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a watchful eye of creative complexity
Attacks in Paris happened today—terrible, hateful attacks that took many lives. It is very sad and unfortunate. I am crying. I am crying and I find it hard to stop. But it is not for Paris. I am crying for the silence—for the silence that fills the air and the internet day after day; the silence that proves to me whose lives are valued and whose lives might as well be dirt on the floor we sweep away into a garbage bin never to be seen again.
I’m so tired. Every day, the life of my people (broad usage here: all brown people, all Muslim people, etc.) does not matter. No one cares. Every day, they face violence, hatred. Every day. Some days they are able to escape, but those days seem few. Do you know what it is like to see family after family from non-Western countries die in terrorist attacks, whether it’s from groups like ISIS or countries like the U.S.A., and hear silence; then later, you witness an outpouring of sadness and an abundance of opinions and outrage when an attack hits a Western city, a city that you were told was worth seeing, that had some value?
Why do you believe that people living in your favorite tourist destination are more important than those living in the city you know nothing about? What makes you think that the other city isn’t worth seeing, that the culture is not important, or the people have no value? What exactly makes you think that it is okay if people die in other countries because you have nothing to do with it? Why do you not care about the people your own country murders? Why do you not care about the global terrorism committed by your own country?
Perhaps you think that violence in the middle east and elsewhere has been going on for so long that it doesn’t matter any more. Perhaps you think that there is nothing you can do about violence “over there” and amongst “those people.” Do you not think violence has roots? Do you think the average brown person wakes up and says, “Hey, I think today is a great day to kill some people”? You are mind-boggling. If you are American, you can do something to stop violence. The U.S. is the biggest perpetrator of violence; and this violence breeds violence from others. You can do something; you just have to care first.
When violent attacks in a western place occur, I log on to social media and see two things: 1. a barrage of prayers and solidarity hashtags and 2. racism, hatred, and threats of violence. When violent attacks in a non-western place occur, I log on to social media and see two things: 1. some of my friends expressing sadness and outrage and 2. silence from most.
Dear social media friends, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whathaveyou:
My life does not matter to you. If my life does matter to you, does it matter to you because you know me? If I lived in another country, on the other side of the world, my life would not matter to you. I believe my life would not matter to you. I would be dead in a terrorist attack and you would be okay with that. If somehow I left my home from that side of the world to find a safer, and more promising place in the West, you would still not care about me. I would be dead in a terrorist attack, and oh look, suddenly I matter to you. Oh wait, I probably live in a refugee camp because I cannot afford a place to live, so you would still not care about me. In fact, you would harm me. You would blame me for the violence I, myself, fled. You would blame me and then you would burn me. You would burn me. And you would burn me every single day after that. You would also burn my family, my friends, and anyone who looks like me. And then you would go back to not caring about me, my family, my friends, or anyone who looks like me. Or believes like me.
It hurts to know that a majority of people don’t give a crap about your life because you’re not the type of person people want to care about. They don’t even know you, so why should they?
When we cannot find empathy—when we refuse to listen, see, or understand anything outside of our own lives, there will never be justice and there will never be peace. Ever.
Expand your empathy and erase your exceptionalism.
Too much has been going on in the world. Too much. I am so angry. Too angry to even put the feelings into words. I am sick and tired of arguing that institutional racism actually exists; I am tired of trying to convince others that black people are human beings, especially to other people of color. It’s nauseating and tiresome. I can’t imagine what it is like for black people walking about this life every day knowing there is someone out there who fears them simply because they are black. How much time must they spend proving that their lives matter? Why do they even need to spend time proving such a thing? Black lives matter. Really! I don’t even understand how anyone can see it any other way. I supposed it must be similar to how I have to try and convince others that Palestinian lives matter—that we are not terrorists and that we have feelings and desires similar to everyone else.
Stop blaming the victims. When a group of people is segregated into an area, denied resources and opportunities, is harassed, has violence committed against them, is portrayed as uncivilized human beings unworthy of life, and is oppressed for decades upon decades, or centuries upon centuries, resistance is justified. The oppressed are not to blame because they rise up, become full of rage, and at times, snap into violence. I am tired of people ignoring the systematic racism that is the root of all of these issues. From Ferguson to Gaza, USA to Palestine, Native Americans to Black South Africans, and on and on. The issues are not completely the same, but are they oh so similar and quite connected.
