Monthly Archives: October 2010

Harbia, Maha, Hiyya and Mohammed

I recently met a wonderful family of Bedouin refugees from Kuwait. Harbia and two of her daughters, Maha and Hiyya, greeted me with enormous warmth and welcomed me into their home for a conversation about their lives and how they ended up in the U.S. It felt so comfortable and familiar to sit in the living room of an Arab family, and reminded me fondly of the many house visits I made to Palestinian families in the West Bank.

Harbia

Like most Arabs, this family exuded hospitality and offered me Arabic coffee, which I readily accepted because I just love the sweetness and cardamom flavor. I also very much enjoyed being around Arabic-speakers, to both test what I know, and listen for words I could recognize. Let’s just say I still have a long way to go before I’ll be able to even somewhat communicate in Arabic.

Harbia sat like the most regal of women I have ever met. She has 9 children, and a beautiful and proud smile. Her sense of humor radiated from within her. Even though we couldn’t communicate directly with words, I could tell when she made a joke, which she did often.

I originally thought I was going to meet a family of Iraqi refugees, and I felt rather nervous about it. I had mentally rehearsed a small speech to express my sincere apology for what my government and military have done to their country, and my gratitude at their willingness to speak to me. So you can imagine my surprise when just a few minutes into the interview, one of the daughters, Maha, tells me they are Bedouin from Kuwait, not Iraqis.

According to Maha who translated for her mother, the Bedouin of Kuwait find themselves in quite a predicament. The Kuwaiti government mostly does not give citizenship to its Bedouin, also known as Bidoon, which means “without” or “without citizenship.” Thus they find themselves without a national sense of belonging in the land they were born in, and denied human rights which impact all areas of their lives. This created many problems for their family, ultimately causing them to seek refugee status in the U.S.

While Maha says the Kuwaiti government did not interfere with their lives or try to force them out of the towns and areas the Bedouin inhabit in Kuwait, it still left them in a difficult situation; without citizenship and a passport, Harbia’s family could not travel outside of Kuwait. The family had to purchase Iraqi passports to travel from Kuwait to Jordan, where they applied to become refugees.

Harbia

According to Refugees International, the Bedouin of Kuwait are not given a birth certificate at birth. It’s also difficult for the Bedouin to work and get an education in Kuwait. Maha told me that Jordan is the only Middle Eastern country that allows the Bedouin to work and pursue education.

Maha says her father was a soldier and served in the Kuwaiti army during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Referring to the military service of the Bedouin, Maha said “all Bedouin save Kuwait.” Maha says the government told the Bedouin soldiers “you are Kuwaiti,” giving them great hope that their military service would translate into citizenship and all the rights that go along with it. “So we saved Kuwait and nothing,” Maha said.  The Bedouin who served were never given citizenship after their military service.

When asked how they feel about being in the United States, Maha said they feel like “they start a new life.” All of their faces lit up when they talked about being citizens and finally belonging somewhere. Maha said only the little sister could speak English when the family arrived in the U.S., and she had to translate everything for the rest of the family. Now Maha, her sister Hiyya and the rest of the children can speak English quite well. They all took classes at Pima Community College.

However, the family faced another huge obstacle upon their arrival. The first year they were here, Harbia got sick and cried a lot because her son Mohammed remained in Jordan until about 11 months ago. Maha told me it was because of his name. Apparently the name “Mohammed” carries a stigma with it, and Harbia’s son was held behind the rest of the family until he passed an extra, heavy-duty security clearance. Harbia feels ecstatic to have Mohammed here now – her face radiated the light and love that only a mother’s face could show for her children when she spoke about him.

Mohammed made his grand entrance just as we were wrapping up our conversation. He walked into the room with his thin, tall frame, smokey eyes, and honey-colored curly hair carrying a bag of Kentucky fried chicken. Yup, I thought to myself. This family is just as American as the rest of us. We may all come from different places, but that’s what makes this country so endearing.

