think), namely activists, intellectuals, opposition figures, secularists, don’t use the term at all. Except Harris uses the term, he invokes people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, individuals who have rejected the faith and culture altogether.

Ultimately, what Harris and Maher are saying is that the problem with the Muslim world is, simply, Islam.  This is reductionist, undeveloped, and just plain stupid. It demonstrates a blatant ignorance of any history of Islam or the Arab world.  And this should not be surprising, as neither has any advanced degrees in the area.  Harris is a neuroscientist, and Maher is Maher. They are not not scholars of the subject, self-taught or otherwise. And it shows. Maher’s simplistic discussions of the hijab and Harris’ facile paradigm of Muslims as jihadists, Islamists, and conservatives display a juvenile misunderstanding of Muslims and their sensibilities.

But what’s most damaging is that these two are celebrated as sophisticated, enlightened commentators, as liberal critics of Islam.  Hey guys, I like my whiskey. I eat bacon sometimes (I’m American, after all). A sheikh would not approve of many of my lifestyle choices.  I can diagnose all the individual ills of the Arab/Muslim world that you can.  I see the need for reform. I hate ISIS (I thought I would just say that for the record). I see myself as part of the greater Muslim fabric. I’m a secular liberalist who dislikes religion in governance. But I can never get on board on with you.

As long as you continue to assert that the problem with my homeland is my heritage itself, you’re just blowing hot air.  When it comes to talking about Islam or the Arab world, it’s amateur hour with you two. It’s almost as if you’ve never read reformers like Ali Shariati, Fatima Mernissi, and the like, who have invoked the egalitarian traditions of Arab and Muslim societies as the way forward.  To paraphrase Bill Clinton, I believe that there is nothing wrong with my people that cannot be fixed by what’s right with my people.  And I’m not alone.  So, if your objective is to get leftie Arabs like me on your side, you’re failing terribly.  If your goal is to talk about about my people in no more advanced terms than Donald Trump, then you’re doing a great job.

Secretary Kerry, there could have never been a two-state solution

Though many rejoiced listening to Secretary Kerry’s speech at the end of December, I’ve been walking around rather disenchanted. There’s no denying that his 72-minute diatribe in response to Netanyahu’s discontent with the United Nations Resolution 2334 is a refreshing twist to the traditional Israel-has-a-right-to-defend-itself US policy. For the first time, the United States admitted that the Israeli agenda does not include living side-by-side with Palestinians. Though Kerry waited until the end (when most stopped listening), he reaffirmed the Zionist agenda for Israel that was established in the late 1800s, an agenda that has no interest in the existence of Palestinian independence.

One-hundred-and-twenty years ago, the first Zionist congress was convened in Basel by a group of Jewish visionaries.

And they declared their purpose:

Zionism aims at establishing for the Jewish people a publicly and legally assured home in Palestine.

Those “Jewish visionaries,” founders of the Zionist movement, clearly solidified their mission: to create an “assured home in Palestine.” Not next to Palestine, not as a neighbor to Palestine but “in Palestine.” That was perhaps the last honest statement to come out of the Zionist movement… and the Obama Administration. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict started well before the state of Israel’s creation in 1948. Then, Kerry made the understatement of the century:

I don’t think most people in Israel and certainly in the world, have any idea how broad and systematic the process has become…

It’s rather remarkable how “broad and systematic.” Prior to Israel’s founding, Zionist founders would visit Palestine and study their soon-to-be adversaries. In 1891, 6 years before Theodore Herzl called for the Zionist Congress, Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg (a.k.a. Ahad Ha’am), wrote about his visit to Palestine:

The Arab, like all the Semites, is sharp minded and shrewd. All the townships of Syria [which are now Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon] and Eretz Yisrael are full of Arab merchants who know how to exploit the masses and keep track of everyone with whom they deal – the same as in Europe… For now, they do not consider our actions as presenting a future danger to them… But, if the time comes that our people’s life in Eretz Yisrael will develop to a point where we are taking their place, either slightly or significantly, the natives are not going to just step aside so easily.

The bogus notion that the state of Israel is a response to Russian persecution or the Holocaust was simply an attempt to disguise and excuse the “broad and systemic” campaign to eliminate Palestine and its people. It was intentionally orchestrated well before any of those historic atrocities and well before the creation of Israel.

Zionism was a land-grabbing agenda from its birth and was solidified in 1901 with the creation of the “Jewish National Fund,” an organization whose sole purpose was to purchase land in Ottoman Palestine for Jewish settlement. The era of settlements began more than 47 years before the creation of the state of Israel. And just as Ginsberg warned, the natives were [are] not going to just step aside so easily.”

If the Zionists were to claim Palestine as their own they would need to use significant force to do so. And so it began. A barrage of policies, from the Balfour Declaration to the Oslo Accords, have attempted to assuage the Palestinian people with the false promise of a two-state solution while the “broad and systematic” ethnic cleansing of Palestinians continued.

Kerry used a direct quote from Ariel Sharon himself to bolster the argument for a two state solution:

The original mandate gave the Palestinians 48 percent. Now it’s down to 22 percent. I think 78 percent is enough for us.

Sharon was likely pacifying Kerry at the time of his statement. I wouldn’t trust Sharon with my pet rat, let alone a two-state solution. Let us not forget Sharon led the Israeli army in 1948, the year of the Nakba, when many Israeli-led massacres of Palestinians occurred, including at Deir Yassin. Sharon was also at the forefront of the 1956 Suez Crisis, the Six-Day War of 1967, the War of Attrition, the Yom-Kippur War of 1973 and the 1982 massacre of Sabra and Shatila. It was also Sharon who rattled the cage ending several peaceful years in 2000, and began “cementing an irreversible one state reality that most people do not actually want.

The only thing that Kerry proved with his speech was that so long as Zionists ran Israel, the two-state solution was a mockery of foreign policy. Zionists want a state known as “the greater state of Israel,” and will sacrifice Palestinian lives and the lives of their own Israeli soldiers and citizens to do so.

Kerry did, however, make one poignant statement:

In a place where the narratives from the past powerfully inform and mold the present, it’s important to understand the history.

Indeed, Secretary Kerry. Indeed.

