Thursday, March 02, 2006

Of Places in the Heart, Arab-Americans and intercultural relationships: Analysis, morale , conclusion, discussion

Wow that's a long pompous title ...

If you have just landed on this blog by mistake or by coincidence then please be aware that I have been telling the readers the story of an Egyptian TV series which caught my eye in Ramadan 2005. If on the other hand you are a regular reader and had 'skipped' it then may I suggest you go back to reading it if you wish to comment on this topic, it's not long , only 5 parts.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

Allow me to reprint what I said two weeks ago when I started this saga: "In light of the recent events surrounding the so called Danish cartoons which have quickly evolved into a world crisis of economic, diplomatic and social proportions, this story is even more relevant, as it uncovers the tip of the iceberg of our fears (or in this case western fears) of the other, stereotypes, respect, Islamphobia and Arabphobia - but also vice versa I must admit. [...] Maybe we can brainstorm the significance of the subliminal message if any. Should I have a reason to be apprehensive?" .

I have not posted this story simply for entertainment purposes, or as a free publicity to the actors , director and producer, because I already said it was a humble production, and despite the fantasia and 'far fetched' part, I think it has a valid point and a morale. Of course every story must have a morale right ? so let's see what is the deal here ....

when the storie ends bad guy John Adams is killed in a hostage crisis and shoot out by the police. His wife Lina ( Amy) is exonerated therefore of the murder charges and especially the death sentence. This though has been at the cost of her best friend Margaret ( who had plotted against) dying, but also her best friend from jail dying at the hands of thugs influenced by the hate wave against Arabs and Muslims after 9/11. Lina herself has suffered because of that, as we have seen. We have noted how along the story Bakr and Mc Carthy gain a new respect for each other. The author wants to show us that despite Mc Carthy’s political agenda and his boss attempting to prevent him from re-opening the case, he does it because he loves the American Constitution freedom, ideals and what they stands for . Mc Carthy is impressed with Bakr ‘s endless search for Justice, not because Lina and him originated from the Arab world but because Bakr is in love with America’s ideals and believes they should be enacted and that the laws guarantee respect and a fair chance to all Americans irrespective of creed or ethnicity or when did they arrive in the US.
Bakr is finally taking his wife (Tracy) to court and is going to fight for custody of teenage Leila because first there is no use hiding from her the mess of the failed marriage but also because he believes in Justice and thinks he should not have feared Tracy in the first place, despite her threat of reporting him as a terrorist Arab Muslim, because fear breeds an unhealthy relationship which prevents justice.

The author also wants to show us how much the Arab Americans are stuck in a dilemna on one hand they are Americans and on the other they are treated as the enemy within.

"Within three days after the Oklahoma City bombing, more than 200 hate crimes were committed against Arab Americans and American Muslims. The same was true in the days following September 11."

He wants to show through this simple story how Arab Americans have been suffering following 9/11 and that this attitude and stereotyping are unjust because they are first and foremost Americans. We wonder why were not the Irish-Americans so badly treated every time the IRA made a terrorist attack in London or Belfast? WHY? Is it because the Irish are from European stock ? (Let's not forget that a large amount of the Aid money from the US people and charities went to fund the IRA also ) .
Do skin colour and religion make a difference in America despite what the Constitution states ? Are the slogans for Freedom a mere hypocrisy ? and only apply to Aryan types ( ok maybe I’m going overboard here so don’t trash me people- just explain to me and teach me) ? A lot of questions churning in the mind of Arabs from what they see and that is why I said that TV series was showing and discussing in a very simplistic and romanticized manner the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Have or have not Arab Americans (whether Muslims or Christians or atheist) been unjustly treated ? Some to the extent that they have Americanized their names ( even when they are Christians) just to have peace of mind. If my name is Jibril I’m going to change it to Gabriel it’s still the same but it is no longer Arabic . If my name is Yohana , I will make it John, Suliman will become Solomon, and so on and so forth, because I wish for peace of mind and not discrimination. Are these problems due to perceptions on both sides or is it really a clash of civilization?

"[...] We see a danger that this country, which has always been committed to the rule of law, will lose interest in preserving the rights of its minorities. We see a danger that this nation will cease to maintain the principles of freedom and justice for all—principles that it has fought half-dozen wars to uphold. If Americans—all Americans—are not vigilant to avert these evils, we may all lose what we love best about America[...]"

