I had the honor and good fortune to guest edit the latest issue of the fabulous Arab American arts journal Mizna, centered on the theme of “Surviving.” My introduction to the issue is as follows:
When I was growing up in Canada, the civil war in Lebanon was raging. I was a teenager then, which meant I was focused on other things, like my hair and being one of the only brown kids in my high school, but still I remember the gruesome images of the war filling the nightly newscasts on television along with the grave concern my Lebanese Canadian friends and their parents had for their families back home. There weren’t a lot of Lebanese in Kingston, where I was, but London, Ontario, had many, and I knew the London kids well because we all attended a Muslim camp during the summer and would gather over various weekends during the school year to hang out.
There came a point during the war when there was enough of a lull in the fighting that several of my friends were dispatched by their parents to Lebanon for most of one summer. As is the case today, our parents thought it important to send us to the region when opportunity struck and finances allowed as a way to keep us connected to our families and our traditions. I had likewise traveled to Egypt several times, and there should have been nothing remarkable about my friends going to Lebanon, except of course that there was an unforgiving war going on.
The next time I saw my friends was a few weeks after that summer, when we all gathered for a weekend in London. I remember how we drove several times from one friend’s house to another, sometimes in multiple cars, but whenever we got to a stop light, my friends would suddenly pretend that we had come to a roadblock instead. This was clearly a pantomime that they had played out many times. They made as if tires were burning in the middle of the street and occasionally we all had to pile out of the car. A few times, one friend pretended to check our documents, sometimes throwing one of us into a different car or pretending to arrest one of us before taking that person away. They thought it was hilarious. I thought it was strange.
I was slow to realize, but soon I understood that my friends must have lived through a tremendously stressful time in war-ravaged Lebanon. Of course, these teenagers had the luxury of leaving Lebanon easily and coming back to Canada, and at this time, many new arrivals, refugees from the war, also arrived in Canada. I met many of them, too. The war refugees often had the same look in their eyes as my friends had shortly after that summer, a look that was somewhere between manic and catatonic, though with the new arrivals, the look fell deeper and darker into their eyes.
My friends had bought keffiyehs while in Lebanon and one of them told me a story concerning the keffiyehs in Canada. Another friend of ours worked at his parents’ convenience store. While he was on the late shift one night, the rest of the guys decided to surprise him. They put the keffiyehs on their heads and grabbed those neon pump-action water cannons that were all the rage. They ran into the store, keffiyeh-clad and water gun-toting, pretending to take over the establishment and yelling Arabic expressions at the top of their lungs. My friend behind the counter started laughing uproariously, and then all the kids started laughing the way teenage boys laugh at pranks. It was really funny. Then they heard the words.
“Don’t move,” a police officer commanded. He had his gun drawn and was standing in the doorway of the shop. Around the outside of the store were dozens of other officers, all with weapons drawn, ready to believe that this was an international incident of terrorism targeting a local convenience store. The officer in the doorway looked scared out of his wits and his weapon-grasping hands were visibly trembling, while my friends became frightened for their lives. The police eventually took the boys to the station and called their parents, and then everyone learned why the police were there in the first place. A bystander had seen boys in keffiyehs toting guns. Conclusions were reached.
When conclusions are reached, guns are often drawn. Let’s pause for a moment and take a look at this sentence. Grammatically speaking, the sentence is made of up two passive voice constructions, which means the person reaching the conclusion and the people drawing the guns are hidden, shielded from responsibility. In the world of grammar, the passive voice means that the object of a sentence becomes its subject. In the world of real life, this means that a group of people will first be objectified and then be held responsible for the very racism oppressing them. The passive voice is something never to be taken lightly. While it’s true that the passive voice may assist a sentence grammatically, it’s also true that in the real world, the result is too often a death sentence.
Read the rest here.