Thursday, September 13, 2001

Tale of A Sad Angry Defiant and Patriotic Arab American

I am an American of Egyptian origin, Muslim Arab American if you prefer. For nearly 25 years I have been a strong advocate for peaceful co-existence in the Middle East and a strong opponent of the fanatical cycles of hate that stem from all sides in the Middle East. During the days of the Gulf War, I was actually based in Europe, I was so proud of US action, I held my head high as an American, I argued and walked out of places that were hostile to America and to our effort to counter the Iraqi aggression. My pride was immense the day the Egyptian troops, as allies of the US entered Kuwait City as the first liberators. In my mind, in the mind of those who knew me there was no conflict in my American identity.

Years after the Gulf War, I became an expatriate in China, sent their by my employers. So I was right there during the war with Serbia. When the Chinese embassy was bombed tremendous hostility fueled by the Chinese Government ensued. Again, my hosts, friends and associates in Hong Kong and China had no doubt on what my identity was, a patriotic outspoken respectful American. An American who strongly believes in the American values of freedom and liberty and in role and duty that America has to play in the world, be it over human rights in China, the question of Tibet, Taiwan’s defense, or a Mid East peace broker.

I am also secure enough in my American identity to disagree with the US policy towards the Palestinian people. While I have little time or respect for the Palestinian leadership I feel deeply for the long suffering of the Palestinian people.  Most of my limited effort on behalf of the Palestinians is actually centered on dialogue with members of the Israeli peace movement to help shape their agenda and also work to help Egyptians and Arabs develop an understanding of the other side, to reduce hatred to promote understanding, to see the humanity of the other side.

Then come the shock of September 11th, the horror, the tragedy, and the incomprehension of the enormity of it all. I sit down to explain to my boy what happened, I try hard to explain in simple terms to the little guy, whose American and Chinese friends in China referred to as “Boston Boy”. These people are not Muslims, they may claim to be Muslims, they may claim to have committed their atrocities in the name of Islam, but these are misguided and demented minds. They are headed straight to hell my son, no killings of innocents in Islam, no suicide in Islam, no blind hate. Sons, the Ku Klux Klan pretend to be a fine Christians, were they? Of course, not! We don’t go by what these beastly terrorists say, we know better.

So here I am, just like every other American trying to make sense of this horror, helping my boy through it, with just the added burden of the religious and ethnic connection to the terrorists. I think I can cope so far, difficult, but I will manage

My boy wants to know if he can still defend Muslims and Palestinians if other kids say bad things about them, well I say yeah of course. My boy is scared of the backlash against Arabs and Muslims reported in the media. The little guy makes sure the doors are locked at night and listens out for unusual sounds; terror indeed!

Backlash, what backlash, I never even thought about it. My worst fear of backlash was being in Red Sox baseball cap surrounded by Yankee fans in the Bronx. Should I put the stars & strips outside the house so people know I am a loyal patriotic American?? Put a flag on the car?? Do I really need to do that? Do I need to tell the boy to shut up and not talk back at school? Should I surrender my American identity and think of myself now mainly as an Arab? Should I stop going to Fenway Park to root for the Home Team?

No I won’t do that, I walk in the streets of Europe, Egypt or China with a defiant lone American flag, a symbol of pride, but I will not do it in my own hometown, I will not carry the stars & strips out of fear. I will carry on with my life and my identity; I won’t surrender to the terrorists and the racists. If there is “slightly” demented minds here too, then that is one more thing I have to explain away to the little guy!

Sept 13, 2001

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