Maya, one of my readers said "relationships between people from different cultures are unstable. I know several such cases, and all but one ended with painful separations.I guess things are likely to be even worse when one of the partners has to convert, i.e. to abandon his self. I disliked Lina's story (if somebody is interested, I'll explain why), but one detail in it was interesting - the degradation of her husband after he renounced his self " .
I asked her to wait till the end of the story.

Maya, John supposedly stopped drinking not because he converted but because he had a problem with alcoholism this was discussed in the series but I brushed over it quickly. Before knowing Lina, John had shady dealings , he had a felony in another state but we only find about that later on, he was a gambler from the beginning . I don’t think these are good characteristics to be proud off whether as a Muslim or as a Christian or simply as a human being. So becoming a Muslim did not ‘twarth’ his style culturally speaking. Lina was wearing quite stylish revealing clothes in the series to the extent I would have thought she was a Baywatch babe. She simply made the wrong choice because she was in love. The media was hysterical and unforgiving asking for blood , not because they thought she was a guilty killer but because she was originally from a foreign land, despite having become a naturalized American. That is the problem, when do you stop being a foreigner in America, even if you are fully integrated?

This led me to think deeply and to be honest also be very afraid with regards to the following :

If an American male or female married an Arab male or female, would the American renounce his spouse and turn violent as soon as a terrorist attack (God forbid) takes place by some extremist nut at the other side of the world or even on American soil. Will the Arab spouse always have to be on guard if America declares war on the country of origin of that Arab spouse ? If the spouse is a Muslim will he /she be viewed with suspicion unless he/ she starts acting in total moral abandon and looseness? Does having conservative values hinder?
All this scares the shit out of me, I may be exaggerating , I maybe be mixing things up, but it seems no one stood by Lina except Bakr , ( Arab American) , his Jewish American assistant, the Latina secretary and the African American policeman, and even the mafia guy was Italian American, all these people look like minorities to me.There is a glaring lack of ‘white’ American. Is this true ? or just a dramatization ?

I’m gonna share a secret with you guys I had always been reluctant to marry a Libyan American or Libyan Canadian because I was not sure I would be safe as unfortunately I did not think they were capable of taking care of themselves let alone of their women abroad. At least in Libya, if the worst came to happen I’m home. I can go back to my father’s house, or my brothers and cousins could go beat the shit out of the Libyan guy in Libya if he mistreats me looooool. But abroad what would happen to me if my husband decides he can’t stand up for me if he is Arab -American? would it be safer then to marry a non-Arab.?

But after 9/11 are things really as scary as I imagine ? If you adopt a country you must be loyal to it. How would you divide your loyalties ? would your heart bleed for your adopted country when it is hurt and then bleed for your native country when your adopted country decides to erase it of the face of the earth… Am I just being melodramatic - after all the series ended on a positive note: that Justice does prevail even if it is a tortuous road. A good example from real life is this one "The US government has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by an Egyptian who was among dozens of Muslims detained after the Sept. 11 attacks"; which makes me not totally loose hope.

Should an Arab man or woman fear to marry an American? This brings us back to the discussion you readers started in the 'leap of faith' post about the relative success of intercultural marriages. I know we have NBA on the camp of intercultural marriage and Programmer_Craig too. What about the rest ? do you care to discuss ? Should political events affect a marriage?

I also have a few examples of successful marriages on the blogosphere: Leilouta, Khadijateri, Fatima, Alea, Reema ( those were the ones I could roll out on the spot ..but there are many more ).
So I believe that intercultural relationships could be a success if we want them to be, if we are honest , if we trust in our basic humanity. The focal point is to realise this. Here is a lovely example from war ravaged Sarajevo, a US soldier and an Iraqi woman, and Iraq again :"I’m Muslim and he’s a Christian. I’m Iraqi and he’s American. It just can’t happen. It did. Love can make miracles. I do believe this now.”

Finally , ‘Places in the Heart’ , refers to that special spot in our heart that we reserve for a special place or human being and which will no matter where and when make whatever or whomever we love spring to life before our eyes. It is the place which we cannot forget, where the past, the present and the future meet, the place where we take refuge and where LOVE is the sole king.