It’s not enough to be angry. Time and time again we are angry. We rise up angry. We demand human rights. We demand civil rights. And then we are placated. We are pacified and soothed by our temporary stint of outrage and perhaps our lack of hope in any change and time to make it happen. It seems that in this country, the good old USA, change will only occur once every last person is in the street, when even the most well off person has become touched by the horrid nature of this world, has personally become affected by the oppressions running through the streets.
We do not need to wait for the day, however. We all must act now and act every day. Enough is enough. How many Mike Browns or Oscar Grants or Renisha McBrides or Trayvon Martins have to perish before we realize something is incredibly wrong? What has changed since the Civil Rights Movement? It seems like nothing has changed except for the blinds that have been put over people’s eyes to make them believe in the guise of a “post-racial society.” Well, wake up! That world does not exist.
So many images coming out of Ferguson are scary and depressing, yet they are also inspiring. These protestors are standing their ground in the face of a heavily militarized police force, one that calls these brave black souls “animals.” What is happening—and has been happening for decades—is disgusting. It needs to stop. We need justice for all lives. All life matters. I hope the rage coming out of Ferguson spreads to the entire country. It it way past due. Let this rage consume us all.
Inspired by the events in Ferguson, the courageous people in that community, and the last moments of Michael Brown, I sketched “Don’t Shoot” in a way that contrasts the terrible elements of those moments yet flows with hope.
I have nothing to say. No words can speak the reality you live; no adjectives can comprehend the bombs that fall on you every day; no nouns are effective enough to label the terror inflicted upon you. Too many destructive verbs are assaulting you, yet you survive. You persevere. You are the epitome of resilience. You are pain and sorrow; yet, you are beauty and joy.
I am addicted to the news. No matter how awful, I must see. I must watch. I must read. I must listen. I cannot peel my eyes or ears away. I even listen to poor news sources telling lies just so that I can hear something about you, to be with you. I am consumed by you. The stories, the images, the videos are never enough. This is how I know you. I read the names of those who have been murdered and I stare at the smiles of the children in photographs during happier times before they were ripped from this earth. I see the video clips of young boys looking for their toys in the rubble of their destroyed homes, a teddy bear to grasp on to in the midst of their worldly chaos.
Gaza. I cry for you; I pray for you; I rally for you. I can never stop thinking of you.
Gaza. You are always on my mind.
I go to sleep hoping for hope. I wake up and see that you have been through so much more than the day before. More dead families, more burned children. Flattened houses and obliterated neighborhoods. I move throughout the day, angry for you, depressed, hoping for hope. I want to see an end to your suffering. I want your siege to be lifted. I want hope for you. Oh Gaza. Inside your small strip of land you hold a population so strong and steadfast. Unafraid children, the bravest mothers you can find, reside within your concrete walls and militarized borders. Oh Gaza. You are hope. To see hope is to see the resistance of Palestinians. No matter what heinous crimes you live through, you stand tall. You live. You are tenacious. Your struggle stops at nothing. Your power against injustice is immense. You teach the world that it is possible to fill a prison with beauty. Oh Gaza. You will never fall.
From thousands of miles away, this is what it is to love you. Even when I close my eyes and my ears, it is as though they are open, seeing images in the dark of the night and hearing my mind unable to stop the pandemonium. This is about you, oh Gaza. You, who did not begin on July 8th. You, who has been besieged since 2006. You, who has been occupied since 1948. This is about you, Oh Gaza. This is about every Palestinian slaughtered since An Nakba. This is about every Palestinian—from your sea-coast, Oh Gaza, to the Galilee and the Negev, to the West Bank. This is about every Palestinian refugee scattered across the globe. This is about those who have never seen their homeland. This is about you, and them, and me.
Oh Gaza, I feel a part of you, yet I am not you. I feel a part of Palestine, yet I am not Palestine. I am a fragmented version, like static billowing over the land, split into different frequencies, half there and half here, in this country that aids your destruction. Like a never-ending hum, perpetual white noise, I carry you with me. I carry them with me. I carry my father’s childhood. My father, who in 1967, walked miles after miles for refuge until his shoes had holes; his shoes, imprinted with loss and longing. That loss and longing never gone. Until return.