A letter to my Trump-voting neighbors

Donald Trump won. I’m not here to tell you that Bernie would have beaten him, or that Hillary won the popular vote, or that voter suppression laws affected things, or anything like that. In our constitutional system, Donald Trump won the presidency. It’s done.

I know why you voted for him. Trump tore down the political establishment that has been neglecting everyday Americans. He tapped into the raw emotions and real anxiety that you feel about your economic futures.  He said that you have been forgotten, that the elites were screwing you over. I traveled around the country working for the Sanders’ campaign and talking with people who supported Bernie for the same reasons. I get it. Hillary Clinton was part of the problem. I understand.

Trump won fair and square, as far as our system is concerned.  I guess it wasn’t “rigged” after all. But he won in a way no one has won before.  He won while employing fear of Muslims, Latinos, and immigrants.  In the last week of his campaign, Trump went to Minnesota and told its citizens that Somali immigrants were hurting their community, turning it into a dangerous place.  Minneapolis’ mayor (someone who actually lives there), quickly retorted back that Somalis add positively to the city. He won by kicking off his campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists.”  He proposed banning Muslims from America. He agreed with a suggestion to register Muslim Americans in a national database. He said a judge couldn’t be impartial because of his heritage. He went after the parents of a dead Muslim American soldier for being Muslim.

These things happened. And we heard them in a different way than you did.

Now, maybe he was just stoking things up. Maybe he is not an ideologue. Maybe he will change his tune now to embrace unity and diversity. Maybe he is such a narcissist that he needed the attention then and needs the reverence now. And maybe that will turn him into a uniter. Sure, he removed the Muslim ban from his website. Maybe he was being hyperbolic. But my question is this: Do you hope for all the same “maybes” I do?

Maybe Trump is just like our crazy Arab uncles who say a lot of sensical stuff just to conclude it with some conspiratorial insanity. I’ve heard it before:

You know, we have to make sure we stand up for our rights and fight for justice. We need to work hard, give back to our communities, and look out for each other. We need to be good Americans. And we wouldn’t have all these problems if the Jews hadn’t brought down the World Trade Center on 9/11.

That’s when I look at him and say, “Ok, but you can’t say that last crazy s&!t.” Can’t you say the same to your crazy uncle Donald?

I saw you at his rallies. You’d say things like, “He didn’t really mean it.” “You’re taking him out of context.” “That’s not what I heard.” Maybe you’re right. But as much as you give him the benefit of the doubt, it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter.

In San Jose, California, a Muslim college student was attacked and choked as her assailant attempted to pull off her hijab. In Buffalo, New York, a building was spray painted with the words “Make America White Again” and a swastika. In Royal Oak, Michigan, middle school students (right, middle school students) chanted “Build That Wall” to their Latino counterparts during lunch. In York, Pennsylvania, high school students marched in the halls, holding a Trump sign and chanting “White Power!”

This stuff is all happening. In just the few days since Trump’s (and your) victory.

Let me be clear. Are you all racists? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. And it doesn’t make me smart or brave to say as much. (Just like it doesn’t make you smart or brave to say that Muslims aren’t all terrorists.) But you did vote for a guy who said terribly racist things. Perhaps you didn’t celebrate his racist comments, but you did, at best, dismiss them. And whether you like it or not, the KKK is celebrating today. How do you feel about that? Or is that a ridiculous question to ask?

See, racism for us “others” is not episodic.  It’s the default state of affairs. And more importantly, it’s something we can protest, but it’s not something we can actually solve.  Racism is not a problem FOR white Americans, but it is a problem OF white Americans. I don’t expect you to know exactly how I feel. It’s tempting, maybe even comforting, to be in a position where you can ignore Trump’s bigotry because it won’t affect you (and perhaps even benefit you). But you do need to listen for a little while.

I know you might have voted for him because you’re scared. Because you don’t have a good job, and because you’re worried your kids won’t either. Because the government is screwed up and rigged. And you think he’s the answer. But when you elected him, you empowered this ugliness. You, intentionally or not, allowed some to think it’s now acceptable to openly and proudly make the rest of us feel like we don’t belong.

In other words, when you voted for Trump, you exchanged your anxiety for ours. And we need to talk about that.

The facade of freedom

On election night, I fell asleep early. I was certain my candidate was not going to win. I knew that the world was not ready to address real national security threats like climate change and perpetual warfare. Yup, I voted for Jill Stein, because other than the Green Party, no one was offering any real change. Not sexy enough for the mainstream media (MSM). Instead, MSM became the narrator of a domestic war between white males and everyone else. This country has a history of declaring war over concepts such as drugs, terrorism, crime, poverty and communism. For clarification, wars occur between nations, it’s not meant to be a rhetorical metaphor.

Waking up in the middle of night with the television still on, I was less amazed that the Green Party lost, but in awe that the MSM was rapidly losing the war it created. Hilary Clinton was miles away from becoming the next president of the United States.

Donald Trump would soon become the 45th president of the United States. Though I vomited in my mouth a little when I heard, my disgust quickly dissipated. My inherent Palestinian optimism kicked in (it’s the only way I can wrap my head around the tenacity and perseverance of the Palestinian spirit).

I started flipping through the channels to watch the reaction of the MSM getting smacked in the face for distorting the truth-America did not drink the Kool-Aid. Then it came; we are “a nation of bigots,” and “a nation of xenophobes”, and “a nation of homophobes.” “What would the rest of the world say?”

The rest of the world is saying that the US is an ethnocentric arrogant nation, just like they have for decades. We’ve always been a nation of bigots and homophobes. We have homophobic bigots, we have black xenophobes, and Muslim bigots, and black misogynists, and Christian anti-Semites, (you name it we’ve got it!). From the MSM reaction, you would think that we all treated each other equally before all this.


Lets not pretend that we are some progressive nation that sprinkles democratic pixy dust on other nations for the sake of human rights, equality, and justice for all. Progression does not equate to wars in the name of peace, democracy in the name of force, and death in the name of life. Progression does not equate to FIVE simultaneous wars, drones destroying foreign cities indiscriminately, and it certainly does not equate to racial profiling and excessive force in our own towns and cities.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Trump is not the only person in the world, and we are not the only nation in the world, to call for the elimination of Islam. He just said it loud enough for everyone to hear. Conservative Americans were not the only people that stood by and agreed with him. Muslims have been persecuted all over the world for decades! He did not create sexism. We still argue over Roe v. Wade, which was settled by the Supreme Court over 40 years ago! There is still a pay disparity between men and women. Our prisons have been disproportionately filled with Black and Latino men for decades! Illegal migration is a crime! He’s not wrong when he calls illegal migrants criminals! Do you honestly believe that legalizing gay marriage has ended the brutality and discrimination against homosexuals? That’s just delusional.

