Hopeful Desperation in an Unjust and Terrifying World

This morning I woke up to find several of my Facebook friends sharing an Arabs Got Talent video. I’ve never properly watched the show nor have I cared to. But just as I’ll click on a link to a video that any friend recommends as interesting or funny, I’ll click on a shared Arabs Got Talent video every now and then too. So I clicked on this one to see what all the fuss was about.

It was a musical group of young Palestinian children from Gaza. They trained through the recent Gaza bombings. There were days on end when they couldn’t go to school but they would train as a group nevertheless. They described how difficult it is for them to see all the destruction in Gaza as they make their way to their institute to train. They tried several times to get out of Gaza to participate in the show but they couldn’t. The border with Egypt, the only way out, is often closed. But they eventually managed to get themselves across the border, onto a plane from Cairo Airport, and into Lebanon for the auditions. “We want to show the world that there is talent in Palestine,” said the youngest of the group. The group was composed of one singer and four children on musical instruments. The singer, probably around 13-years-old, had the hugest smile on his face throughout the whole audition. They played and sang a song by legendary Lebanese singer/songwriter Wadih El Safi (1921-2013) about the return of a loved one; the implied message in this particular case being one of singing for the return of Palestine. The children played and sang the song beautifully. The judges were all very impressed; so much so that one of them, a Saudi comedian, pressed the golden button that allows them an automatic go-through to the next rounds. Gold confetti dropped all over them as they continued singing the song to its end, with the youngest player on the classical Arabian instrument, the zither, crying tears of joy.

I always have a good cry when I see people accomplishing their dreams. So it isn’t strange that I had a really good cry while watching this video. But this time was different because of the context of the past few days. I’ve had a very deep-sitting feeling of loneliness and frustration since the Charlie Hebdo attacks. I feel as if I’m not understood – by hardly anyone. I feel like I want to sit the people of the world down in front of me and slowly explain to them why it is that we’ve reached the situation we’re now in. I want to tell the Western powers-that-be what they have been doing and continue to be doing wrong. I want to tell my fellow Muslims what they have been doing and continue to be doing wrong. It’s all so clear in my head but because there are so many intermingled and complex reasons for it all, they get jumbled in the area just before my throat so that it feels like it all just comes out in a putrid spew of vomit. I can’t seem to find the energy or the willpower to put together a proper, evidence-based argument to be able to clarify things the way I see them. (more…)

Can the Ice Bucket Challenge Teach Us Anything About Muslim Extremism?

Like anyone else in the world with a Facebook account, I’ve been bombarded for several days by videos of celebrities doing the ice bucket challenge. The first one I saw was that of Bill Gates. I then slowly began to see videos done by non-celebrities. In the beginning I could not understand what it was all about, even after watching some videos from beginning to end. Why were people throwing cold water on their heads? Why were celebrities doing it? There were no explanations in any of the videos I saw. I then saw a few media reports about the challenge. It was only then that I began to understand that it was somehow linked to a disease called ALS.


I Googled ALS and learned it was a degenerative disease of motor neurons that results in its latest stages in full paralysis. Someone eventually posted a video on my Facebook feed of a young man affected by the disease explaining what ALS was, how it affected his life, and what it had done to his mother. He said that people were doing the ice bucket challenge in order to raise awareness about the illness and to raise funds for more research on the disease.

That did not make sense to me. How does a video of a person dumping ice water on their heads create awareness about ALS or get people to donate if no one in those videos mentions the disease, what it is, or how to donate? They also made no mention whatsoever of the fact that they had donated themselves. I was just seeing silly videos of people pouring water on their heads.

And so, as is my nature, I began to get upset.

Instead of sharing the many ice bucket challenges appearing in my feed, I posted the video of the young man affected by the disease. I wrote that this was the kind of thing I would rather be seeing if people really wanted to create awareness. I also posted a video of Sir Patrick Stewart in which he sits in front of an ice bucket writing a check, and once done, takes some ice out of the bucket, puts it into a glass, pours himself a drink, and raises his glass to the camera in a toast. That made sense to me. This was someone whose aim was to show people that this was not about having fun. It was about donating money.

