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Less Than Two Weeks

October 19, 2016

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

In response to Ralph Nader’s relentless calls --now there's a long distance runner-- high school social studies classes may devote a special hour this month to teach school children about the American electoral system. But it’s their parents, the voters, who need the crash course in civics. And quickly. We have less than two weeks to become real participants in our democracy. How can this happen when citizens are gripped by 24/7 coverage of a made-for-TV national blockbuster fed by ceaseless new corruption and sex revelations and deepening personality clashes of celebrity candidates? 

In the days remaining before we cast our votes, there’s little likelihood that ignorance and confusion about the 435 House races can be addressed so that voters can make intelligent choices. Since their outcome will decide the balance of power in the US Congress, why are we not preparing ourselves, to make our vote in our home districts count?

                Take the state I am familiar with--New York. New Yorkers pride themselves on having a political sophistication, but are actually woefully ill-informed. About the presidential circus, everyone I meet can volunteer lengthy comments; they quote press accounts of gaffs, policy shortcomings, poll numbers and the latest satirical skit. They may know the name of their incumbent congressman or woman, but not if they’re running again, how many terms they’ve served or who their opponent is. And races for the state senate or assembly? Forget those.

In just one campaign in this state, the problem is readily apparent from a sample of neighbors: “I want to know what a congressperson actually does,” announces Kathryn, a short-tempered resident who’d all but given up on politics. She plans to attend our meeting with District 19’s candidate and it’s evident that even though she’s 60ish and a professional who works with the public, Kathryn has never spoken to a member of the US Congress, not even to a congressional candidate. Her newfound enthusiasm to break this pattern is because this weekend she’ll have a chance to meet one.

Privately—by necessity since we could arouse neither interest nor help from our state or country Democratic party-- a few residents managed to lure one candidate to a town hall gathering. (New York is not a “swing state”. It’s expected to go wholeheartedly Democrat and as a region which the Democratic Party takes for granted, there’s no aggressive campaigning here --i.e. no significant funds are allocated by the national party.) Ours is one of four or five US House seats in NY where incumbents have resigned or otherwise will not run.These seats are open and present fair competitions whose outcomes could alter the balance of power in the House of Representatives. Don’t they count?

Urged on my some residue of hope for this country and an anthropologist’s curiosity, I’m devoting time to move through my neighborhood, risking rude rebuttals and challenging beware-of-dog warnings to urge residents to vote November 8th and to inform them of the candidate I’m supporting.

After Kathryn, I run into Lebron who’s in town for casual work as a housepainter. (He’s actually a professional cook.) Handing him a campaign flyer I ask: “You live in Middletown, so you’d be voting in this district, right?”

“Well, I’m now registered. But district 19, I don’t know.” I check my map; Middletown lies on the border of Sullivan and Orange counties. I’m uncertain too.

Steve working nearby overhears us and offers that he too isn’t sure if he votes in district 19. “My house is in Sullivan but my business is here in Delaware County; are they in the same congressional district?” (It’s a legitimate question since District 19 includes 7 whole counties and shares 5 counties with other electoral districts). This uncertainty also suggests that Steve, and maybe others too, haven’t visited their ballot station—they haven’t voted--in many years.

                Sharon, down the street, steps out of her house to talk. We rarely see Sharon at our pancake breakfasts or summer Bar-B-Qs, so her eagerness to come to the coming town gathering is a good sign. “I think I have some things to ask her; I’ve seen some TV ads; there are pros and cons. What about the tax cap; what’s her position on that? I heard she wants to raise taxes.” “Come and ask her yourself”, I retort. “I will.”

(I make a note to phone Sharon on Friday to remind her of the meeting time.)

Taxes seem to be the overriding issue; no comments on foreign or energy policies, jobs, educational reform, or Citizens United (unpopular with the left because of the liberty it grants wealthy individuals and corporations to donate to candidates).