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University of Arizona Homecoming

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Sexual Violence Against Women

I’m currently working on a crime story for my reporting class about sexual violence, and specifically rape, which college aged women are much more likely to experience. This story has taken me to the University of Arizona Police Department, the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault,  and has put me in contact with Angela Baldasare, a sociologist by training at the University of Arizona, who specializes in sexual violence and violence against women. She provided me with a wealth of information and resources to pursue this story.

Yet you’ll have to forgive me for I am about to bare my soul. Since beginning work on this story, I have entered a space of deep feelings of sadness and grief; I’m brought back to the awareness  that we still live in a male-dominated society, and I would say world, that is largely hostile to and violent toward women. I have also landed squarely in the middle of my own personal struggles as a woman, and the sexual violence and threats of violence and humiliation I have faced in my own life.

After my interview with Angela, I encountered the Women’s Plaza of Honor on campus, which caused me to contemplate sexual violence and physical abuse against women. The banner beneath the title of the plaza reads: “Celebrating women’s lives – past, present, and future.” It’s a lovely plaza but I was struck by the image of this very small space dedicated to celebrating and honoring the lives of women. It’s a lovely gesture, however the larger spaces in which women live their lives remain dangerous spaces for them – our relationships, our homes, our educational and work spaces. These are spaces where women are still often blamed for the violence and harassment committed against them, and spaces where women still silently internalize blame for these occurences.

As I observe the Plaza, I begin counting the women I know who have been physically or sexually abused. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven… and these are just the cases that come easily to mind (of close friends, not acquaintances), and represent only the women who have been open about the abuse with me. I begin counting the number of incidents of sexual violence I’ve experienced, and the number of emotionally abusive relationships I’ve been in. One, two, three, four, five… I stop counting after five as the heavy realization sinks in – I’ve masked a lot of pain and trauma through the years, and have been largely unable to recognize patterns and cycles of abuse and sexual violence in my own life and relationships.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice report on Sexual Assault on Campuses, 1 out of 5 young women experience rape during college. In 80 – 90% of these cases, the victim and the perpetrator know each other. Half of all student victims do not consider the incident rape. These experiences stay with us and impact our lives in destructive and harmful ways without the proper resources and guidance for healing and prevention. Click here for University of Arizona resources available to students who have been victims of domestic or sexual abuse, and to learn more about how to prevent it.


Becoming a Muslim in Tucson

Victoria Trull grew up a devout Christian in a devout Christian home. She says she grew up attending African-American churches, which she described as involving more than just religious belief; she said it was also a “part of your culture.” Regardless of whether or not you hold on too dearly to your religious beliefs, “you just do it,” she said.

Victoria described her deceased mother as “a really hardcore Christian” who was considered a prayer warrior in her church, and described her father as the equivalent of a deacon in the church he currently attends, and the church Victoria once attended. Victoria no longer attends her father’s church because she converted to Islam a little more than a year ago.

Victoria says she once accepted Christianity even though she “had questions.” When attempting to vocalize some of her doubts, she says the Christians and people around her responded by telling her she needed to increase her faith, without offering her any answers.

During high school she said she questioned the 4 gospels in the Bible, and what she describes as their often differing accounts of the same events. She wondered things like, who was actually at the tomb of Christ? “Was it 1 person or were there 2 people? Was there 1 angel or were there 2 angels, or were there no angels?” she said.

A lawyer by training, she spoke about the need for corroboration of witness’s stories. “If you have 4 witnesses that are showing things 4 different ways, then it’s really hard to convict a person if their stories don’t really match,” she said. “If we are supposed to be depending on what’s in this book for our eternal salvation, then how can we trust in the testimony of 4 witnesses whose stories don’t match?” she asked.

Listen to Victoria speak further on her doubts about Christianity:

Victoria says Islam corrected many of the contradictions and problems she found within Christianity, and particularly with the Bible.  The “wow” moment came when she first started reading the Quran, which she said addresses the issue of the alteration and manipulation of God’s word.

“My words have been changed in the past, I’m sending you this (the Quran) and I’m going to preserve it,” Victoria said of the Quran’s message. She felt it struck at the heart of her doubts about the Bible, of which she said “things have been inserted, taken out, and changed.”

