Sunday, June 10, 2007

Welcome To The Melting Pot

When our children were born, Diaa and I wanted them to have Arabic names that could be spelled, pronounced, and not Anglicised. One of our first choices for our son was Yusuf, the name of my husband's grandfather on his mother's side, but when our OB said "Ah, Joseph. Nice name." that was the end of Yusuf. It took three days to find a name for our son that fit our criteria, and in the end it has remained, thankfully, a politically neutral name. One of his uncles was called Osama, which is a good name in Arabic, but neither of us wanted a child named after someone still living. This experience could have been his.

My heart goes out to this young man and his family. You only have to watch American television to realise how hard life can be for young people of Arab descent. In the wake of 9/11 when my children were both in school at Columbia University, I asked them please not to speak any Arabic on the street. I was worried, but most people don't associate my son's first name with any culture and my daughter's is a name that is common to many cultures.

The anti-Arab mentality that the American Christian fundamentalists are so happy to promote has to be recognised and opposed. That this sort of thing should happen to a boy like this is criminal. Many of the young people from Egypt who had gone to study in the US in 2001 came home for a year or two that fall. They didn't feel safe but hoped that things would die down. Obviously, they haven't entirely.

copyright 2007 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

9 comments:

vagabondblogger said...

Those teachers should've been fired. They're supposed to set an example and be role models. Apparently, the school system itself has problems or this would never have been tolerated to begin with.

One of the problems in the U.S. is the power of people like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Lou Dobbs, and FOX News to scare people, like that rant earlier this year about Barak Obama going to "a madrassa" when he was child, which was an out and out lie. And they really play it up to the Islamophobic audience. Today it's Arabs, tomorrow Mexicans - they're taking over the States, don't you know.

Cairogal said...

I'm SO tired of Arabic buzz words being thrown around: madrassa...as in, Barak Obama went to a SCHOOL when he was young....arghhhh. If you've ever seen the movie "Team America" (from the guys who do SOuthPark...all puppets)...they satire the absolute lack of knowledge about the Arabic language. "Derka derka, jihad, Mohamed" is what people think they hear. :)

We've been lucky, I guess. My husband is Egyptian, with a face that doesn't seem very 'Egyptian' to many. His accent has improved so much, many can't quite make out where he was raised. I suppose his name is not familiar to many (Monem) as an Arabic name. We also live in the Pacific Northwest (intentional chosen for tolerance).

programmer craig said...

Cairogal, I still remember when you were talking about seeing Egyptian students with screen savers that showed the World Trade Center buildings falling, and followed up by claiming you hadn't ever seen anyone gloating about 9/11 in Egypt.

You know what I'm tired of? I'm tired of people who sacrifice honesty in the name of political correctness. And it's even worse when people sacrifice honesty in favor of promoting a hidden agenda.

To this blogger: do you really think things are so bad for Muslims in the US?

Mohamed Hossam el Din said...

Yeah, people can be very ignorant at times...people used to ask me if I was from "Iraqistan"...when I told them I'm Egyptian, they asked if I lived in a pyramid and worshipped cats...

Yeah, when I heard about the whole Obama thing, I was tempted to say, "Hey, I went to a "madrasa" when I was in Egypt....." :D

Barb said...

Dear Maryanne,hklu

Thank you SOOOOOOO much for your blog. I came accross it, by happenstance, and have had such big fun reading all of your Blog Archives.
I am from Pittsburgh, Pa and am facinated with how women live in other parts of the world.
The pictures from Egypt are most amazing, and the pictures of your livestock is compelling as well.
I wonder somethings, and will continue coming here, in search of the answers to questions I have.

Thank you thank you thank you for what you are doing here. I will see you again soon. :-)

Barb

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

Craig,
Both my kids are living in the US right now and surviving just fine. I wouldn't say simply that "things are bad for Muslims in the US right now" because that's as bad a blanket statement as saying that Muslims are against Western philosophy or that the Middle East hates the West. What I would say is that the level of awareness of what is real in other cultures and societies and life styles among the majority of Americans is so appallingly bad that anyone with a decent brain and some ability to read is in pain much of the time. If you compare what Joe America knows about Ahmed Egypt and vice versa, you will find a much greater level of understanding in Ahmed Egypt. Part of this is due to to the fact that most of the rest of the world is flooded with American products, books, movies, comic books, magazines, etc, but the reverse is not true. Americans have access through the internet to all the news providers in the world, but even well-educated Americans usually don't bother to read them, preferring the "free" press of Fox or CNN. In countries where there is no fantasy of a "free" press, you learn to look for news sources and get a much broader picture of what is going on.