It’s delusional to think that a country built on stealing the land of peaceful natives in order to colonize and enslave in the name of industrialization, without any adequate compensation or repercussion, can be anything more than a façade of freedom… and no I’m not talking about Israel… though it does sound eerily familiar.


Childhood in the Holy Land

The path to school is one of those things that almost everyone can agree needs to be safe. Everyone except for Israel, that is. Palestinian children are terrorized and humiliated on their daily walk to school and home.

A study done by the Christian Peacemaker Teams and Operation Dove found at the end of the 2007-2008 school year, settlers committed violence against children on 14 occasions either to or from school. Children missed over 25 hours of classroom instruction due to “settler-violence” (so commonplace there’s even a name for it). This is not simply taunting or harassment on the way to school. Walking to school in Palestine can be fatal. Children are petrified of getting hit by the car of a random radical Zionist settler, known as “vehicle violence”. In 2013, there were 399 incidents of settler’s using their vehicles as weapons to maim and murder Palestinians.

But it’s not just the settlers these children have to contend with each day. There’s the skunk truck, courtesy of the IDF. The truck sprays fumes much “worse than raw sewage” and more “like a mixture of excrement, noxious gas and a decomposing donkey.” A reporter from Reuters described the liquid originally meant for crowd control during protest as the following:

“Imagine taking a chunk of rotting corpse from a stagnant sewer, placing it in a blender and spraying the filthy liquid in your face. Your gag reflex goes off the charts and you can’t escape, because the nauseating stench persists for days.” 

Children are stopped at checkpoints on their way to school and their bodies searched. Human rights organizations have documented cases illustrating the treatment of Palestinian men and boys held at checkpoints for hours. They areften forced to strip to their underwear in metal cages, with no privacy, let alone protection, food, or water. Teachers are also physically searched, often in full view of their students.

From the moment children walk out of their homes they are at risk of being “detained” by the IDF. Children cannot even play on their front yard without fear of the customary practice of detention (kidnapping) of children as young as 6 years old for no clear reason. As of July, the West-Bank based Addameeer Prisoner Support Network reported that over 400 children are currently spending parts of their childhood in Israeli prisons.

If these children manage to make it back from school unscathed, they often come home to find their home bulldozed by the IDF. Often, before all inhabitants have left. Imagine that for a moment.

You’re an elementary school student who walks to and from school each day, walking through the fear of death and imprisonment. Much like each morning, each afternoon you brace yourself, and somehow you manage to muster up the necessary resilience to walk back home. Just as you approach the safe-haven of your home, you notice piles of concrete. Within the rubble you notice your bed, toys, books, all in pieces. The IDF has demolished your home and everything you consider sacred. They have demolished your childhood.

Childhood is risky in Palestine. According to B’tselem-The Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, 2,134 Palestinian children and 134 Israeli children have been killed since September 29, 2000. Can’t we all at least agree that children, no matter their faith, tribe, or nation, should be able to walk to school without fear of death and imprisonment?

I’m a Dem, but Hillary is no champion to me

The Democratic convention is over, and my grieving process has began. I became an “unaffiliated” voter. It sort of brought a tear to my eye, as I thought about the Democratic nominee. Not tears of joy or elation for a “female nominee of a major political party,” but those of sadness and grief for all the little girls that are left out of this narrative. Of all the erroneous elements in this year’s election, what I keep coming back to are all the little girls that have been excluded once again-the black girls, the brown girls, the yellow girls, the red girls-pick your color. The only thing that “won” was a wealthy white girl, who met her yuppie husband at an Ivy League School, married him, rode him to the White House holding on for dear life no matter the humiliation, all to be crowned the first female U.S. President. (Sounds like a Disney princess movie.)

This is simply a celebration of white privilege. This story is not about a girl from a trashy meth infested neighborhood who broke the cycle of generational poverty, worked her ass off at the local market bagging groceries in hopes of attending college to become lawyer and triumphantly beat the odds by tirelessly working her way to the presidency, all while maintaining integrity and humanity. This story is about a woman who addressed a crowd of struggling constituents about income inequality, while wearing a $12,000 Armani jacket. If that doesn’t tell you how “out-of-touch” she is, you’re out-of touch too.
Hilary Clinton didn’t break a glass ceiling. She threw everyone and anyone she needed to under the bus that crashed into that glass ceiling and broke it. She showed all those little girls from that trashy neighborhood, that urban ghetto, and even that brown-girl from the lily-white neighborhood that her color doesn’t fit into, that the ends justify the means and that integrity is irrelevant.

This is the same woman that swears we need tougher gun laws but approved the sale of several gun manufacturers like Remington, who manufactured the Bushmaster AR-XM15-the one that killed 26 children and 6 women in Sandy Hook. That’s the woman we are celebrating?

This is the same woman who robbed hundreds of thousands of little girls from an education all over the Middle East overhauling regimes to increase her wealth and rob Mother Nature of her gifts. Little girls, brown, black, red, yellow, and their futures have been slaughtered for her agenda. This is the same woman that could not admit that Israeli military action in Gaza was “disproportionate?” The same woman who didn’t utter a sentence when over 500 children in Gaza were ripped to shreds, robbed from their parents by the illegal use of flechettes. I cannot even give you an exact number because their little bodies were so annihilated, they could not be identified!

The only sliver of hope is a recent Gallup poll showing that 52% of Democrats and 42% of Independents support an independent Palestinian state. That’s right. Senator Sanders exposed the humanity of the bulk of the base. That’s YUGE! For the first time in this millennium Palestinians were spoken of like we were human. And yes, it was the Brooklyn Jew who spent his time in a Kibbutz who spoke of us that way, just as he has since 1988. And we returned the olive branch to Senator Sanders by casting our votes for him (most of which were probably purged or sent to Mars or something). Jewish Americans and Muslim Americans got to show the world that we don’t hate on each other. No one wants to “throw Jews in the sea,” like Ben Gurion said (he came up with that line in the 1940s). We want the peace and tranquility that generations before us had and that meant Jews and Muslims living together side by side, celebrating the moments of their lives together, just like we do in my home. Do we honestly believe that Hilary Clinton wants peace and tranquility; that it’s important to her that Jewish and Muslim children live together peacefully?

