Sept 11- or life through the lense of the perpetual war on terror
Shukran, ya ahai.
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After September 11
by Jordan Elgrably
This date remains as infamous to Americans as Pearl Harbor, and we certainly live in a different world in the post 9/11 era—with U.S. military forces occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, and hawks in the Bush administration salivating over Iran, not to mention W’s State of the Union insistence that “fighting the war on terror is the defining struggle of our time.”
An era of endless war, of course, is a boon to the defense industry, but a boondoggle for the American people, to say nothing of how our nation is now perceived abroad. Never has America had a more despised profile in the world at large than during the Bush years, to the point that people have slapped “Tricky Dick is Looking Good These Days” bumper stickers on their cars. I was a freshman in college during the years of Richard Nixon’s impeachment and remember how Americans thoroughly hated the 37th president, but Tricky Dick’s chicanery in the Watergate scandal has indeed begun to seem trite in view of the post-9/11 falsehoods that characterize our occupation of Iraq, the government contracts awarded to Halliburton, and the criminal excesses that characterize Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.
For me, the American media is complicit in legitimizing the constitutional aberrations of the Bush era, for never do news anchors or editors or reporters discuss aloud the very nature of American empire and our de facto war economy, nor has the mainstream media consistently pursued the stories of electoral fraud that marred the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004. For these reasons, and many more too numerous to mention in a short commentary, I believe that we have already entered the post-American era. Our military weakness has been exposed in Iraq, our economic frailty has been made clear by the power of the euro, and our reputation as a civilized nation of law and democracy has been put into question for the lengths government has been willing to go in the name of “homeland security.”
Post-9/11 paranoia in this country has made life for Arabs and Muslims far more negative than ever before—not that it was ever rosy, as the statistics of hate crimes and discrimination gathered by organizations like MPAC and the Arab American Institute show. What to do?
Recently I participated in a workgroup organized by the Brookings Institution and the Saban Center for Middle East Policy Study. It was a gathering of artists and activists working in the area of Arab/Muslim arts and culture, under the guise of an initiative entitled “Focusing the Lens: Engaging the Muslim World Through the Arts.” The purpose of the project was to explore how we can export arts programs and develop creative initiatives that engage people in the Middle East/North Africa, to improve the way America is perceived in that part of the world. To a lesser extent, we also discussed what we might do here in the United States to improve the Arab/Muslim image.
While the latter is in fact a major part of Levantine Cultural Center 's mission—in addition to bringing together people from Middle East cultures in conflict, i.e., Arabs and Jews, Armenians and Turks, etc., to (re)create a sense of community and solidarity—I felt distinctly uncomfortable when discussing how we might improve America’s image in the Arab/Muslim world, because little mention was made of the tremendous mess that the current administration has made in that part of the world. While our elected (or selected) leaders and military are out creating chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan, and provoking the Iranians with bellicose talk of a bombing campaign, artists and activists are supposed to soften the blows with concerts and conferences and other such initiatives?
And how are we to manage as peacemakers on behalf of the Palestinians and Israelis, when it is clear that the U.S. government has not been an honest and impartial broker in the moribund “peace process”?
In the face of the absolute absurdity of being an artist/activist in this age of excess and abuse of political power, it seems to me we have two choices: Either we feel utterly disgusted and weakened as convincing advocates of East/West relations, and therefore abdicate our role as a mitigating constituency for peace; or we hold up our heads and extend our arms out to artists, activists and leaders in the Middle East, creating bonds of solidarity now that will continue to grow in the future. We can either remain passive, convinced that there is little difference we can make in the face of this enormous abuse of power perpetrated in the name of America and Americans; or we can choose to lead by example, showing each other that peace is created by the people on the ground, in day to day relationships, across all manner of boundaries and borders. As Mahmoud Darwish wrote in a poem, “the hearts of people are their nationality; take away my passport.”
Indeed, my heart is my passport, and I will continue to do everything in my power to lead by example, to support the freedoms and democracy underscored by the U.S. Constitution, and to see all people as my people, regardless of their religion, nationality, ethnicity or political persuasion.
Levantine Cultural Center has an important role to play in creating bonds of solidarity amongst all people of Middle Eastern heritage in Southern California, setting an example for our friends and relatives in the Middle East and North Africa. Eventually we shall reach our goal of opening a landmark Middle East cultural arts complex for all of Southern California—a beacon of peace that will shine around the world.
In the meantime, on this sixth anniversary of the events of 9/11, I urge you to mark the day by making a new friend from a culture or nation different from, and perhaps in conflict with your own. We may not be able to stop warmongers from pursuing their nefarious agenda, but nothing can stop us from saying NO! by acting as leaders for peace, justice and cross-cultural communitas.
Jordan Elgrably is a writer in Los Angeles and serves on the Board of Directors of Levantine Cultural Center. This commentary does not reflect official policy of the center and is wholly the personal opinion of its author.
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