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