This is the same woman that said nothing as thousands of children drowning on their journey from Syria to Greece in the Mediterranean, or the human rights violations in Turkey against those same refugees fleeing their lives. And all this happened on that woman’s watch! She made decisions to make all of this happen! When she sends our children to war to kill other children and all of those children die, which is not an “unintended consequence,” that is callous and calculated murder.

Alright, maybe its just us sand-niggers that she wants to eliminate, but what about Black kids, Latino kids, Asian kids? Those kids are Muslim. Surely, she’s not treated those children like that, right? Well… only if you add the 200 missing girls from Nigeria who were kidnapped by Boko Haram, a terrorist group that Miss Hillary refused to acknowledge as such, who has killed more people than ISIS. Of course, if she did that would hamper business in Nigeria (oil rich Nigeria). I’m sure their families understand.

Surely, she has to love the Latino kids right? She holds the Latino base right? Well in Latin America, According to the Huffington Post, under her “Plan Columbia” that she and her husband so proudly tout, U.S. soldiers themselves have been implicated in numerous human rights abuses while deployed during Plan Colombia operations – including allegedly raping dozens of Colombian women and girls between 2003 and 2007.” According to The Nation, “in Honduras, she worked to legitimize the overthrow of a government that was trying to make the morning-after pill available and advance the rights of members of the LGBT community. In so doing, Clinton helped install a regime that has been killing women and men at an impressive clip.”

She has effectively destroyed the lives and futures of millions of children with her actions, and she has not spared a soul. HOW is this a woman my daughters are supposed to look up to? How does she get away with such destruction?

It’s simple. She’s white and wealthy. She’s privileged, just like the rest of her white, wealthy “1%’er” friends that have no college debt. And family members, like Barbara Boxer of Nevada and friends like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to help them fradulently make a living.

Henry Kissinger is her hero. Henry Kissinger! He’s known for saying, “Control oil and you control nations. Control food and you control the people,” and “If you don’t hear the drumbeats of war, then you must be deaf.” If that doesn’t tell you how out of touch she is, nothing will.

The Arab American Bernie aftermath

As an Arab American surrogate for Bernie Sanders, there’s been a lot to think about since yesterday’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton. I’m a former surrogate now, I guess.

Of course, Bernie had said from the beginning that he would support Hillary Clinton if he lost the nomination. So, yesterday was no surprise in the grand sense.

Why did Bernie do it now? Why didn’t he wait until the convention? For two reasons, I think. First, I believe he thought it best to deprive Republicans of a major talking point (“Those Dems aren’t united”) as they head into their convention in Cleveland. Second, and more importantly, I think he believed that he was not getting any more concessions from the Clinton camp on platform issues. And this is where our community is affected most greatly.

Different communities fell into Bernie’s camp for different reasons. Some on corporate reform, some on climate change, some on campaign finance, and so on and so forth. And the Arab American and Muslim American communities had our own issues as well.

Palestine, foreign policy, social justice, Islamophobia, mass surveillance. Those are our concerns. And the Sanders campaign spoke directly to us on these issues. It walked into our communities, sat down, and engaged with us.

We have nothing to regret for lending our voice to his campaign. We have nothing to apologize for. We had long been dehumanized and disenfranchised in presidential politics. We got energized and organized this year. We were the reason Bernie Sanders won Michigan, giving him the political capital to remain in the campaign through the end. We showed that when a presidential campaign speaks our language, we can deliver in a major way. We can make someone president. That is historic for our community. It is something for us to be extremely proud of.

Our collective activism for Bernie Sanders, and our ability to win him Michigan, also means that our community built its own political capital. We have been noticed (in a good way, finally). And it is precisely for those reasons that we cannot support the Clinton campaign.

While the Bernie movement got some major concessions from the Clinton camp and the DNC, on our issues, the party actually regressed. No amendments decrying overseas militarism. Nothing about curtailing surveillance of our community. And most notably, the DNC refused to recognize Israeli occupation, the illegality of Israeli settlements, the human suffering in Gaza, and the absurdity of the notion that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. The DNC even added a platform amendment condemning the non-violent, speech-based BDS movement. While Clinton might have progressed on some major items, she got more hawkish on our community’s core issues.

I was so inspired traveling around the country and seeing Arab Americans and Muslim Americans invigorated and energized as I advocated for Bernie. It was something I had never seen before. It was electrifying. It made me want to demonstrate and eat hummus every day (which is not too far off fom the truth anyway).

But, let’s be clear. If we seek to celebrate and preserve our communal political gains in 2016, we cannot turn around and support Hillary Clinton in the face of her rejecting us completely. We cannot throw away what we have achieved. Let’s stay involved. Let’s stay loud. And let’s make it clear that we are a moral community with red lines. We won’t be discarded, discounted, and disparaged.

A note to the Clinton campaign.  Arab Americans and Muslim Americans, as a whole, probably number about 10 million American citizens.  Also, we just happen to reside in large numbers in some important swing states, like Ohio, Michigan, and Florida.  It seems, by your actions, that either you take us for granted (“They wont vote for Trump, right?”) or you are completely inattentive and/or disdainful on our matters of interest. I wouldn’t be so dismissive if I were you. As we showed Bernie, we will respect politicians after they respect us. Pay attention, Mrs. Clinton. After they respect us. Never before.

Tribute to Alton Sterling: We are the minority

Multiple gunshots penetrated the onlookers’ ears. Blood sprouted and smeared the front of a silver car. One police officer laid on the floor, his gun still aimed at the dying man.

That dying man’s name? Alton Sterling. Get used to it. You’re going to be hearing it for a while. And you should be. Sterling’s name needs to resonate in our nation for years to come. He’s another Black victim of police brutality. He’s another father who needs to be buried. He’s another son that will be missed. He’s another cousin who families won’t see at barbecues and joyful occasions. And he’s another reminder that our nation has a long way to go.

