Skip to comments.My Arab Student
Posted on 04/18/2003 6:34:34 AM PDT by SJackson
I remember the tension in my Freshman Composition classroom, even though it was over two years ago.
At the rear of the classroom was my beautiful student Hagar, ready to defend Palestine. She wasn´t just one of those liberal and idealistic youths who just jumped on the bandwagon of a popular campus cause, that was as obvious as the bronze skin, dark eyes, and smooth black hair in the sea of blondes and redheads in my class. The "Palestinian Cause" was part of her. Hagar was a quiet girl; she didn´t say much. She sat in the back corner and, as I lectured, I looked over at her and wondered what she thought of her Zionist Jewish teacher. I wonder what she would say on my teaching evaluation, and what she said to her friends.
Meanwhile, I stood at the front, self-consciously teaching composition. It was probably very obvious to her that I had an undeniable a readiness to defend Israel. I don´t know how much I let slip when I talked to my class, but I am sure I let a lot slip. It is hard to be subtle in a small town where everyone knows your business. I cant just say, no thank you to the cupcakes my students bring for a birthday, for example, without one of them adding they arent kosher, so she cant eat them. These moments always lead to my students asking me questions about my religion, my point of view, and my life, and I am not very good at subtlety.
So, I tried to be careful. I wanted to make sure Hagar didn´t feel isolated in my class, and that she knew that I didn´t allow my political beliefs to leak into my grading practices. However, I wasnt going to bend over backward and pretend I was someone I wasnt. Honesty goes a long way.
There was a standoff. I was polite to her. She was polite to me. We stared at one another. I was teaching commas, and I wondered if that was what she was learning. I wondered what I was learning and sometimes I couldnt help but smile to myself about the irony of the only Palestinian at the college ending up in the classroom of the only Jew.
One day, however, the standoff was broken. She handed me her argumentative paper, and as she sat it on my desk, she said quietly, "It is about Palestine."
"You know I will grade it fairly, no matter what it is about," I said, a bit too defensively.
"Yes, I know," she said, "that is why I could be honest with you. I think Arafat is a traitor, and those Arab countries around, the ones who say they care about the Palestinian people, they are liars. They won´t let my family back into our home country after all these years. My family has been in a camp for generations! Meanwhile, Arafat watches the Palestinians starve, and die, and he does nothing but talk."
"He has lots of money," I added."Yes, he has lots of our money," she countered. "Have you see how Arafat lives? Like a king! The Intifada has made it impossible for an honest Palestinian to make a living. It is horrible! My relatives cant get jobs anywhere. My people are suffering."
The standoff was over. Now, I understood those months of silence. She was saying with her eyes, "Don´t judge me, and don´t assume you know what I am thinking."
I thought about Hagar again, last December, when I stood overlooking one of the refugee camps that the UN set up over 50 years ago. My friend who pointed out the camp told me that other Arabs in the neighboring villages wont hire the people from the camps they want to keep them there. Also, my friend added, if the people leave the camps, they have to give up their handout from the UN. So, they are stuck being pawns for the Palestinian cause.
I stood looking at the congested square of humanity and the sweeping valley around it, and I wondered if those people would ever be allowed to do what Hagar did - speak out. Could they ever say what they really felt? Could they talk about the fact that they didnt want to be in Israel, that it isnt their nation, and that they just want to go home? As I said, the "Palestinian cause" was part of Hagar not because she chose it, but because it was forced upon her. She didn´t want to be a symbol for those who live like kings, she wanted to be a human being with a future.
As I look back, I know that the tension in my classroom was both painful and familiar. Hagar and I identified more with each other than with the other students in my class, and although we were at opposite ends of that classroom, with opposite histories, her exile and her story was a parallel to mine. Both of us wanted to be where we belonged, half a world away, rather than in the Nevada desert. Both of us longed for a community we didn´t have, and both of us were tired of world opinion dictating how we should feel, rather than reflecting what we felt. And, we agreed that the Arab refugees should return to their Arab homelands and stop being forced to be a symbol against their will.
I thought about Hagar again this week. I wondered where she is, what she was doing now, and what she must be thinking now that Arafat has named his so-called successor. Is this a time for celebration for her family as they look forward toward real change and an end to their exile? Or, did they see that they were they are just trading one despot for another as they prepared to live another fifty years as political pawns in a tiny square? I doubted that she was celebrating, and I wondered what she would have said if I had the opportunity to listen to her once again.
Michelle Nevada lives in a small town in rural Nevada. She can be contacted at Michelle_Nevada@yahoo.com.
These ideas were echoed by a Paki student who said that the Pakis love Mushaaref because "no one can trust the civilian government."
My biggest challenge was a Saudi woman who said that she "of course" didn't approve of 9/11, but "understood it." She was a pro-Palestinian all the way, and thought Gulf War I was all about oil. She had no answer when I asked why, if we were after oil, we didn't just take Baghdad when we were 150 miles from the city in 1991.
I agree with you, that facist antisemitism was and is a big attraction to Arabs, but I suspect there is also a lot of truth in what this guy was saying. The story of the modern Arab world is largely one of fervent but failed nationalism. The ability of the fascist movement in Italy to mold a modern and coherent state out of what had been, for hundreds of years, a fractious and uninified collection of principalities, and then that of the Nazis to appeal to nationalistic sentiments even across borders, was most impressive to Arabs in the 30's. Facism seemed to many just what the Middle East needed. In fact the Ba'ath Party, I believe, was consciously modeled on European facism.
I'm not holding my breath or anything.
I think you are right and should tell everyone you know about it.
Please write back to me.
Unfortunately, nothing will change.
Arafat and any Palistinian who purports to replace him are simply miniature renditions of Hussein. The UN funds poured into the PA, like the proceeds from the sale of "oil for food" under UN sanctions and agreements against Iraq, go into the dictators and tyrannts own pockets, squirreled away or squandered to build "palaces" while the people starve. The young Palistinian's comments in this article reinforces that fact; graphic evidence from post-war Iraq does as well.
Yet, if Israel was to cut through all the mountainous BS (UN ineffectiveness, world opinion, etc.) like Bush did, initiate a final campaign against Ramallah to execute "regime change" in the PA and whack Arafat and the whole bunch like we did Saddam in Iraq, they would be immediately isolated and attacked - especially from liberal elements within the U.S. government and those who adhere to the "Palistinian" myth.
Such is the lunacy Sharon and Israel has to contend with.
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