Now watch me link this to the deaths of hundreds of people in Gaza, including women and children, and to the beheading of an American journalist by a Muslim militant extremist. (more…)

The Ethics of Resistance

Strip a people of all freedoms. Take their land, kill their children and their loved ones, control their livelihoods, and prevent free movement. Strip them of their humanity. Occupy them. Deprive them of any form of justice. Do not, by any means, hold their aggressors accountable for their aggressions. Acknowledge the aggressor. Support the aggressor. Celebrate the aggressor. Do this for 66 years.

Then dictate to the occupied people the ethics of resistance.

Better yet, give them a list of the forms of resistance that are not allowed. Label those forms as terrorism. Do not tell them what you might consider to be “acceptable” resistance. Imply that non-violent compliance in the face of the complete annihilation of their civilization is the only form of resistance acceptable.

Tell them they must negotiate with the aggressor. Tell them they must accept all the conditions of their aggressor and cannot make conditions of their own. Tell them their people will not have the right to return but give every person in the world who belongs to the same religion of the aggressor the right to citizenship in the newly formed country.

Go to the movies. Cheer along as Hollywood glorifies American resistance fighters as they combat alien invaders, apes, and sometimes other humans. Then come home, turn on the television, and listen to American commentators and analysts deny the aforementioned occupied peoples, living under the worst conditions known to the human race, their right to resist.

Terrorize anyone who shows support to the occupied people. Label them. Demonize them. Threaten them. Call them terrorists and terrorist supporters.

Let’s you and I, sitting safely in our homes cuddling our children happily in our laps, discuss the ethics of resistance.

And let us not mention, once, the “ethics” of aggression and occupation.


I Am the Palestinian Mothers

Some people belong to worlds that are small and limited to themselves, their immediate families, their work, and perhaps a few small social circles.

I almost envy people who have such small worlds.

My world is comprised of myself, my immediate family, my extended family, a small number of best friends, a very large number of friends and social media contacts, and then every man, woman, and child living in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world.

It is a burdensome world I live in.

Some people are even less fortunate than me. Their worlds are so large that they encompass everyone on planet Earth and beyond. People like that have so much empathy it makes you and me look like unfeeling zombies.

I have been considering all this over the past few days. Why is it that, while I sit safely in my home in the UK, I can feel so down about everything happening in Egypt, Gaza, Iraq, and Syria? When bad things happen there, it is as if they are happening to my own family. No. It’s not “as if”. It is happening to my own family.

A few days ago I attempted to start a small creative writing project. I began writing about a woman who finds herself dead in a dark grave. It takes her awhile to gather her thoughts. Her head hurts. She almost immediately starts to think about her children. She lovingly tells us a bit about each one. And slowly it all comes back to her. In one group of paragraphs the woman is Palestinian, killed at home by an Israeli bomb while she gathered her children under her arms to protect them. In another set of paragraphs she is an Iraqi mother whose children watched in horror while she was raped then battered to death. In a third set of paragraphs the woman is a Syrian mother who died on a smuggler’s boat from hunger and sheer despair after having watched two of her younger children quietly pass into oblivion. I never got as far as writing all those paragraphs. I was physically incapable of getting that far. I put myself in the shoes of the first mother, an Egyptian woman not very different from me, who was shot while sitting in her car by thugs wanting the money in her purse. This is something that actually happened to the sister of a former work colleague of mine. I put myself in that mother’s shoes and felt so much anguish that I could not bear to continue to write. I could not possibly write about the other mothers. I would not have been able to hold myself together.

I’ve been wondering what it was in my upbringing that made me feel so close to other Arabs. (more…)

Foreigners protesting in my country

For the past few days, foreigners have been protesting in my country. Activists, mostly from the US and Europe, are on a march to enter Gaza and the Egyptian government is preventing most of them from passing through our borders.

