Blog Archive

Blog Archive – September, 2013

"Looking For Palestine" by Najla Said

September 12, 2013

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

If you’ve seen Najla Said perform on stage or spoken to her, reading this memoir, you’ll feel the same person. “Looking for Palestine” is a conversational memoir—fresh, youthful, and zesty. Najla’s story and that of her parents, with her famous father ever present, begins with her birth and ends with his death when she’s college age. It’s well written, in a breezy style echoing her theatrical and comedy performances. Still her light style is underpinned by serious issues—personal psychological problems, ambiguous relations with the Jewish people who seem to be everywhere, and the painful inevitability of ‘being Arab’… whatever that means.

Said’s is a very New York story—upper class Manhattan American with teenage identity problems — an ‘other’, looking different while still being conventional except that the family excursions to Beirut are interrupted by wars.

As a teenager Said becomes only slowly informed about Palestine. She admits her interests are primarily school, books, friends and music. She also acknowledges enjoying an upper class life, surrounded by classmates who while Jewish are more like her than unlike. Indeed she seems to become aware of her father’s exalted reputation and his mission through these classmates.

All this Najla Said admits to in this candid, fluid review of her young and unromantic although quasi exotic life. Very unpretentious. The revelations have a child’s honest quality, with neither philosophical nor poetic depth. Just as with her on-stage performances, one feels she is in fact on stage in this book. But this makes her disclosures no less genuine and informing.

We are treated to a steady output of memoirs and semi-autobiographical novels from a new generation of Arab writers, mainly women, mainly American, telling their story of becoming Arab— from the Iranian hostage affair, through Sabra-Shatila massacres, the intifadahs, the first Gulf war on Iraq, and of course the 911 attacks in 2001. Each crisis gradually, and only gradually, adds to Najla’s maturity—a track many of us took. She emerges as savvy American artist with a political message.

We are uncertain if Najla’s evolution is special because of a father rooted in the Palestinian cause, or if this is common to Arab American youth. Although he’s woven into her story, I suspect Edward’s mission as a nationalist leader was secondary to his daughter. Possibly his contributions in political thought and literary criticism are more central to Najla’s own maturity and mission.

This is a valuable story of a young woman--definitely Arab-- growing through many traumas associated with our ‘being’. Although an all too frequent experience, this journey has not been told this way before. So, Najla’s memoir add to the ongoing history of our people in America. With this book she can reach many in her generation--not unimportant.

[ "Looking For Palestine" by Najla Said ]

Is the Confusion about Syria Manufactured or Real?

September 03, 2013

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

I wonder how many of you feel as confused as I do about Syria. I’m bombarded with opinions about what happened, what are the alternatives, who should decide, what could happen, and what’s the endgame. And I’m no further ahead.

Two days after my cynical assessment that the US policy supported a war of attrition in Syria, a member of the American Center for Strategic and International Studies authored an OpEd proffering the Syria war as “an indefinite draw” under the provocative title: “In Syria: America Loses if Either Side Wins

Then the respected veteran journalist Robert Fisk suggests that any US action against Syria’s government puts it on the side of Al-Qaeda

As for that dastardly chemical attack? Some reports suggest it was executed by Syrian rebels, assisted by Israel; they call it an Israeli “false flag” operation. Israel is also named in some articles as a major force behind the current rush to bomb Syria.

I awaken in the morning to hear a former US military advisor assure us that forthcoming US attacks will be more than a deterrent, that many targets have been identified for a series of strikes. Others argue that the aim of an American assault is to force Syria to the negotiating table. Although you to may remember several reports accusing the rebels of refusing to participate in negotiations attempted months ago. Meanwhile we hear pleas that the US wait until the UN weapons inspectors complete their report; even though The UN says its investigation is only to define the chemicals used in Ghouta, not to determine who deployed them.

From morning to late night, purported experts of all shades weigh in with their arguments. It’s a media market bonanza. And the world has been given another week to debate. Elected representatives will be lobbied, then the US Congress will vote, so the “most powerful man in the world” will act with full moral and legal authority. And the French leadership will follow. The result? “Well, it won’t be Iraq, or Afghanistan… or Libya”, we are assured.

Simultaneously we are flooded by waves of stories about a million suffering children, seven million languishing refugees, all scrambling for food and water.  “We’ll be talking about Syria all week”, says popular radio host Geraldo Rivera, anticipating a raucous debate among his listeners.

Does all this talk mean the US public really cares? Does all the information we are fed clarify the issues? Will a debate by elected representatives in Congress affirm our democracy and the wisdom of the US leadership?

If I’m dismayed and frightened sitting here in New York, how do Syrians there feel? Those who will not abandon their homeland; those moving towards the borders; orphans and handicapped living in institutions; those under rebel occupation; the young conscripts; those already in prison; millions of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees who found a haven in Syria; Syrians newly settled in Egypt and Brazil and Canada desperately calling their families clinging to their homes in Aleppo or Deir Attiye, Sit Zienab, Barza or Raqqa or in scattered camps? It’s as traumatizing at it is dangerous for all of them.

And here’s another scenario:-- a psychological war to so agitate the Syrian military that it ignites an internal coup.

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[ Is the Confusion about Syria Manufactured or Real? ]

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