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Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Passion for Justice: Sherif Fam (July 22, 1936 - August 31, 2010)


I am always fascinated by those rare occurrences when a brief human interaction leaves a lasting effect. I first came across Sherif Fam shortly after 9/11 as part of an Arab / Muslim / Jewish / Israeli dialogue group. I came to know of the group through an Israeli friend and I was invited to the home of a Jewish doctor, the son of Holocaust survivor. The members of the group had different styles ranging from wanting to express their own views and listen to others in honest, true dialogue to those with a more debating style. One grey haired man with a small build spoke very quietly and calmly about issues of morality, justice, humanity and suffering. This man spoke with a great deal of knowledge, very calmly, yet passionately about the humanity of the Palestinians.

We all tend to like to pigeonhole people,. I had originally thought that the man was a Jewish peace activist, perhaps an American Jew or, because I did not really hear the typical Israeli accent, an Israeli who had rejected Israel in his youth and moved to the US. It was the complete lack of aggression, I would even say compassion, which he used to talk to those who opposed his views that struck me, he must really know where they come from. The discussion moved on to the rise of attacks against Muslims in America after 9/11 and with the same keen sense of justice the man spoke about human rights and equality. Someone then mentioned that this man’s name was Sherif Fam and that he was a Coptic Christian Egyptian.

Over the years Sherif and I met occasionally either at dialogue groups, where he was rarely in attendance, or Arab American functions. Sherif appeared to me to be tired of dialogue, perhaps he felt the truth was eminently clear, for all to see, in terms of the on-going suffering of the People of Palestine. If people chose to close their eyes and hearts dialogue or none was not the issue; it was the suffering on the ground that needed addressing. I am not sure if Sherif ever disapproved of the on-going “work” of dialogue but I think his sense of fundamental justice was all encompassing.

Years later I woke up on a Sunday morning and turned my radio dial to hear Weekend Edition on NPR. Instead I heard a familiar voice, the voice of Sherif Fam on the radio, hosting “This Week in Palestine” on a college radio station, something produced by Truth & Justice Radio …the same calm, passionate voice, speaking on behalf of the oppressed.

I think I met Sherif one last time at an Arab American dinner in Boston in 2008 where his radio program was honored. A few days ago, I heard of the passing of Sherif Fam at the age of 74. Sherif touched my soul with his passion, his sense of justice and his commitment. I will always remember his smiley, welcoming face, his eyes full of sparkle and passion and his calm determined demeanor. Sherif Fam has left an impact on many people and I will always cherish my memories of him. His family and his grandchildren should always be very proud of a truly great, understated man, his work and his impact.

Ayman S. Ashour
September 25, 2010

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