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Friday, May 11, 2007

"Arab in America": This Mother's Story

I have danced around this subject, I have mentioned the circumstance in passing, I have confided in friends whom I have grown to trust in this last year of commenting on blogs, but I have avoided the subject here on my own blog except a few times very briefly. I am still not willing to divulge the details of this story because I am a mother. It is my job to protect and shelter my children. That is the gift that our creator gave to me, my three beautiful daughters.
Each one of them is unique, each one of them has brought to this world their own gifts to give,
each one of them is a child of God.

If you know me, if you have remembered my comments, then you will know that I was married to and am now VERY amicably divorced from an Arab/Muslim. I myself am an "American mutt"of different backgrounds by vitue of my own heritage. In turn, my three daughters share both mine and my husband's heritages. It is my oldest daughter, "Ahlam" (not her real name, but in Arabic her real name means "dream"), who I wish to tell you about here.

"Ahlam" was born into this world in June 1978, a "bicultural" child, who because of the politics of her heritage, was destined to become a "bridge". Her father and I were divorced when she was very young and she was raised primarily here in the US with summers spent abroad with her other family. Both her father and I have dedicated our lives to loving her from our different vantage points, both being aware that through our love for her and our continued love and respect for eachother, we would raise her to the best of our abilities in the best aspects of our own cultures. Hatred was to be delegated to the grave when it came to our daughter, for neither one of us wanted her to experience this knife to the soul. So it has always been my deepest desire to raise my bicultural daughter in a safe environment where she would not experience any racism towards her for her Arab identity.

Over the years incidents have happened. Even when she was very young, she was asked the inevetable question, "Does your father ride camels or own oil wells". These might possibly be seen as innocent questions on the surface, but they are not. Because they are based on ignorance and stereotyping. As the years went on, people would ask her, "What nationality are you?" A curious question you might say, but the question was almost always based on either her appearance or her last name. Sometimes the questioning ended there, sometimes she was asked the camel/oil well question and often times she was asked if her father owned 7-Elevens.
These questions were so frequent, she became immuned to them. I had to tell her, "Honey, they are just ignorant, they don't know any better". But it wasn't HER job as a child to educate

As the years went by, and she became older, the very essence of the questions changed. Even prior to 911, she was asked by some VERY rude people on MANY occasions, "Is your father a terrorist?" Was this supposed to be a joke? Because neither my daughter nor I find this funny.

The 911 happened and things escalated. That morning I was watching CNN as the second tower was hit and frantically called her. Not only was I afraid of what had just occured and Los Angeles possibly becoming a target, my concern for her was because she is Arab. I was terrified that the attack was immediately without proof going to be blamed on "Arab terrorists" and that she could become the victim of a backlash. But that morning no one knew who had perpetrated this attack (and since may questions HAVE arisen). Miraculously she answered the phone that early in the morning (she lives across town from me. I told her, "Pack a bag and come NOW".

"No Mom" she replied, "I have plenty of friends here and I will be fine". I explained to her that I was afraid for her on two counts, but she said, "I have been dealing with this all my life, I know what to do"

That was when I realized, that no matter what I had been doing as a mother to protect her, I was still not with her all hours of the day and I was NOT walking in her shoes. It was not ME who was having to fend off this racism, it was my daughter, and no matter what I did as a mother, I could not protect her at all times. I am a White middle classed American woman, I am not viewed in my own country as "different" or "suspect". I am "normal" by all appearances. Why is my American/Arab daughter not treated as "normal"?

She was only a sophomore in high school when the Oklahoma City bombing occurred and that time, in a rush to judgement, "Arab terrorists" were the "probable perpetrators." It was the day before she was to fly home from London with her best friend who was American and also Jewish. It was "Ahlam" who was pulled aside at LAX immigration. It was "Ahlam" who had her suitcase searched throroughly to her friend's dismay. But that was not the first time this occurred. The first time was when she was only ten and flew home alone for the first time from Europe. Her grandmother had packed some pottery that she had purchased there in a cardboard box for an Arabic brand water. Customs pulled her aside and rifled through her entire belongings and questioned her. I waited for her outside not knowing what was taking so long. As she came out with tears of fear streaming down her face., a female custom's officer said to me, "I'm sorry this took so long with your daughter, but there is nothing that can be done about it" This was LONG before 911 and several years before the American public blamed the Oklahoma Cty bombing on Arabs before the truth was known.

