Forthcoming

"Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another." author Toni Morrison (1931- 05.08.2019)

“If I tell the story, I control the version. Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me”; Nora Ephron, author/comedian

"Make your story count". Michelle Obama

"Social pain is understood through the lens of racial animus". Researcher/author Sean McElwee writing in Salon, 2016

"We are citizens, not subjects. We have the right to criticize government without fear."  Chelsea Manning; activist/whisleblower

“My father was a slave and my people died to build this country, and I’m going to stay right here and have a part of it, just like you, And no fascist minded people, like you, will drive me from it. Is that clear?” Paul Robeson; activist/singer

“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent”. from civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?” Frederick Douglass, WHAT TO THE SLAVE IS 4TH JULY? 07.05.1852 (full text in blog)

Senator Elizabeth Warren "We're a country that is built on our differences; that is our strength, not our weakness"

 

"We are more alike than we are different"v  Maya Angelou

As a Black writer, I was expected to accept the role of victim. That made it difficult in the beginning to be a writer.      James Baldwin

I often feel that there must have been something that I should’ve done that I didn’t do. But I can’t identify what it is that I didn’t do. That’s the first difficulty. And the second is, what makes you think you’re it?   

         Harry Belafonte, activist and singer at 89

 

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble; It's what you know for sure that just ainst so.

Mark Twain

 

You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you.

Mary Tyler Moore

 

 You can’t defend Christianity by being against refugees and other religions

Pope Francis:

 

"I don't have to be what you want me to be". Muhammad Ali

"The Secret of Living Well and Longer: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure"  attributed to Tibetan sources

Recent audio posts include interviews with Rumi interpreter Shahram Shiva, London-based author Aamer Hussein, South African Muslim scholar, professor Farid Esack, and Iraqi journalist Nermeen Al-Mufti's brief account of Kirkuk City history. Your comments on our blogs are always welcome.

 

Gifts for the Holiday: A Book and A Film

2013-12-20

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Arabs in America are barely heard from nowadays. Either we are Palestinian, Syrian, Yemeni, Egyptian or Iraqi, unarguably moderate, perhaps Sunni, sometimes Christian. Increasingly the ‘Arab’ is missing. This is doubtless related to the demise of Arab nationalism and the end of pan-Arab events that once invited us to explore and affirm common ground. That lost union may also result from the ceaseless wars and uprisings abroad that compete for our loyalties. Finally, we find ourselves overtaken by Muslim interests that more aggressively defend and promote this piece of our heritage.

This is by way of announcing two reasons to celebrate our survival:--one a film, the other a book. Screenwriter/filmmaker Rola Nashef and short-story author Evelyn Shakir recount Arab experience through their art, and they do it powerfully.

First the book. “Teaching Arabs, Writing Self” (forget the title, read the book) is a joyful read by a gifted writer. Evelyn Shakir’s leap from sociologist to fiction writer came with her 2007 collection of short stories “Remember Me to Lebanon”.

This book is a posthumous memoir of equal literary quality. Here Shakir skillfully weaves our elusive ‘arabness’ into contemporary American life. The memoir navigates through several worlds:-- her childhood in Boston, teaching appointments in Lebanon, Bahrain, and Syria, and eventually through the cancer that ended Shakir’s life in 2010.

Her opening essays recall a childhood brimming with family and neighbors, a community of newcomers, all quintessentially 1950s America, more immigrant than Arab. Yet, in her nuanced language Shakir captures our irreducible arabness. Tender humor permeates each paragraph too. Into the chapter where every summer the family converged at Boston’s Revere Beach around uncle’s “Cyclone” roller coaster, she threads vignettes of Lebanon and mother. “I harvest memories of my mother”, Shakir admits.

Shakir devotes half of this memoir to her teaching experiences overseas. Bahrain was a trial for her --it was a test of ethnic identities-- which she documents with candor. Syria, her final tour, was different. Clearly her favorite posting, Damascus was the Arab place where she found friendship and civility. (Are all foreigners so seduced by Syria’s shopkeepers?) One of the best portraits of contemporary Damascus, Shakir’s account seems more precious because of what’s happening there today.  

Wherever she stays, Shakir layers that scene with voices from all the places along her journey.

 Rola Nashef’s testimonial to our US existence is her newly released film, “Detroit Unleaded”. A first feature film, it announces Nashef as a filmmaker to watch, now and tomorrow. Not only a skilled scriptwriter and director, Nashef’s work has a unconventional message. “Detroit Unleaded” invites us to view a slice-of-life of Arabs at work in America.

And where does Nashef place her Arab portraits? A gas station. Yes, most of the film takes place in a gas station in a tough part of Detroit city. Here, a story of class, race, young lives, and economic choices is played out.

As Nashef explained in our interview (podcast on RadioTahrir) after the NYC screening: “The gas station was a great metaphor in a city which can be very segregated. For me, the gas station was where people seemed to come together…you see much more intermingling. I think of it as a turnstile where people come in and out of each other’s lives, yet do so through that (bullet-proof) glass  barrier.”

Detroit’s gas station proprietors are often Arab men. And Arab men are indeed this film’s main characters. Nashef decided this, noticing how little the public knows of economic and social pressures on our Arab brothers, uncles and fathers. “It was a deliberate choice for me to leave out politics and religion… I think it’s important to also show and explore more authentic, daily slice-of-life Arab American characters. No one in my film are political messengers… ; they’re just  everyday people…”. She made this film, she tells me, “to open a window to everyday Arab America… crucial to translating culture and to identifying with us.” Every man is different; my characters are a bouquet,” she adds.

Oh, by the way, “Detroit Unleaded” is a comedy. It’s had superb reviews and its Manhattan run was extended from one week to two.

With this production, Nashef establishes herself as a pioneer and a long distance runner. First, she was able to secure funding (taking several years’ of her time) largely from within Detroit’s Arab business community. Second, Nashef demonstrates that she can develop a powerful script (nine drafts!) and then direct a large production team of actors and crew. Third she studied film, not politics; fourth, she dares to tell the story she believes in, not one that might be easier to sell to commercial interests.  Ask your local theater to screen it.

Note: our last blog was published under a new title in the widely distributed left online site Counterpunch

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