Oh Gaza, you did not begin on July 8th, but we are able to witness your struggle immediately. A constant barrage of information has poured through since July 8th and I cannot turn away. I watch as your homes decrease in number, the concrete forming piles in the street; I watch as your children are brutally murdered while playing and living a childhood; I watch as your hospitals fill with death and the injured barely surviving; I watch as your water becomes unfit for consumption and your medical supplies deplete; I watch as families scream for their missing loved ones, for those found buried in the rubble.
Oh Gaza, we are also able to witness your strength and resilience immediately. I watch as you continue to pray, knowing your oppressor’s time will soon come; I watch as the children refuse to be afraid, continuing to play soccer and live the lives of children; I watch as you refuse to be afraid, refuse to give in to a life besieged and unworthy of living; I watch as you insist for your voice to be heard, for the global community to hear you and do something; I watch as you demand justice.
The time will come when every person must answer for your tragedy. When that future arrives, only you will be able to answer for your steadfastness, for your ability to live in the face of all that tries to kill you.
The future arrives every moment and your future is bright, Oh Gaza.
And when the future you deserve arrives, we will celebrate together.
Process of Assimilation, 1967–, inkjet printing on newsprint, perfect bound book, 5 x 6.75 inches closed; enlargement of 1960’s photograph, 5 x 7 inches.
The only object my father was able to bring to the United States after his family left Palestine in 1967 was an Arabic-English dictionary. It is not only a remnant of his displacement, but it is representative of a necessity to learn another language, a foreign language, and one that is to become a refugee’s or “displaced person’s” new dialect. My father marked over 1,600 words in this dictionary. These words signify what a person should know when learning English in the late 1960s to early 1970s. These are the words my father found important, the only ones worth knowing in this “pocket” dictionary.
I recreated the dictionary representing my father’s experience during this time of immigration and “assimilation.” I stripped away everything that my father did not mark, everything that was not worth knowing. The dictionary exists in the state after the process of learning English, complete with traces of that process including simple marks, handwritten notes, and the inscription of the Americanized name given to my father by teachers and schoolmates. The photograph is a reference to the unreachable past, his place of origin, the place from which he departed, the reason it was necessary to learn English. A photo of a home to which he cannot return and a book representing the language of his new home, the past and the present recreated to exist simultaneously, as it often does in the reality of a Palestinian.
My thesis, Objects of Palestine, is a participatory project featuring objects and narratives in the American Palestinian diaspora passed down to the children of those made refugees in 1948 and 1967, exploring the role they play in connection to homeland, linking the past with the future, and resistance to cultural destruction. The project collects experiences through and relationship to existent or non-existent physical, tangible objects that their parents (or other relatives) were able to bring with them when they were displaced from historic Palestine.
The written portion focuses on the diaspora in Chicago. Using the text from my (almost complete) thesis, Wordle has produced a number of word bubbles I thought I would share.
“My father’s image appeared before my eyes, and I could hear his voice saying ‘When will we return home?’ My whole world came together. I was silent. I looked out at the greenery and mountains of Palestine. I could see Tel Aviv below. I wept out of affection and longing, and said softly, ‘Father, we shall return…’” —Leila Khaled
Since 2004, I have been collecting postcards from all around the world; my collection has one condition: the postcards must be sent to me from friends and family while they are visiting a particular destination. My goal, which will last a lifetime and never be fulfilled, is to receive a postcard from every country in the world and every state in the U.S.
Postcards allow us to live vicariously the visits of friends and family in other cities and countries. When we receive postcards we are able to create and recall memories by reading the message handwritten to us on the back detailing unique or typical excursions and/or containing generic sayings of “Wish you were here.” Before my father came to the United States from Palestine in 1967, he purchased postcards of the occupied homeland he was leaving because he was able to take nothing with him. To look at these postcards is to invoke memories not of tourism, but of struggle, longing, and the possible permanence of losing one’s home, simply through the image. My collection is comprised of places around the world that one can visit as a tourist or possibly inhabit, while my father’s collection is of a home to which he cannot return; the former is voluntary displacement while the latter is forced.