Sterling can be seen in the video with two officers atop him, forcing and pressing him to the ground. While squirming, as anyone would, one of the officers shouts “Gun!” Then he threatens to shoot. And then he shoots. And then he continues shooting. Sterling is last seen flailing his arm in the air, trying to grasp the atrocity inflicted and maintain what little life he has left.

If you’re not worried about police brutality, you should be. These gut-wrenching instances won’t stop. While many in our nation are shouting for gun control, we have armed, ferocious monsters hiding behind badges and authority inflicting chaos upon our citizens. I don’t hate law enforcement, but they’re people. And if we’re regulated, they need to be regulated too. They’re susceptible to mental illnesses, rage, and any other conflicting element that may cause barbarism.

Police brutality against blacks has plagued and embittered this nation. Statistics from 2015 show that unarmed Blacks were killed at five times the rate of unarmed Whites.  69% of them were unarmed, and an alarming 97% of the time no officers were charged with any crime. That’s disturbing.  If 69% of them were unarmed, how are 97% of these cases exonerating these officers? I’m not against the police force, and I’m not saying that they don’t have a lot on their plates, but this is confounding.

These numbers don’t include 2016 yet. But they do include people like Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Brown was unjustly shot, and Garner was suffocated to death. His memorable chant of “I can’t breathe” was stitched onto shirts and displayed for the world to see.

And pretty soon, none of us will be able to breathe. We’ll all be pinned down with guns shoved in our faces. We’ll all be shot at. Why? Because we’re all the minority. The majority is the unjust, and the minority is us, the people who are against these heinous acts and who are trying diligently to end them. The people who are at the mercy of this ruthlessness. The people who must band together to return peace and justice to all.

One day, the injustice will be at your doorstep. You’ll be thrown to the ground and tossed around like an old doll. You’ll be deprived of your rights and stripped of your dignity. Wouldn’t you want the world to hear your claim and stake your plight in their minds? I know I would.

The gunshots still ring in my ears. I wasn’t there, but I feel like I was. And honestly, if we don’t realize that we’re the minority, and that this plague will reach all of us one day, it’ll only be so long until it does. Our futures reside within the screams of Garner. They’re staring at us in the pool of blood beneath Sterling. And they’re awaiting our response. It’s time we unify, end oppression and seek justice for all. History is waiting to be written. Hopefully we can give it a good ending.

My grandfather’s name was Muhammad too

I was an Arab-Muslim-Palestinian-Christian-American kid growing up in a quiet, all-white, insulated suburb of Philadelphia.  I always knew I was a little different.  I had parents and grandparents with weird accents. On weekends, my parents packed us in the car to go see other kids who had parents and grandparents with weird accents. I constantly heard stories of immigration, discrimination, and “otherness” from my parents and elders.

Even in my childhood (not that long ago), Arabs and Muslims were vilified in the media and entertainment.  American Sniper, Chapel Hill, and Donald Trump are today’s reiterations of a long-standing atmosphere of Islamophobia and anti-Arab bigotry.  Whether it was Iranian students, Palestinian guerrillas, or Libyans shooting at Marty and Doc, being an Arab or Muslim kid in the 80’s wasn’t that fun either.

My grandfather’s name was Muhammad. He was also a survivor of the Palestinian “nakba” (“catastrophe”) of 1948, where Palestinians were dispossessed and exiled from their homelands.  He eventually ended up in California, where he passed away in 2003.  There’s a bunch of ways to spell that name, by the way.  We really have to get our act together on that one.  I actually remember that when I got old enough to notice it, I was excited that my grandfather spelled it the same way the champ did.

I got teased all the time as a kid.

“Do you guys eat camel?”
“Of course not,” I screamed back. I confirmed with my mom just in case.

“Watch out for the terrorist.”
“I live down the street,” I responded.  I thought they said “tourist.”

“You have a weird name.”
“Oh yeah?! Well, my grandfather’s name is Muhammad. Like Muhammad Ali.” That shut them up.

We all know that Ali sacrificed his material professional achievements by refusing to fight in the Vietnam War.  To be clear, however, he wasn’t a draft-dodger.  He didn’t look for some technicality to get out of it (which he surely could have secured).  He didn’t fake an injury or run to Canada. He stood in the face of his government and told it, unabashedly, “No.”  Muhammad Ali taught us, very clearly, that sometimes in life, perhaps often, if you wish to truly be great, you must become an enemy of the state.

In American sports, we frequently use the term “world.” When a baseball team from Kansas City beats another baseball team from New York, we call them “World Series winners.”  When a football team from Denver beats another football team from Charlotte, we label them “champions of the world.”  But Muhammad Ali really was the “World Heavyweight Champion.”  He can be the topic of conversation in any cafe in any corner of any city in the world.  No matter where you were, his name is known.

So, sure, I could talk about Ali’s compassion, kindness, and influence.  But to me, his defiance is what I remember.  It’s what I identify with. America is a place that allows us to speak loudly, achieve proudly, and preach avowedly.  But it also a place that oftentimes can alienate those of us who sound, look, eat, and celebrate outside of the norm.  But Muhammad Ali made it ok for a young Arab kid in America to brashly, chest out, full of pride, inform everyone that his grandfather’s name was Muhammad too.  Thanks champ.

Hillary and Donald, BFFs forever and ever

According to the Center of American Women in Politics, in 2012, 64% of women and 60% of men voted. Racial demographics according to the Pew Research Center estimate that by November 2016, the voting public will consist of 70% whites, 12% Hispanic, 12% Blacks and 6% Asian. For a racist (a.k.a. Trump), it seems like it would be in the bag. But when you break down that 70% of white people down into their ethnicities, it paints a different picture. “White” consists of a lot more than “White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.” As a matter of fact, since 1978, the U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation categorizes “white people” as “people having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.” So those “white” people include Muslims, Arabs, Jews, and Orthodox Christians from areas such as Syria, Iraq, Greece, Bosnia, Turkey, and the rest of the countries we’ve screwed by creating perpetual warfare. It would seem to me that isolating the populations that have the largest voting majorities would be political suicide. The entrepreneurial Trump must know that much.

But what if that was the plan all along? The Clinton and the Trumps have had a long cozy relationship together.

