The Goddess of Flowers
(Washington Post, 7/11/2004)

This Thanksgiving, This Ramadan
(Washington Post, 11/11/2002)

A World of Difference
(Washington Post, 9/6/2002)

On Recognition and Nation
(Washington Post, 9/30/2001)

$125 For My Thoughts?
(, 2/10/2000)


On Recognition and Nation

Washington Post, 9/11/2002

I've traveled all around the world and I've taught all sorts of people and for sure I'm biased but I've absolutely come to believe that you won't find a more generous, compassionate, or hospitable people than the Arabs.

But goodness, compassion and humanity is rarely deemed newsworthy.

I always thought my novel writing was the best way for me to contribute to the political work of the world. But the past year has pushed many Arab-Americans like myself—whether activists, artists, or accountants—to a new sense of urgency. So when I arranged with a women's magazine to write a profile of a local woman chef who happened to be from Palestine, I was thrilled by this opportunity.

The chef spoke of food, business, and gender-politics. She also spoke from the perspective of a Palestinian about the painful ongoing struggles of their day-to-day lives under occupation and how desperately Palestinians want peace.

There was no blaming, no vindictiveness, and no judgment in anything she said: she was a voice of reasoned sanity and wisdom. And she happened to be Palestinian.

The magazine editors rejected the piece. They said that her comments were "unreliable" and a form of "hearsay."

Unfortunately this seems to go to the very heart of the problem for so many Arab-Americans. It's rare that they're allowed to represent their lives or experiences in their own words or voices. These stories are considered "hearsay," meaning that if an Arab speaks, that the words carry less weight, less authority, less reality than if a white American speaks. If you're wondering if this could really be true, let me ask what is the last movie you've seen about Arabs in America—or anywhere—told from an Arab perspective? What is the last book you've read from this perspective? Arabs are given very little access to the American mass media and because of that they're semi-invisible, ideal targets. If we know little to nothing about Iraq or the lives of average Iraqis, they're much easier to drop bombs on.

When I was a young girl, my family lived for a while in Amman Jordan. I had a nanny—a real Bedouin with kohl-rimmed eyes and henna tattoos on her chin. She taught me how to read and write and she also taught me how to read the future by throwing some polished stones against the garden wall and reading their configuration as they fell on the ground. One of our neighbors at the time was an Iraqi woman named Samar, a sophisticated urban woman from Baghdad who'd escaped from the political upheavals in Iraq. She noticed the nanny tutoring me with the stones one day and became upset. This was a primitive practice, she said, a coarse and backwards way of learning about the world—completely unscientific. She said she would show me the proper way to be educated, brought me inside... and produced a deck of tarot cards.

She read my cards then, and said I would grow up and see worlds within worlds; she said once I started talking I wouldn't be able to stop; she said I would live in a house overlooking the full moon, that I would learn to sail a large boat, that I'd learn how to converse with the plants in my garden and I'd dream the dreams of the parrot in my palm tree. It was a mysterious, luscious, poetic reading, and within it was one of my life's great lessons: it filled me with a sense of possibility about the world, made me aware of the infinite promises of the future, and it made me so proud to know that I was both Arab and American.

There was a time not all that long ago when it seemed that America was large enough and strong enough to love its infinite varieties, its complexity and contradictions. When having a sense of cultural difference was celebrated—even if that culture was from the Middle East. I pray that this strength is still with us. The world is a larger, more beautiful place than we might always realize. We're a part of it—and we must remember—the rest of the world is very much a part of us as well.

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