                Even as Election Day nears a lot of people here haven’t yet made up their minds, certainly not about congressional candidates (they seem clearer about their presidential choices). More than once, before I have a chance to properly identify myself at their door, the householder assaults me with “Oh, no, I’m not for Hillary”, or, “I was for Sanders, but he’s out. So I’m undecided.” If, before the door closes I can explain which candidate I’m here to talk about, unfriendliness turns to curiosity. “Who?” Accepting a brochure, they ask: “What party is she? Oh, yeh, I think I saw something about her—she’s not from this area.” Or,” I saw a TV ad and have my doubts.”

“Well, do you expect to vote on Nov. 8th”? I retort, trying to end our exchange on a positive note. “Let’s see; I’m undecided. I need to know more”. Ten replies like this are erased when a door opens and a smiling citizen announces, “Oh she has my vote for sure. She’s terrific.”

Does he know more than the others? Is he a party faithful? Does he simply believe he counts?

And another thing: the state assembly and senate races! On Nov. 8th do we have to vote for candidates there too?

[ Less Than Two Weeks ]

Beware Liberals, Ridicule Wonít Help Defeat Opponents

October 06, 2016

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

What a year for political satire. It’s nourishing; it lowers our stress level; it breaks taboos. Every democracy needs satire but one wonders how much it will count when it comes to votes on November 8th.

For many months following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 when demonstrations of patriotism and US prowess, heartily broadcast and reinforced by US media, criticism of America’s war policy was barely tolerated. The nation’s wimpy image (military defeat, reprocessed as “The Vietnam syndrome”, was buried; and a new era of ‘just wars’ was launched-- so Americans believed. After they successfully (sic) routed the Taliban in 2001, then overthrew Saddam, US troops were unassailable, the Iraqi victims so welcoming of liberation. (We tend to forget how it was only when body bags started arriving home that criticism, beyond marginal anti-war activism, surfaced.)

Dissent took more than a year to emerge and even then criticism came initially only in the form of satire, e.g. Jon Stewart in The Daily Show. Stewart’s mockery of these wars awakened Americans to the lies they’d been consuming. His funny exposes pricked their conscience.

Military folly remains sacrosanct in the USA but parody and satire were essential to renewed critical discourse on the government’s aims, its strategies, and the behavior of its troops. Political satire has its place in any culture, in any period.

What I’m witnessing from our witty satirists (many of them based in the ‘liberal’ centers of New York and California ) in today’s US election season is not satire. It’s ridicule. Yes, these skits and caricatures make us laugh. They are undeniably clever and The Donald provides abundant fodder for comedy. (Clinton too, but to a lesser degree.)

What these comics’ ultimate aims are, I’m uncertain. Evening entertainment, no doubt; and kudos for their wit. However, if they hope that brilliant ridicule will motivate people into political action and genuine debate, they are misguided. I suspect, regrettably, that fans who enthusiastically distribute these nuggets of funny wisdom will accomplish nothing-- beyond feeling themselves more informed and more intelligent. Their indulgence may. moreover, move them utterly further from those --not only The Donald but also his many loyalists-- whom they view as dumb, ill-informed, gun-totting religious hardliners.

Cartoonists are having a field day this election season: The Onion, Wapo, Truthdig, are joined by many others. I’ve no problem admitting they’re clever and fun. But ridicule has its limits; it can undermine healthy dialogue. By definition ridicule is: speech or action intended to cause contemptuous laughter at a person or thing; derision.

Engaging examples of ridicule I receive come from well informed ‘liberal’ colleagues who, moreover, consider themselves political activists. They are not shirkers; they aren’t so disenchanted that they’ve eschewed news channels for basketball, cartoon and cooking shows. No; they indulge in sharing these ridiculing images as if they’re somehow engaging in political action. It won’t work.

Misunderstanding how ridicule operates meanwhile imbues these would-be activists with a sense they are doing something, that they’re so funnily effective that they’ll turn the tide of public opinion and defeat their opponents. They’re misguided.