Beginning in 1998, Trump publicly supported former President Clinton during the Lewinsky Scandal. In 1999, Trump told a NY Times reporter that if not for the scandal, Bill Clinton would have gone down “as a great president.” In 2000 in an interview with Jessie Ventura, he went on a rant about whistleblower, Linda Tripp, calling her the “personification of evil.”

In 2005, at Donald and Melania Trump’s wedding, Hillary Clinton was granted a front-row seat at the ceremony. The former president joined her at the reception at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. A picture of the Clintons and the newly wed Trumps has been exposed so many times it has been called “the event that explains the 2016 election.”

Back in 2007, Trump praised Hillary Clinton among the presidential candidates then as someone who could make a good deal with Iran. “Hillary’s always surrounded herself with very good people,” Trump told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in 2007. “I think Hillary would do a good job.”

In October of 2008, in an interview on CNN, Trump slammed George W. Bush for getting into the Iraq war “with lies,” and suggested that his actions warranted impeachment much more than President Clinton, stating “and they tried to impeach him, which was nonsense.” The same year, the two were photographed in July at the Trump National Golf Club in NY.

In 2012, Trump told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that Clinton had done a great job as secretary of state. “Hillary Clinton I think is a terrific woman,” he said. “I am biased because I have known her for years. I live in New York. She lives in New York. I really like her and her husband both a lot. I think she really works hard. And I think, again, she’s given an agenda, it is not all of her, but I think she really works hard and I think she does a good job. I like her.”

Even Bill Clinton himself spoke highly of Donald Trump. In an interview in May of 2012, the former president said, “I like him. And I love playing golf with him.” At the same time, Trump was playing the predominant role in the “birther” movement, where Trump vehemently questioned the authenticity of President Obama’s birth certificate.

On Larry King in October of 2013, Trump was asked how he felt about Hillary Clinton running for president. With flattery he responded, “Yeah, and I know her very well. They’re members of my club, and I like both of them very much, and he was with you one time and he said he likes me,” Trump said, adding, “and I do like him.”

In May of 2015 right after Hillary announced her entrance into the race for president, Bill Clinton spoke to The Donald, and reportedly encouraged him to take a front and center role in the 2016 presidential election. A month later, Trump became a contender.

And of course! Let us not forget that Ivanka and Chelsea, like their parents, are BFFs too!

I have often said that growing up Arab means you were taught to be a skeptic. I was taught to distrust the government and the media (which was probably working for the government). Our parents weren’t just paranoid. There was truth to it. In the Middle East, governments and media were traditionally linked and it was essentially common practice for the media to simply relay the message of the government rather than the reality of the people. Of course, here in the United States, we grew up thinking that “freedom of the press” was the people’s reality. Unfortunately, it seems our hypersensitive parents were right. The media has simply become a mouthpiece for the candidate who has paid the most money to the most connections to get the most airtime. In 2016, that means we are stuck with Trump and Clinton.


After Bernie, what’s next?

A lot of Arab-Americans are disappointed that Bernie Sanders is all but out of the running for the nomination for president. Our community supported him because he listened to our concerns. He was the first major presidential candidate to bring up the rights of the Palestinian people as a major concern. He stood for social justice of all people. For these reasons, it is tough for Arab Americans, and all Bernie supporters, to stomach that he has a slim-to-none chance of winning.

I believe that Bernie’s biggest draw was not his economic or trade policies, but rather his authenticity. He truly has fought for everything he has believed in for over 50 years. He has a true passion for wanting to better the American people, and he works tirelessly to do it. Socially, he believes that all people should be treated equally under the law, and he practices what he preaches. I may not agree with every single policy he has put forth, but I really admired that the policies he introduced were genuine.

With Bernie Sanders just about out of the presidential race mathematically (barring an indictment of Hillary Clinton), a lot of Bernie supporters are looking to see who they would vote for in the general election: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. These two candidates are probably the two most disliked people to ever be vying for the presidency at the same time. Hillary Clinton is the embodiment of the political system. When you think powerful families, you think of the Bush family, Kennedy family, Rockefeller family, and the Clinton family. When people look at Hillary, they think of a person who has been planning to be president since she was young and will stop at nothing to do it, like Frank Underwood. On the other hand, there is Donald Trump. He is the anti-Hillary. He’s very rich, and won’t hesitate to tell you. He has also been known to deliver some controversial remarks toward African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, and just about every other minority group you could think of. With these two, many feel trapped. They feel like they have to choose between bad and worse.

If I had a nickel for every time I have heard someone say “America needs to get rid of the two-party system,” I would be a very rich man. Now, it is time to act on it. Why don’t we take a closer look at Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson? Many people do not know much about the Libertarian party. It is a party that places a premium on personal liberty with little governmental interference. In the American political spectrum, Libertarians are socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

Fiscally, Gary Johnson believes in truly free markets. The government should not be intervening in the economy as much as they do, but that doesn’t mean that the government should not be punishing large corporations for illegal behavior. He also believes in term limits for Congress. This can help limit the power of super PACs. When congressman are subject to a term limit, they can focus on serving the people rather than getting elected and staying in their seat.

Socially, Gary Johnson believes in personal freedom for all. He believes that closing the borders are idiotic and stupid.  In his view, illegal immigrants should be put on a path to legalization. He also believes in protecting the constitutional rights of all people of all races and religions. The Libertarian philosophy is that everyone is free to do and believe what they want as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others.

For Arab-Americans, Gary Johnson is a good candidate. He stands for social justice, opposes giving any money to Israel (which seems to be increasing every year), and believes that America should not be in the business of meddling in Middle Eastern affairs, namely because we have done more harm than good there. For all upset Bernie supporters, I urge you to look at Gary Johnson as a serious candidate. For the people thinking “My vote will be wasted, he will never win,” don’t be so sure that he cannot make an impact. If he gets over 15% of the vote in polls, he is invited to the debates. He is currently polling around 10% nationally. Ask Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders how debates have helped their popularity. Now is the chance to look into a third party. Let’s not limit ourselves.

After Janna Jihad, we have no excuse

At 22 years old, I want to be a journalist. And while I seek inspiration from many different people, my most recent comes from Janna Jihad, who resides in the West Bank of Occupied Palestine. She’s 10. Let that sink in. At 10 years old, she’s not playing with Barbies or trying on makeup. She’s out on the dangerous Palestinian streets confronting armed Israelis, filming bloody scenes and, above all, giving Palestine more of what it needs: a voice.