For some background, read this BBC story dated Dec 28 

Gaza marchers on hunger strike in Egypt

Since I started following these protests, I’ve gone through a rather wide range of feelings. I summarized those feelings in some tweets today:

NadiaE: Let me find a way to say what I want to say in short 140 character tweets about current foreign protests in Cairo…

NadiaE: My initial feeling was “how cute”. It was rather endearing to see foreigners camping out on 1 of Cairo’s important intersections in protest

NadiaE: It was also a bit funny learning that our police weren’t quite sure how to deal with it all, while they normally know exactly what to do

NadiaE: I continued to follow tweets and tweeps and some traditional media. The foreign protestors were getting more bold.

NadiaE: I understood yesterday (or was that the day before?) that they were in Tahrir Sq and at the Cairo Museum

NadiaE: Let me stop here for a sec: I am one of the ppl old enough to vividly remember our spate of terroristic attacks in the 90s

NadiaE: Although I do not condone the general prohibition of peaceful protests and gatherings in my country..

NadiaE: I do understand why such gatherings should not happen anywhere near tourist spots. Our police are OBLIGATED to protect our tourists

NadiaE: And it is much more difficult to protect tourists when there is chaos and large gatherings of protestors

NadiaE: And when the police started physically moving protestors from these hot spots (remember they left them sleep in the street b4)…

NadiaE: …the protestors whine about police brutality!

NadiaE: Back to my feelings. I like talking about feelings. I’m a feelings kinda person…

NadiaE: Yesterday I wasn’t really sure how to feel about these protestors. There were foreigners protesting in my country and causing trouble

NadiaE: And I wasn’t happy with some of the attitude I was seeing from them. One protestor tweeted this yesterday morning:…

NadiaE: Protestor tweet: :”Alright,up and ready to go. Let’s show Cairo what we’re made of.” Am I the only one that finds that insulting??

NadiaE: And then, in that same protestor’s blog, I read this today: “At the end of the protest, myself and other internationals decided..

NadiaE: “it would be best to escort the Egyptian citizens who bravely took part in the march, out of the area by holding on to their hands.”

NadiaE: “If the Egyptians were left alone then the riot police would attack them mercilessly so as we filed out,”

NadiaE: “we did so while holding on to one another until we were a bit away from the police.”

NadiaE: Please tell me that I’m not the only one who finds this statement just wrong and demeaning

NadiaE: But you know how I really feel today? I went back to thinking about the intentions of these protestors

NadiaE: These are not Arabs, or Muslims, or Palestinians, or Egyptians. These are ppl who have gone out of their way because they see injustice..

NadiaE: They have left their homes, warm beds, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and children..

NadiaE: They come knowing that this region of the world can be brutal, oppressive, abusive..

NadiaE: They come knowing that they are more unwelcome than welcome..

NadiaE: And they do come with an attitude problem…but if we try to look beyond that…

NadiaE: these are people who believe in something so much that they are willing to risk everything precious to stand up for it

NadiaE: Now…I thought that was US! I thought WE were all willing to die for Palestine. We say so ALL THE TIME

NadiaE: I thought WE were willing to stand up to dictators and get our butts kicked for Palestine. We say so ALL THE TIME

NadiaE: How many years have we been saying so? Someone remind me?

NadiaE: So after going through the feelings of “how cute” and “they have an attitude problem”, today I simply feel ASHAMED

NadiaE: I know first-hand the hurt Palestinians feel towards their Arab bretheren for leaving them without help for so long

NadiaE: And our excuses have been: its our governments; we have no armies; dont go to Palestine cuz that’s normalization with Israel

NadiaE: And then here come the foreigners..not even armies. Just normal ppl like you and me. And no matter how silly they seem theyr doing something

NadiaE: So that’s the short story of how I feel today. Not impressed by foreign protestors attitude but impressed with their resolve…

NadiaE: and utterly ASHAMED by Arab impotence (for the most part) for the past 62 years. Utterly ashamed

NadiaE: And let me tell you, in our part of the world, impotence for men is one of the most shameful states a man can ever be in

NadiaE: So let me say this loud and clear: Arab men have been impotent about Palestine for too long!

NadiaE: *gets down off her soapbox*