Monday, September 22, 2008

Bigotry in Virginia, alive and well

So, I had a run-in with a bigot yesterday. Its one of those scenarios that is almost so generic you might think it destined for made-for-TV films (and its also very likely that's where the bigot in question got his lines from).

I was visiting my older brother and his family this weekend in northern Virginia- Fairfax to be exact. Incidentally, he's a cardiologist. We were toting our small army of children and babes to a local state park, and made a pit-stop at a Walmart for some trout worms and juice (an odd grocery list, I confess).

I'll also confess my brother's driving can be a bit frantic at times. I was trying to keep up as he sped into the parking lot, and next thing I know I'm at the receiving end of a voracious honk from a car to my right in a 4-way intersection. The car was a good distance away, and hadn't moved, but I suppose he wanted to make a point.

That was that, and we parked, waiting for my brother to retrieve the necessary items and come back. Just then, a stout white man of, oh, 45 years, walked by my car, giving me a very prominent middle finger and a very articulate "F*&* You" (and I thought the joke was you wouldn't make it far in Boston without a middle finger!).

Ok- fine, he's clearly upset, not yet making any connection, and I'm fasting, so I need to control my temper I thought, and I let it go.

I stood outside the car with an ancy Noor, while Yousuf took a nap in his car seat. Soon, my brother emerged from the Walmart, and lo and behold, behind him was the same man. He came up to me.

"Is there something bothering you with me, sir?" I beckoned.

"Yes, your driving-you nearly ran into my vehicle!!"

"I'm sorry-I was actually quite far away from your vehicle and it was my right of way"

"Free Palestine? Palestine's already free!!" he raged, gesturing to a bumper sticker on the back of my windshield as he began to walk away.

Clearly, my driving wasn't the only thing bothering him.

"I'm sorry?"

He then turned around and bellowed out "Why don't you go back to your country! "

"We live here, and I"ll have you know our values are probably more American than your's will ever be."

"Yeah right-" he muttered, continuing on his way.

At this point my brother, an American citizen, went up to confront him. The man came up within an inch of his face pointing and yelling something about his tax dollars, and how there was no occupation, and how we should all go back home. His blood began to boil and he looked about ready to swat my brother, who was explaining to him where his tax dollars were really going.

"I dare you to lay one finger on him" I said. "Go ahead. We'll press charges. Its called a hate crime, and you'll end up where you belong. You, sir, are a bigot. Go ahead and say what you just said on a loudspeaker to everyone in this parking lot if you weren't such a coward."

Mind you, we are in northern Virginia. During the ten minutes I stood in the parking lot alone, we were passed by Indians, Mexicans, Chinese, Arabs, and African-Americans. I wonder what he would have had to say about all of them.

A few people took a moment to glance at what was happening. But for the most part, they kept on their way. And that was what was really frightening- bringing to mind a social experiment was conducted and filmed for ABC news' "What Would You Do?" series about a racist cafe owner refusing to serve a Muslim woman (the incident was staged and repeat dozens of times on tape) on their February 26,2008 show.

Several people vocally supported the man in denying her service and telling her the things he did ("go back to where you came from"..."if you were really American, you wouldn't where a towel on your head"..."take your jihad out to the parking lot" etc. etc.), even giving him a thumbs up and saying they would do the same. Many opposed him, saying they were deeply offended and that he was disgusting. But the overwhelming majority stood by and did nothing.

And that is the scary part- you realize that maybe for every person angry and stupid enough to actually verbalize his racist thoughts, there must be 5 others who are thinking them.

Back to my story. Several other Muslims going shopping with their families emerged from their cars, asking if we needed help, calling him a racist and telling him to leave us alone. He soon backed off and was on his own cowardly way.

As I said, its sort of one of those incidents you anticipate (at least as a veiled Muslim woman; or even as a person of color and minority) your entire life. Shortly after September 11, I was was once called a terrorist by an elderly man in CVS in Cape Cod, who's daughter whisked him way, insisting he suffered from dementia. But for the most part, I usually excpect (and receive) the good in people-people accusing airport personnel of profiling me, for example, or asking if i need help, or just saying hello.

But when something like this does happen, I suppose the shock value is still so high that you never quite know how to respond. And you sit there stewing for a while, wondering how human beings can be so unabashedly vile-especially in this day and age, to one another.