New York City is a notorious enclave of political and personal ridicule. It’s a lifestyle here, a putative sign of its inhabitants’ sophistication and intellectual superiority. It’s invoked during this campaign season as a means of being politically enlightened, and active. Ridicule is good for laughs, yes. But it’s ineffective in terms of changing the behavior of their objects of derision. Indeed I suspect that partisans of the target of that contempt interpret this humor as a kind of racism. So they may instead rally around the target (as a victim)—in this case Donald Trump—with a sense of injustice and evermore energy.

They need to read Strangers in their own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, a timely survey by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild who devotes her anthropologist’s temperament to understanding a part of America that others make little effort to comprehend. Hochschild’s mature investigation challenges ‘liberals’’ views of fellow citizens in Louisiana who they are likely to dismiss as occupants of ‘Trump territory’, justly worthy of ridicule. Basing her conclusions on extensive research, admitting that we all (even sophisticated Berkeley and New York liberals) “live in enclaves”, Hochschild is able to show considerable compassion for white, Christian Louisianaians whom others often deride [1]. In her recounted interviews she vividly demonstrates this community’s political intelligence and she suggests they are grossly and dangerously misunderstood by other enclaves. She concludes: if “we can find common ground… there are possibilities”, and advises liberals that “the shoe is on our foot to reach across.”  



[1] In the presidential primaries earlier in the year, it was noted that as few as 29% of New York voters cast their ballot. This New York rate was only exceeded by Louisiana voters.

[ Beware Liberals, Ridicule Wonít Help Defeat Opponents ]

"Yesterday" - (earliest questions and fears) by Barbara Nimri Aziz [pulled from my 2001 archive]

September 12, 2016

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Sept. 11, 2001, yesterday was a Tuesday, the day I head to New York City for my radio show. I make my way out of the quiet hills 200 km northeast of the city to drive to the metropolis. WBAI Pacifica Radio where I broadcast two weekly programs is located in lower Manhattan.

I would not reach there this Tuesday.    

An hour out from the city limits at 9:30 a.m I casually turn on the car radio. I hear accounts of the catastrophic events just down the highway from me. I pull off the road to listen carefully to what I hear. It doesn’t take long for me to absorb the magnitude of this news. I find myself weeping uncontrollably. This lasts a few moments. I look around me to see cars passing me silently. Do they know? Have they too heard? Do they too grasp the magnitude of the catastrophe we have entered?

Newscasters repeat:-- All bridges and tunnels into Manhattan are closed. I decide nevertheless to continue southwards in that direction. I can stop at the home of a friend en route. Before restarting the car, I open my phone. My first call is to colleagues at the radio station. Silence. I try again. Nothing.

The studio from where we broadcast is just 400 meters from the World Trade Center. Somehow I do not expect our building is in imminent danger. I want to join my fellow broadcasters doing what journalists must do at such a time. I abandon the phone and switch my car radio to 99.5 fm. Ahhh. We are sending out signals. I hear the voices of Jose and Sally, Bernard and Deepak. They are calm, professional, as they try

to make sense of the terror in the streets below. I wish I were there with them--not for the scoop; there is no scoop today.

Any seasoned announcer knows how to use her voice and experience to help our stunned public through this. I need to be with my colleagues, suspecting the political magnitude of this calamity. This is the job of a journalist especially broadcasters in moments of crisis.

    At 20 kilometers from Manhattan I reach Mountain View, the crest of a hill on the six-lane highway funneling traffic towards the city. From here, one can see beyond surrounding hills to the iconic Manhattan skyline. On this unhappy morning, reaching this summit on the road, something is missing. The air is clear but I cannot see those distinctive towers at the southern tip of Manhattan Island. What I can distinguish is a cloud of smoke seeping skyward. I begin to weep again.