For reasons of protection, I will not go into the details of what "Ahlam" has experienced in her 29 years. But if you know me and I have trusted you, then you know that some of those experiences are beyond horrendous. The tears that have flowed from my eyes in my inability to "put her in a bubble" could fill a bucket. Now, as she has grown into maturity and is taking on the task of protecting herself more, I marvel at her adaptability. Over the years she has built her own protection, her own circle of friends whom she can trust and call on, her own dignity as an Arab/American.

I have renamed her "Ahlam"/dream in this essay because that is what she stands for, the dream that one day, this racism against Arabs in my country will dwindle away to a long-forgotten memory. She is smart, she is determined, she is beautiful, and she is Arab/American.
As her mother, and as the mother of two other daughters who have grown up with "Ahlam" as their big sister, I pray that others here in America who harbor this racism towards Arabs and Muslims understand, racism is a CHOICE, not one which our creator intended for us to harbor.

I love you my dearest "Ahlam". Although I have never walked in your shoes, you were given to me to walk beside. And as Khalil Gibran wrote,

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, "Speak to us of Children."
And he said: Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

May the dream which you so proudly demonstrate in your very existance, one day soon be dreamt by all.

On a lighter note, often times, the best way to deal with adversity is through humor. My "Ahlam" also uses this method often, laughing off the ignorance of racism against her. Her sarcastic,"Are you kidding me?" and chuckle is sometimes the perfect antidote to an ignorant question. Has she experienced funny situations? Well, if it can be handled with humor that DOES work to repel some people. A long time ago I learned that humor is a serious matter, it is a "non-violent resistance" to a situation which can be utterly devastating. Laughter can be an "elixer to the soul", used as a very affective method both to heal, but often to teach others what is the underlying hurt. A new film which is just out "Arab in America" is just such an example. Below is a synopsis of this film, and a short trailer.

Arabic, Missiles, Islam - Oh My!“Arab in America”

is the humorous tale of Osama Ahmed Abou-Bakr, a fresh marketing graduate looking for work in America’s post-9/11 atmosphere. Growing up as a Muslim in the American public school system, Sam always looked to the future, hoping that adults would be more mature. In Sam’s mind, graduating meant life getting easier. He’ll quickly realize, however, that there is no such “maturity” in the corporate world and is quickly confronted with a choice. Continue to play by the rules – or take matters into his own hands and take advantage of the system.

Electing to take advantage, Sam quickly changes his identity and is accepted into the world he worked so hard to become a part of. Unfortunately, Sam finds out that keeping up the false persona is much, much harder than it seems. With a barrage of colorful characters like Italian mobsters, illegal Mexican landscapers, wrongfully imprisoned African Americans, southern good-old-boys, the NSA, the INS, the TSA, the Police Department, and pesky Aryan school children, Sam indeed has his work cut out for him. Can Osama’s inner-morality survive the amount of lies needed in order to keep his job? Or will the infinite powers of American culture cause an emotional collapse? Find out – in the new Five On Fifty Films production of “Arab in America!"

About the Film/Pilot!
Paralleling real life events experienced by script writer/director, Nabil Abou-Harb and his family, “Arab in America” offers a comical view on America’s newest black sheep: Arabs. Following Sam’s travels, the audience will experience heightened instances of discrimination, racism, prejudice, and down-right ignorance. Hoping to shed light on the struggles of 7 million American Arabs and 6 million American Muslims – “Arab in America” tries to show every American just how hard it is… and hopefully laugh out loud during the process.

Arab! in America! is a competitive short film. Upon completion, it will be entered in film festivals across the world with the hopes of broadening the project to new horizons. Nabil Abou-Harb and Colin Ferri have already started development on morphing Arab! in America! into a television sitcom. Using the short as a platform for expansion, the sitcom will share many of the same aspects of the original. For more information on the future plans of Arab! in America! please contact Five On Fifty Films at

Sorry, I am on my laptop and the youtube embed code will not capture for some reason. To view a short trailer:
Please link here"

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