So, we have no excuse. If Janna can prance around the streets with her camera amid gunshots, bloodied bodies and ravaging tanks, we can certainly do more. Especially here in the U.S.

When we walk outside here, there are no tanks crumpling the ground by our sidewalks. There are no armed troops conducting random raids and arrests. There are no checkpoints. And yet, we’re still idle. We don’t do nearly as much as we can. Janna is doing something simple, yet crucial. She’s spreading awareness.

I remember watching the campaign to stop Joseph Kony. I’d never even heard of Kony, nor of the atrocities he committed in Uganda against children and other innocents. When I first saw the video, it had garnered hundreds of thousands of likes. By the time I watched it again, it had soared to millions. All of the comments revolved around determination to bring this monster to justice. It was awareness. The simple act of notifying people.

We Palestinians need more of it. And we need to be the cause of it. Janna risks her life every day in the West Bank to be a voice for the voiceless. She films what the dead cannot. She speaks for the pained child who’s bleeding beside her. She shows the peaceful and determined side of Palestine the world isn’t used to seeing and hearing. She’s endangering herself for her people. Her age doesn’t exempt her from an Israeli rifle. They’ve murdered plenty of children. What would one more be to their inhumane bloodbath?

We need to do more. We need to occupy the streets and spread the truth about Palestine and Israel’s lack of humanity. We need to educate those who are misinformed. By lacking the fervor of people like Janna, we aren’t campaigning for Palestine’s freedom in the ways we should.

Every day, more Palestinian blood run. Every day, more Palestinian mothers are forced to weep amid their sons’ battered bodies. Every day, more Palestinian land is demolished, colonized, and transformed into some family’s nightmarish memory.

And every day, the people refuse to see. In some cases, it’s not because they can’t, but rather because we’re not showing it to them enough. And no amount can ever be enough. As adults, it is supposed to be our jobs to teach young children like Janna the proper ideals and conduct. But in this case, the kid is ahead of us all. If we weren’t inspired before, the sight of Janna risking her life should be the spark we need.

Israeli citizens are victims of Israel too

They say ignorance is bliss.

But in today’s world, especially in places like Palestine and Israel, ignorance is lethal. It is the weapon that allows oppression and cruelty to occupy. It is the way for governments to pacify their concerned citizens. And it’s precisely the way these murderous regimes are maintained.

Yes, as a Palestinian, I’m crestfallen while reflecting on the state of my homeland and how, day by day, hopes for a Palestinian state wither. But I’m not ignorant, and I know the way the game works. I can acknowledge that Israeli citizens are victims of their government just as we are.

This conflict and the way the Israeli government articulates it to its citizens is reminiscent of the United States and its war with Iraq. Think about it. George W. Bush took the podium, fixed his eyes into the camera and said the U.S. was conducting a war on terror. As a child, I’ll never forget the pride I felt. I actually believed it. All the propaganda — the pictures of supposed “terrorists,” the videos of these terrorists training — it all seemed like our intervention was needed.

And then I grew up and learned the truth. There never were any “weapons of mass destruction.” It was all a pretext used to implement hidden agendas our government wanted. And that’s the way it is for Israeli citizens.

Listen to interviews from some brave Israeli historians and researchers who champion Palestine. Ilan Pappé, a Israeli Historian, explained in a speech how even slight objects such as Israeli school books are falsified to manipulate young Israelis into believing that Palestine was vacant and that the land bloomed because of the Jews. Travel to this side where CNN blares Middle Eastern issues, and we see how the talk is about Israel being “bombarded with missiles.”

Imagine living there. Imagine believing their lies with an immense fear crawling through your veins. You’d expect your government to protect you. You’d believe their convictions. I know I did about the U.S. and its war on terror. Luckily, I discovered facts here because our information isn’t as regulated as Israel’s. According to Eran Efrati, a former IDF soldier and Israeli who comes from a prominent Zionist family, Israel scrutinizes all of their media outlets and filters everything. At least over here, we can run information independently, but in Israel, the game is much different.

Israeli citizens’ lives are controlled more than they realize. They can’t question and publish news freely. They must abide by whatever their government approves.

If we want to invoke change, a place we need to start with is enlightenment of the most important entity: a society’s people.

From my elementary school days, one principle stuck with me, and it’s still important today: popular sovereignty. The power is with the people. If the masses are against a plan, it falls. If they’re for it, it succeeds. Why else would the U.S. and Israel need these falsified stories to perpetrate their acts? The Israeli citizens, in a sense, are oppressed. Not nearly as bad as Palestinians, but they still experience some forms of oppression. And their oppression leads to their ignorance, which is a main aid in crippling the Palestinian plight for freedom.

Israel’s biggest fear is for the world to realize its lies and condemn them for it. And if it came from within, it’d be a catastrophe. They wouldn’t be able to convince their citizens that the apartheid wall is for their safety. They wouldn’t be able to convince them that their illegal settlements also promote Israel’s well-being (that’s another claim Efrati says Israel supports). And it’d be much harder for them to sustain the brutal occupation of the Palestinians.

Imagine how foolish Israel would seem if a majority of its citizens were protesting alongside Palestinians and pointing out their government’s horrific cruelties. It’s safe to say Israel’s stories would weaken tremendously. And it’s also safe to bet that the Palestinian cause would garner even more attention.

Acknowledging the other side is never easy. It comes with much ridicule and scoffs. But there is truth to illuminate. If we want to end oppression, we must come from different angles. Like our world’s ignorance. If we can spread the truth, it’s only a matter of time until these lies are exposed. And for a nation that’s built off of lies like Israel is, that’s what the Palestinians’ freedom relies on.

We Arabs are complicated

I really don’t want to use “I” a lot, but hello, I’m human. I love life. I love peace. I love my faith. I love everything about my culture… Oops, I lied.

Arab culture. Let’s see. We are generous, we make good food, we have nice upbeat music, our movies are cheesy, and our love lives are messed up. Romance to us is buying an expensive purse for the wife, and cooking a good meal for the husband.