I have no doubt that I will be turned back at the George Washington Bridge. So before reaching there, I detour to the home of friends. I exit highway 4 and within a few moments, pull into their drive. Their television is on, and I am pulled slowly, hesitatingly forward to gaze at the catastrophe close up. All the channels--news, drama, marketing, sports, history-- replay shots of the crashing of the planes into those enormous buildings, then the soft, crumbling towers, sinking to the pavement.

I reach for my phone. Still no connection with the radio station. I try the homes of others who live in lower Manhattan. Nothing. I manage to reach my sister in a far away city, then, surprisingly connect to the phones of my guests -- civil-rights activist Sami Al-Arian and feminist author Fadwa AlGuindi--scheduled for tonight's live broadcast. The show will be cancelled. Of course.

    I return to the television. My companions and I hardly speak. As I watch the spectacular images (a spectacle indeed, so crushing--you have all seen them) of the impacting planes and the collapsing buildings, I feel sick. Inside that inferno and fuming rubble are thousands of women and men being incinerated, pulverized. The replays go on. And on. Each cycle takes only moments. But this rumble begins to deepen, to erode a status--a truth--that I know will last a generation. I watch, stunned, wanting this to be just a film. Just a film.

    Weekly, en route through the city to our downtown studios, I passed through the World Trade Center. Usually I exit the subway train that terminates underground, beneath that maze of towers. I walk through the busy mezzanine, to the street and proceed to the east end of Wall Street. This subway stop is now a mass tomb.

Those two towers are--were--so colossal. I’ve always been aware of their immensity. They spread over large blocks across the city pavement and sweep upwards. They dwarf everything around, even the 19-story building where I work.

That was yesterday.

Today, Wednesday--the day after, our station, although undamaged, has ceased transmitting along with other communications centers in lower Manhattan. Were we forced to evacuate? Perhaps our transmitter is damaged; perhaps electrical cables are cut.

    My thoughts shift from the dead and grieving to the future, not a distant future, just weeks and months ahead. This catastrophe is bound to affect Arab and Muslim Americans. Already newscasters are speculating that the perpetrators are of Arab origin. This is going to bear down on every one of us, wherever we are in the USA. Not because of more terror attacks here; because authorities will launch a hunt. Expanded intelligence activity across the country is inevitable.

After earlier, less horrific incidents our Congress hastily passed anti-terrorism laws that already began overriding our civil rights. Most citizens are unaware of this because the immediate target of these laws is one community-- Muslims and Arabs. The press was not alarmed. But regulations are in place, here and abroad. Congress had already granted greatly expanded powers to our intelligence agencies and the civil liberties of our people has already felt the terror of the anti-terror laws.

Thirty hours have passed since that morning. I returned home, mournfully, slowly, silently that same Tuesday. I do not seek out neighbors. In coming days we encounter one another on the street. We exchange few words. Yet I find myself disputing their “get them” threats, pulling back from their wild emotions—“wipe them all out”.

"We are grieving; we must be united. We still know so little, really", I try to address their panic. They do not hear me. I abruptly cut off these discussions to be alone at home, with my hand on the radio dial, switching from one radio station or another. I am indolent. I cannot think logically.

We are afraid. All of us are afraid for our future (yes, the future of this disneyland of democracy and all the stuff we strive to possess, stuff that we take so for granted-- for ourselves). I think many are very angry because they are overcome with a sense of sudden vulnerability in this hitherto invincible land. I expect that this country will answer with revenge, not reflection. This frightens me most.

I ask myself: what about our much lauded surveillance intelligence system. Isn’t it built to protect the nation, to safeguard the money centers and fun parks and military research complexes? I ask others this question; they’re not interested. Neither are our newscasters, neither the clever commentators, neither our civic leaders.

Surely this tragedy is a huge intelligence and military blunder by our own government. Why is no one else questioning its failure? How could a hijacked plane get close enough to fly into the pentagon? The pentagon! That's the American defense center, probably the most secure structure on the planet!