For a small example, when my children were in middle school attending the American school here in Cairo, there was a program every year to arrange pen pals between students in schools in the US and our school. I don't know if they still do it, but for the years that my kids and their friends were involved, these letters from the US were a source of tremendous hilarity mixed with an extreme sadness as the children realised how little their counterparts from Indiana or California knew of Egypt. Questions about living in pyramids and riding camels were the norm and it wasn't uncommon to have a detailed explanation of what television or snow was...as though children here were as ignorant as the writers. You can laugh over such stupidity once or twice but eventually it begins to eat at you and you either fight back or become damaged as the boy in New York did. This blog was begun after 9/11 to fight back when I got tired of explaining on a one-to-one basis that life in Egypt was truly very much like life anywhere and that a Western woman living alone here was in less danger from aggression than she probably was in Chicago or Detroit or Atlanta.

It isn't just Muslims in the US who are suffering from this lack of interest and understanding on the part of the American public, it is also the rest of the non-American/non-European world who suffers. But the true victims are the Americans themselves.

Cairogal said...

Ah, it was only a matter of time before the trolling began. Craig, if you'd like to go back to my original post, I think I talked about the kids seeking a rise out of their American teachers. I talked about living in Egypt during Sept. 11 and later (as in 2 years) moving to the UAE, in which I referred to one college kid w/ a screensaver of the Trade Centre. I said it then, on Leilouta's blog, and I'll say it again: One person does not make a nation of people gloating. Egyptians were very kind and supportive after 9/11. Did some people think America sorta had this coming to them after decades of meddling in mid-east politics? If they did, they were careful not to state it explicitly, but the suggestion was sometimes there. Not just from Arabs or Muslims, but from many Europeans and other nice, friendly Christian nations. I would say that that on the whole, Muslims in the Middle East were no more 'gloating' about the death of American civilians on Sept 11 than Christian Americans are celebrating the death of Palestinian civilians.

vagabondblogger said...

Maryanne: Americans might be "ignorant" when it comes to knowledge about other countries, languages, culture, etc. I will say one thing though, most Americans are quite accepting of others, as we are ALL the children of immigrants (except for Native American Indians). In addition, we are not passing laws against the hijab, niqab, yamulke, turban, large crucifixes or any other show of religion. We do live in a country where we respect each and every individuals' freedoms, albeit we do have a few individuals who are bigots.

Anonymous said...

On September 11, 2001, I was in high school in West Virginia (a notorious "hill-billy" state full of ignoramuses) with a conspicuously Arab name (Aziz) and do you know what terrible things happened?

Nothing.

That's right, nothing. No one so much as batted an eye at me. Was I simply lucky? Judging from others I know, I don't think so.

America isn't perfect. As a child, I got the "do you live in a pyramid" question a lot. I used this reasoning to procure the strength to keep on living: Kids say stupid stuff. You know why? Because they're CHILDREN. There are lots of ignorant people out there, but seriously, what do you expect? Do you want Americans to miraculously educate themselves about every country, culture, and religion in the world? Because that's simply not going to happen. Crazed fundamentalist Christians are a tiny proportion of the population, I highly suspect that most of them do *not* express joy at the deaths of Palestinian babies, and as a group they are a lot less significant than the media portrays them to be.

On the other hand, let's point the mirror back at our beloved Egypt. Just a few weeks ago, Christians attempting to establish a church on the outskirts of Bemha (they weren't allowed to go in town) were attacked, their homes and businesses looted and burned down. They were not defended by the police, and received no compensation. These types of incidents are a little too common in Egypt. How knowledgeable is the average Egyptian of the Christians in her country? Does she see them as equals, brothers, countrymen, or intruders she'd like to be rid of? How many Muslims come to the defense of their Christian brothers? How analagous is this to the Muslim experience in America?

Not very.