Someone suggested I should have told him to crawl back to the rate hole he emerged from, in respose to his asking me to go back home (I also imagined that if everyone in this country was asked to go back "to where they came from" there wouldn't be anyone left, except maybe the native americans).

That might have been satisfying. Another part of me wished I had just told him that it was Ramadan and that I would pray extra hard for God to bless him with a kinder spirit and a more tolerant soul, so his next victim would be spared a similar, if not worse, fate. Ameen to that.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Like baby, like cat

When Noor was born, we bought her a used baby bouncer. You know- one of those things that you strap the baby into, which is then supposed to "soothe" them with its womb-like vibrations and musical tunes. Yeah right.

Noor never quite took to it. It seemed to irritate her more than anything. So we left it alone. And now of course, with her crawling around and standing up on our furniture, its become obsolete in any case to strap her into anything.

So there sits the relic of her infancy, gathering dust- or should I say, cat hair, in the corner of our living room. I've recently discovered that our cat Bagheera found a new favorite napping spot. He jumps into the bouncer, even activates the vibrations and music, curls up into a ball, and snoozes away. So there you have it folks-assuming you don't have an allergy to cats, a multi-purpose baby bouncer!

Its interesting to see how Bagheera's interactions with Noor have changed. When we first brought her home from the hospital, he seemed mortified of her-sniffing her all over then wasting no time to run away like a cowardly lion. Now, he'll curl up next to her when she's nursing, and even let tug on his fur when she wants to touch him-something that would invariably be met with a nip and a paw if any of us did it.

Noor's Teething Celebration=سنينية نور

Noor's first two teeth popped through last month. She wasted no time practicing her new found chompers on you know who's you know what's. Once the novelty of biting her source of sustenance wore off, she quickly became adept at actually using them for their intended purpose: chewing.

Anyway, being the sucker for traditions that I am, I decided to mark the occasion with what we call a "snayniya" in Arabic, sort of a teething celebration. It basically entails making a sweet dish by the same name and passing it out to friends and family, as well as distributing candied almonds and chocolates.

Snayniya (the sweet) consists of whole wheat kernels that are soaked and boiled until tender, then sweetened with sugar or honey, flavored with some orange-blossom water, and mixed with loads of raisins, mixed chopped nuts, and pomegranate seeds if available.

Though she hadn't a clue what was going, Noor seemed to enjoy herself nonetheless! And I'm happy to report she is no longer biting me!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Alternive Tourism- Gaza anyone?

I recently completed updating the most recent edition of the Beit Sahour-based Alternative Tourism Group's "Palestine and the Palestinians" travel guide. I wrote a little bit about the project last year (when I was updating the 2006 edition).

But I'm particularly excited about the latest compilation. My job was to work on the Gaza section, since a lot has happened over the past two years. I tried to include as many juicy tidbits as possible to really give an insider's view of Gaza as well as suggestions on local favorite spots and so on. Part of the idea is to challenge the mediated perception of the city.

The book is sold in Europe, USA and Canada. In the USA it's sold through "Palestine On Line Store" (though the newest English edition is not yet out on the site)

In the UK it's sold at Olive Cooperative, and it's also available on line through their website

In Sweden available with our representative Mrs. Inga-Lill Rubensson and also through ATG's Swedish website

In Belgium at Vlaams Palestina Komitee

In Switzerland:
Geneva: Off the Shelf Bookshop
Basel: Bider & Tanner:
Carol Sheller Doyle:

Canada: Zatoun:

ATG also has an annual olive-picking campaign in late October, as well as a Bed and Breakfast program where visitors are housed with local Palestinians in Bethlehem.

The group is a Palestinian NGO that specializes in Fair Trade and "justice tourism", focusing in tours and pilgrimages that include critical examinations of the history, culture, and politics of the Holy Land. In so doing, they try to support the local community through the creation of economic opportunities and positive cultural exchange between guest and host, the protection of the environment, and political/historical education.

ATG works to encourage all tourism operators to abandon exploitative mass tourism and to adopt practices that positively affect the host population. Through these methods, ATG seeks to promote a positive image of Palestine and its people and to contribute to establishment of a just peace in the area.