The citizens pay heavily for that supersafe, invincible complex. With its bravado and its secret budget and hoards of heroic generals and intelligence agents, how could they not have foreseen this invasion? Tell me.

And now, in the failure, the shirkers will lash out at others. They will call for more spies and more enhanced spying, more equipment and more reports by experts. They’re already launching investigations of those they failed to identify beforehand.

Today, somehow, our security agents are certain who did this. We hear news reports naming the men who carried out the attacks. Swiftly and with such certitude, authorities now zero in on the culprits. Just days after the fact, we are given details of the criminals they say flew those planes into America.

    Thus far, I personally feel unmolested, thus far. But now my personal and professional missions seem in jeopardy. For thirteen years, at considerable risk, cost and hard work, I've devoted all my energies and resources to fighting stereotypes and educating the US public about our Arab culture, our people, Islam. At times, as a journalist I think I helped people understand our dreams and our common values. Whatever small successes we had building the bridges may now be wiped out. Just as the Gulf War in 1991 erased our efforts in community work and education in the previous decade. Today, we do not start at zero, but far earlier than zero.

It’s still possible that emerging 'facts' that first lead the government and media to identify Arabs and Muslims as the perpetrators of this awful crimes turn out to be mistaken. It may not matter if they are wrong. Because in the end, ultimately, it is the American government that must change its policy towards the world's peoples. It is our administration and our citizens who must reverse their actions and attitudes. It is here that the humiliation and devastation of millions if not billions of people began.

I try to be optimistic. Perhaps unseen, behind the militant posturing and threats, the leadership of this nation will indeed reflect. Perhaps it will reconsider its own barbarous military policies across the world. Perhaps it will change itself.

    Will our new American experience of fleeing through the streets of a city in terror, facing daily uncertainties about our security, searching for the dead and watching so many perish, finally connect us to so many others around the world for whom these are all too common experiences? END


[ "Yesterday" - (earliest questions and fears) by Barbara Nimri Aziz [pulled from my 2001 archive] ]

Trumpís Latest Insult: The Best Thing Thatís Happened to Muslim Americans in Forty Years.

August 03, 2016

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Muslims have been trying to build alliances with fellow Americans with halting success for four decades. We have Muslims (Americans) against Hunger, Muslims for Republicans, Muslims for Peace, Muslim online dating, Muslims for Progressive Values and a Muslim writer’s guild. Muslims perished along with others when the World Trade towers fell and Muslim students are among the highest scorers in US college assessment tests. We have Muslim policemen, Muslim intermarriages, Muslim-Jewish Alliances, Muslim members of Congress, Muslim-Christian dialogues, Muslims Health Professionals, Muslims at the White House, Muslim Advocates, LGBT Muslims and Green Muslims. We even had the “Hijabi Monologues”. All aim to educate others and, yes, to prove how American we are.

Progress has been slow. At times we seemed to be retreating in the face of never-ending attacks on individuals and mosques, scapegoated for things which we have absolutely nothing to do with, indeed, which we ourselves abhor. Our children are bullied in school; we’re removed from airplanes; our gifts to family and other fellow Muslims abroad are tracked and even used as evidence against us and our charities. The list of injustices increases every year.

Then came Trump with his anti-Muslim proposals and tirades, allowing rude people at his rallies to utter racist remarks and incite suspicion of Muslims. Month after month, physical as well as verbal attacks on our people rise as Trump’s campaign advances. When he proposed Muslims not be allowed into this country it seemed that candidate Trump had crossed the line. “Hey”, some rejoined: “What about the men and women in our armed forces? What about diplomats? What about United Nations employees, invited scholars, football teams?"

We are all too aware of how any ban of this nature conjures up the terrible and shameful restrictions imposed on European Jews. Perhaps no people are as frightened and troubled by Trump’s declaration than Jews themselves; they remember too well how their community suffered when explicit bans were declared.