I have displayed my postcard collection chronologically in a single line with the body text transcribed into a continuous narrative below. At various intervals, I have placed my father’s Palestine postcards up high, disrupting the flow and forcing the viewer to look up. These postcards are in archival sleeves, showing past and preservation, remnants of loss and struggle. Included are three postcards that were sent to my father from relatives and a friend who were able to remain in Palestine after 1967.
Through image, text, and narrative, Far from Home reflects on ideas of (un)attainable geography and forced or voluntary displacement; the image of Palestine is always lingering, disrupting our travel in life as a constant reminder of an unreachable home.
As I am writing and editing parts of my thesis, I would rather take a break and post an excerpt here. This is only a very small part of a draft that may change a little bit, a whole lot, or none at all. One of the reasons I feel like posting this now is because of Khader Adnan. As I read the words that I have written about Palestine, they conjure up the image of Khader Adnan, dying as he enters his 62nd day of his hunger strike in protest of his unlawful detainment and terrible treatment in prison. He is chained to a bed, dying as I write this. He has received no trial. Israel has not charged him with any crime. He has committed no crime, except that of being born a Palestinian.
Palestine is the embodiment of struggle, resilience, resistance, and liberation.
It is center of the world, the hole in the earth that is the answer to peace;
it is the stain of injustice and the mark of fortitude;
it is the root of solidarity amongst all uprooted peoples;
it is the educated, but mostly the educator;
it is summoud;
it is right; it is moral; it is just.
It is life.
I carry it with me everyday in every inch of my muscle, flesh, bones, blood, and soul.
I often carry it around my neck in white and black.
It’s often on my mind and it’s always in the back.
I carry it as a dream, as a cause, and as a goal.
I want to return to the land I’ve never seen. I pray I make it soon.
I recall a day when I was showing a friend something on my laptop and he took notice of the image I chose as my wallpaper: 5.15.1948 written in a white, destructed-style font over a black background. He asked me what the date meant and I told him about al-Nakba, the Catastrophe, the day that Palestinians will never forget, when Zionist soldiers destroyed over 400 Palestinian villages and displaced three-quarters of a million Palestinians. It is the day known to some—and celebrated—as Israel’s Independence Day. My friend responded with, “You’re too political.”
I think back to various instances in my life where, in a group environment, I was labeled as the “political” person: the political employee, the political friend, the political [insert noun here].
Of course, some people assume that because one is political, s/he likes politics. Why would one constantly keep up with political events and situations if one did not enjoy doing so? Some people think that just because one is conscious of political affairs and often speaks about them, one chooses to live one’s life in such a manner simply because one’s main interest is in doing so.
Well, I hate politics. I do not enjoy reading about politics and politicians. I hate political affairs and being involved in politics. It’s not that I chose to be political, but it is simply necessary and a duty in response to the past and present and in action towards a better future.
For those who say I am too political, or label me as the political person:
I didn’t ask to be political.
Politics was forced upon me.
I didn’t ask for the Balfour Declaration or for the UN Partition Plan.
I certainly didn’t ask for the war in 1948,
nor for the war in 1967.
I didn’t ask for the displacement of my father,
or for his citizenship/stateless dilemma.
I didn’t ask to be born in a country where my people make up only a small percentage
and nobody can pronounce my name.
I didn’t ask for others to inquire about my relation to Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War.
I didn’t ask for the Oslo Accords.
I didn’t ask for the twin towers to fall, nor for the harassment that followed.
I didn’t ask for the Patriot Act, nor for the questions of allegiance.
I didn’t ask to invade countries for ‘weapons of mass destruction.’
I didn’t ask for my tax dollars to pay for the oppression of my people.
I didn’t ask for a fake Roadmap to peace.
I didn’t ask for a “Separation Barrier” to be implemented in my homeland.
I didn’t ask for extra airport security and laws that diminish rights.
I didn’t ask for war or for occupation or for racism or for statism.
I didn’t ask to be labeled a terrorist or a global threat.
I didn’t ask to be named non-existent and simply ‘invented.’
I didn’t ask for the false propaganda of mainstream media.
I didn’t ask to live amongst the brainwashed, the sheep.
I didn’t ask for intolerance and willful ignorance.
I didn’t ask.
It was given to me and I couldn’t give it back.
I didn’t ask.
I never asked to be political.
Politics was forced upon me.
I only ask for justice.
I demand it.
Plato: “Those who are too smart to engage in politics end up being governed by those who are dumber.”