Muslims believe that Islam’s primary holy book, the Quran, consists of revelations dictated to the Prophet Muhammad via the archangel Gabriel. According to Muslims, Muhammad is the last of the prophets and the Quran is God’s direct, final and perfect message to human kind, providing divine moral guidance for how to live our lives.

Revealed over a period of 22 years, from 610 to 632 CE, Muhammad recited the Quran to his followers who memorized it. Islamic and Western scholars generally believe that the Arabic in the modern-day Quran is essentially the same Arabic in which Muhammad received the revelations. However the first versions of the Quran were written without diacritical marks, which distinguish short vowel sounds and some pronunciation characteristics; they were added shortly after the first versions of the Quran were written.

Listen to Victoria speak further on the challenges of becoming a Muslim:


Low-Ri-Duuuur

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Tucson Meet Yourself

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My Struggle With Journalism and the Middle East

A demolished Palestinian home in the Tulkarem district of the West Bank

Sometimes I don’t feel cut out for journalism, although I’m learning many new worthwhile and valuable skills, particularly to check, verify and question information.  After a mere 7 weeks of graduate study, I am already seeing news very differently – reading biases and questioning methodologies and the validity of information. Yet something dwells within me to the depths of my soul – compassion and caring for other human beings that I am afraid is incompatible with corporate journalism.

My pursuit of journalism grew from a desire to bear witness to and share people’s stories, but also to speak truth to the powers that be, and in particular to explore how U.S. led wars and foreign policy impact the civilians on the receiving end of them. Thus I do have an agenda as an aspiring journalist; I hope to help guide U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East in a direction that has greater respect for human rights, in whatever small way I am capable of doing so.

However I am also a sensitive and caring creature, and I can’t be silent in the face of jingoistic and nationalistic propaganda and gross human rights abuses, no matter who commits them, but particularly when we do. And so I am unsure that I am capable of enduring the “objectivity “ or self-inflicted and corporate censorship that journalism will impose upon me when covering certain topics such as Palestine/Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan. My problem is that I just can’t see dead Iraqi, Afghan or Palestinian civilians as “collateral damage,” nor do I subscribe to ideologies that promote this way of understanding the wars we wage.

Palestinians are cut off from land taken by Israel to build settlements

This doesn’t mean I should or will ever close my eyes to corruption and injustices committed by these groups of people when they occur, and even now I feel an instinctual urge to assert or try to prove my “objectivity” in this regard. Yet I also personally know many beautiful Palestinian children, including 8-year old Hammoudeh whom I tutored extensively while in Palestine, who could be killed in the blink of an eye simply for being Palestinian. I will never accept this as a God-given gospel – I will always question it, even when doing so could get me into trouble.

Having knowledge of what goes on in Palestine is both a blessing and a curse. A curse because I have little doubt that the powers that be will attempt to silence me in my attempts to provide context and understanding of the Palestinian perspective in this decades-old conflict. A blessing because I am in a unique position to tell people about the situation there who have never had access to more in-depth information. I take this responsibility very seriously, and I can only hope that what I share does more good than harm in the long run.

It is not my intention to convert Zionists into anti-Zionists, as my professor light-heartedly joked recently, nor do I necessarily want to make that my mission. In fact, Jeff Halper is one of my favorite Israeli academics, intellectuals and activists. He founded the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and has dedicated his life to the struggle against Israeli injustices committed against Palestinians. However he is adamant that this does not require him to deny his own narrative or the Jewish connection to the land. The problem, as Edward Said brilliantly noted so many times, is when one narrative attempts to override and delegitimize all other narratives.

Gilo, a large Israeli settlement near Jerusalem that is often referred to as a Jewish neighborhood and not a settlement

I believe there are fundamental and grotesque Israeli-committed human rights abuses happening in Palestine that the mainstream media won’t, or is prevented from reporting on because they will contradict Israel’s dominant and self-imposed narrative. I also believe that until and unless we can be honest about these abuses and confront them directly, peace and stability in the Middle East will evade us, and the United States will be bogged down indefinitely in Palestine/Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is in this rather solemn spirit that I carry forth my graduate education in Journalism, and in this spirit that my professional pursuits will be made.