Arab culture part 2. We live in a war zone, we think culture means women must stay in their homes to clean, men work to provide, children go to school to provide later, and if we have extra cash why not invest in a maid as well.

Arab culture part 3. Men can date and have sex before marriage, but God forbid a woman even texts a guy. She would now be considered a world famous whore with an ugly past haunting her.

Arab culture part 4. You are only allowed to raise children as doctors or engineers. It’s a disgrace to raise an artist, an interior designer, a politician, or an actor. “You want to be what? An actor? My firstborn be an Actor? Oh how joyful… NOT!”

Arab culture part 5. They think being an Arab means being Muslim, so they take everything about the culture and in such a magical fantastic way, they incorporate it into religion. “Oh yeah my wife doesn’t drive, it’s haram in Islam.” Mind me to remind you that back in the day, Muslim women used to ride horses, so what’s so wrong about a woman driving a car? That’s culture not religion, my friends.

Arab culture part 6. “Oh, did you hear this? This guy is gay. Let’s expose him and make his life hell.” They could be gay, they could be interested in animals even, WHY BOTHER? “Oh you have to see how this girl is totally sleeping with this guy.” Why assume? “Oh, I’m going to start a webpage to expose these people.” Why take on a role that you shouldn’t take? Each to his own. Are we a culture that really LOVES scandals?

Arab culture part 7. We are generous people. Don’t come to eat lunch at my grandmother’s house if you’re not hungry, because she’ll stuff you with food. Visit our homes, and you’ll get a 10 course treatment, starting with coffee, a bunch of food, ending it with tea, and “Goodbye, visit us again.”

Arab culture part 8. We are protective people. If we see someone attacking someone else in public, we’ll rush to help. We’ll be there to support. We have this thing in our genes to always being the first to jump to offer a lending hand. If we see a man bothering a woman in the street, flirting in a rude way, we’ll make sure this man gets his fix for what he’s doing.

Arab culture part 9. We are loving. Despite all these social norms forced upon us, we are still loving. Everything our parents do whether we agree or disagree with it, is done with love. We love to enjoy a good meal, a good hookah, a nice vacation, and a nice sleep. We just love to do things, anything, and everything. We love to argue, we love to pretend like we know it all, and we love to pretend like we’re Europeans when Champions League is on. I mean rich Arabs love to own soccer teams in Europe too. Loving people, I told you.

Arab culture part 10. We’re proud of being Arab. We get shamed, we get discriminated against, we get hate, we get comments, we get criticized, and we get bothered at airports, but guess what, we’re still proud. We have our problems like any culture does. We have issues that are being fixed like any culture does. Only difference is that other cultures have become so superior, that they block us from evolving. They locked us in a certain era, and as much as we try to evolve, we find ourselves going back. Media isn’t in our stand, politics isn’t in our stand, but we should be in our own stand. I’m an Arab, and proud of being an Arab. I’m an Arab, and I recognize the problems of my culture today. I’m an Arab, and I am trying to fix what’s wrong with my culture. I’m an Arab and I am asking my fellow Arabs to respect each other, stop shaming each other, and work together for our own sake. I’m an Arab and I love people from all backgrounds, so try to love us back. I mean, as I said earlier, we’re generous people, so love me. I’ll get my grandmother to make you a good meal.

Why we Palestinians don’t have freedom

All oppressed people had one thing in common: great leaders. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Nelson Mandela. Mahatma Gandhi.

These are recognized names that command respect. These gentleman were esteemed leaders that knew the game of oppression and cracked its crippling codes. Gandhi gained overthrew British rule in India with peaceful boycotts. Dr. King quelled the U.S.’s inequality with fiery speeches and mass marches. Mandela was imprisoned for over 25 years, and when he finally was released, worked not only to end apartheid for his people, but to dismantle it in other regions as well.

The Palestinians, unfortunately, have never had a revered leader like those above. Maybe some people acclaim Yasser Arafat as the core of Palestinian pride and struggle, but his contributions didn’t do much. And if they did, we aren’t seeing everlasting effects on the Palestinians as we do with India and Gandhi, Dr. King and the U.S., and South Africa and Mandela.

Oppression can’t be defeated through war. Somewhere along the line, the victors will degenerate into dictators and tyrants. It has to start with a defined leader. One who knows how to articulate peaceful messages and gatherings, one who is dignified as a man of the people. When Dr. King spoke, the masses were silenced. The same applies for Mandela. Look up one of his speeches, and you’ll be entranced. Gandhi was a bit more soft-spoken, but his words still carried immense truths.

It doesn’t necessarily matter what kind of leader a country has, just as long as he’s truthful, prudent and objective. Right now, everyone for the Palestinian cause wants to be a leader. We have the PA who’s trying to regulate issues amongst its own people, and who diligently try to negotiate with Israel. And then there’s Hamas, which imposes harsh prison sentences for crimes such as marijuana. While Hamas and the PA have bettered their relationship, it stands that no progress for the Palestinians has really been made.

In fact, many Palestinians resent the PA, viewing them as Israel’s puppet. Either way, neither of these parties feature a illustrious leader. Mahmoud Abbas, the PA’s president, is older and fatigued. He doesn’t have the ardor required to surmount Israel’s oppression.

Palestinians are lost, and rightfully so. Despair is the only thing that meets them daily. They’re exasperated. They’re hopeless. They’re tired eyes come face-to-face with walls of injustice and the barrels of guns. Any way they turn, no answers can be found.

But a leader can change that. A real, true trusted leader. Not Arafat, who was the first to extend his hand toward Yitzhak Rabin. And not Abbas, who’s been a leader for many years but hasn’t changed much. We need a Palestinian leader like Gandhi. We need a Palestinian spokesperson like Dr. King. We need a Palestinian activist like Mandela. These three were on the battlefronts. They weren’t hiding behind the doors of their posh homes with comfort and peace. They weren’t hiding behind cameras and promising future bliss and prosperity. They weren’t disregarding the people’s cries and yielding so easily.

They were risking themselves. They were imprisoned, battered and ridiculed. But they were successful, and that’s what everyone remembers the most.

When history shines, it isn’t the bad that’s highlighted. It’s all the moments of bravery and triumph that surpass all else. And until the Palestinians get a formidable, committed leader, their history won’t shine with that victorious light other oppressed groups obtained.