Trump later qualified his Muslim ban. But he couldn’t repair the damage. He’d gone too far. People who had previously tolerated Trump’s tirades began to think and to consider the implications of his religious proscription. (Republican sympathizers had also heard the bizarre statement by Ben Carson --that no Muslim should be nominated for high office.) The US constitution which citizens invoke to assert state rights and to protect their freedom to bear arms is the same document that will not distinguish or prejudice Americans according to their religion.

Finally it was the martyrdom of Muslim-American soldier Humayun Khan that seemed to consummately demonstrate the reality of Muslim Americans’ patriotism. Khan’s father, in his attack on Donald Trump at the height of the Democratic National Convention last week, became a spokesman not for Muslims in particular or for his lost son, but for all “Gold Star families” (the term for those who have lost loved ones during military service). His challenge to Trump received thunderous applause, a show of support perhaps unprecedented in any forum addressing Muslim affairs.

Khizr Khan, with Humayun‘s mother at his side, challenged the very patriotism of the Republican candidate with a ferocity and clarity we hadn’t seen. His statement drove home the real experience and the investment which Muslim citizens have in the USA. As a Gold Star family, the Khan immediately forged a link not only with other families of martyred children, but with the millions of veteran and military families, and through them, to the American street.

Trump’s discourtesy and vulgarity were further exposed by his remarks about Humayan’s Khan’s mother, Ghazala Khan. Public backlash to his distasteful comments on Sunday’s ABC News was swift and unambiguous.

The world has witnessed unarguable evidence, time and time again, of Trump’s ignorance and boorishness during the months of this long, dramatic campaign. Some of his outrages were dismissed or eclipsed by worse examples. Even if this one is superseded, and his insensitivity and arrogance barrel along unopposed, one outcome is certain, namely, the depth of the new roots planted between Muslims and their fellow Americans.

[ Trumpís Latest Insult: The Best Thing Thatís Happened to Muslim Americans in Forty Years. ]

Fiction Is Sometimes The Best Journalism: A Muslim Case Study-- book review

July 26, 2016

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

A Muslim youth commits a terrible violent crime and then takes his own life. His suburban family, immigrants in the US for more than two decades is advised to relocate; his parents are divided over how to handle the crisis; his teenage siblings, shunned and mocked by classmates, retreat into fantasy; the community in which they were once so nicely integrated spurns them.

The scenario could be any national news story. Whatever the perpetrator’s motive or mental state, his crime is a ‘Muslim’ one-- an uncivil act; everything associated with him becomes tainted. The religion itself is blighted and criminalized. The violence is seen as further evidence that Islam bears responsibility.

Our media’s preoccupation with and prejudgment of this category of crime is so intense that Muslims find themselves floundering in its wake. With regular frequency, Muslim writers pen commentaries explaining our angst, and cohorts of Muslim spokespeople appear on TV to refute generalizations about Islam and to assure others of the peace-loving nature of our religion and our community.

We know the scenario too well. Yet those eloquent efforts seem naïve, ineffective and superficial. At the same time we find precious few attempts by our Muslim creative community to explore the human repercussions of these events at a deeper level:--through novels, film and drama.

I can think of just three writers, Hanif Kureishi, Wajahat Ali and Laila Halaby who’ve addressed Muslim family experience in these turbulent decades in the West where our social lives are thrown into turmoil, where we are psychologically traumatized, and where our own spiritual values are undermined.  (“My Son the Fanatic”, a 1994 story by London-based Kureishi was made into an excellent film; Ali’s 2005 play “Domestic Crusaders” was later published as a book; Halaby’s novel “Once in a Promised Land” appeared in 2007. I suppose we could include “My Name Is Khan”, a 2010 Indian-produced film set largely in the USA.)

We now have a novel that tackles this contemporary theme in a fresh and effective approach. Rajia Hassib’s In the Language of Miracles explores how one American Muslim family is impacted by violence. I don’t know if Hassib intended her fictional piece to be a domestic prism through which to view the American Muslims’ experience of “terror” in our midst. Because there’s nothing explicit here about what’s commonly labeled “Islamic terror”. For me however, her story is essentially a metaphor of our recurring nightmare– “Islamic violence” directed at Western targets.

The plot of In the Language of Miracles is an astute tactic to remove the crime from its normally fraught political context to explore what transpires when a simple youth, motivated by jealousy, family tensions and personal stress, carries out an ordinary (American) killing. What happens to his family and his community?”

This cleverly crafted story opens with a veiled reference to a past family tragedy when Cynthia, a (white) neighbor invites the Al-Menshawy (Muslim) family to a forthcoming event; it’s the first anniversary memorial of her daughter Nathalie’s death. The invitation precipitates divisions among family members: Samir, the father and a successful doctor, his wife Nagla suffering from unspecified ailments, their son Khaled, their daughter Fatima, and Nagla’s mother Ehsan visiting from overseas. Each reacts differently to the neighbor’s invitation and we are pulled into the evolving drama over the few days between that awkward announcement and the ceremony itself. We soon learn that the al-Menshawys not only also lost a child, Hosaam, by suicide; it was their son who killed Nathalie, his longtime childhood friend.

We hardly have time to mourn Hosaam or to learn his motives since author Hassib’s story focuses around Nathalie’s approaching memorial which is to be a community affair with speeches and a tree planting. Flyers are posted on social media and across the town, stirring up the community’s grief and anger; not unexpectedly much emotion is directed at the killer’s family.

What should they do? Samir insists they attend the memorial where he intends to make a statement. Nagla rejects this; she’s unfocused and indolent, a condition likely precipitated by the death of Hosaam. Her surviving son Khaled is withdrawn while Fatima tries to ride above the fray. (She has recently befriended another Muslim girl and is perhaps becoming more devout.) Khaled, rejected by all but one school friend, retreats into social media and seeks out a young woman in New York City. With this stranger he’s able to share his distress and revisit events leading to Hosaam’s action. He returns to his troubled home in New Jersey in time for the memorial but too late to rescue his father from his blundering performance there.

The story is presented through Khaled’s eyes, from his grandmother’s pseudo-Islamic incantations and dream interpretations during a childhood illness to his alienation from his brother, the son for whom Samir had high expectations. (In the final chapter we find Khaled and his sister residing in the US while their father, humiliated after his misstep at the memorial, has returned to Egypt with Nagla and their grandmother.)  

To build the character of Samir whose psychology Hassib seems most interested in exploring, she takes us back to his arrival in New York as a medical graduate from Egypt to begin his residency. While achieving his ambitions of establishing his own clinic and enjoying social acceptance among Americans, Samir has eschewed his Egyptian culture and his religion. Yet he misreads the very culture he feels so proud to be part of; his children are unanchored and his wife is ill. Worst, he completely disregards his own son’s death anniversary.

Tellingly, the least acculturated family member, grandmother Ehsan, offers her folk remedies, common sense, and some invocations of Islamic texts that she barely understands to address the pain of her traumatized family. She alone seems to possess the cultural integrity to properly recognize the death anniversary of their child Hosaam. In familiar simple Islamic tradition she prepares special pastries and goes to the cemetery to commute with his spirit (and to scrub offensive graffiti off his gravestone) where she also consoles a grieving stranger at a nearby grave.

[ Fiction Is Sometimes The Best Journalism: A Muslim Case Study-- book review ]

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Cassandra Wilson, vocalist; April 7, 2015 Harlem's Cotton Club, NYC

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Theater artist Andrea Assaf performs from the "Robin Monologues"

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poem Algeria: Qur'an Recitation
Algerian Sahara , by Sufi brothers

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Book review
Karen Armstrong's
Fields of Blood: Religion and The History of Violence
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