However, for those who asked what this verse meant:

"انك لا تهدي من أحببت ولكن الله يهدي من يشاء"

Here is my humble translation until I find the correct non-Arabic link for you , because the Arabs know what I'm talking about here and in which context this verse had come about.

"[oh Mohamed!] you cannot bring to the straight path those whom you love , but only God can bring those he wishes [or who wish]" If I have butchered it please lead me to the correct translation thank you.

This time I’m waiting for the participation of even the silent majority ( hattip Madcanuck) !

... don't disappoint me.

Additional link => check 'Muslim Life in America' by the US dept of state.


Anonymous said...

No Maya you still have not touched my fear, death is not one of them as we all have to die eventually.

You say that any future abuse of your Prophet must be prevented. And I say, this means you want the death of Western culture

Did I say that Maya? please tell me where ?

Western culture is fine by me , but so are other cultures :)

Hey this thread is supposed to be about relationships, and Arab Americans. Can they work ?

Anonymous said...

You are quick, Highlander :).
I meant your words from the post "Of cartoons and freedom of speech", here they are: "Yes, we should definitely mount a suitable campaign and civil action to prevent this kind of offense from ever recurring again but we have to play the game the Western way."
As of Arab Americans, they are to speak themselves, but I guess the devil is not so black as it seems to you. From what you told, I have the impression that much of "Places in the Heart" is Egyptian propaganda. It has anti-American and anti-Western element, but the main point is another: Stay in Egypt, the outside world is hostile, there's no place like home! Because, while the West has problems with immigration, poor coutries have the mirror problem - emigration.
I guess, this is the reason why Lina is a biologist. Her story could happen to any shop assistant, and this variant would be even more powerful (the small, poor working-class girl caught by the System). But brain drain worries governments more than the fate of poor working people.

Anonymous said...

Yes Maya this time I agree with you.
As for mounting a campaign the western way I think that is a good positive point no ? It is a method which the west can understand and it does not necessarily involve tampering with western culture, but simply dialoguing and learning each others differences in a civilized manner , where no one has to submit to anyone else .

Maya you are most welcome on this blog , I like the way your brain functions and you ask the right questions too.
Oh and we have a day off today ( public holiday) so I'm stuffing myself with blogging 24/7 :)

Anonymous said...

Highlander, I think your post is very important, although I can only comment on small parts of it.

First of all, I've actually accidentally seen a part of one of the parts on an Arab tv channel before you started blogging it. I went on reading the events and once I just had this click in my head... Yes, I saw this!!! That's when the main character was in prison, threatened by some other prisoners and finally moved cells. As I don't understand Arabic, I could only try to guess what's going on, and to me it was (unintentionally) funny. The actresses do in fact look Arabs whoever they try to play and I just loved simple things such as they way the actors occasionally resort to the use of English in the middle of an Arabic series - what they say in English is in the style of "shut your dirty mouth" and "move your ass". LOL!

I can't speak about the post-9/11 USA as I've never even set my foot there but the problem of loyalties is universal. Jews have always been accused of being the fifth column only loyal to themselves and nowadays Israel and such is the case with many, if not most national minorities in case that minority has an independent state elsewhere.

Maya can surely tell some Bulgarians suspect Bulgarian Turks being loyal to Turkey, such is the case also with, for example, Hungarians in Romania and Slovakia, Russians in the Baltic States, Christians in Islamic countries - take the Copts in Egypt as an example - and the more current accusations of Danish Muslims of Arab descent being loyal to some mystical "Arab world". When Kosovo gets independent, you think the Serbs there will not be under the doubt of being loyal to the Serbian 'motherland' instead of the State of Kosovo?

And dozens and dozens of more examples. What I want to point out is that this is by far not a phenomenon only to be found in the West. I'd rather claim that the more despotic the regime is, the harder it is to be in the ethnic, cultural or religious minority and the easier it is to be branded under 'loyality in doubt'.

Of course, I also want to point out that a fictional series isn't quite the best source material here. I remember having met one American from Dallas in the early 1990s who told me he had to explain to a so-called Eastern European that not all people are rich in Dallas. Guess where the idea might have come from..? Perhaps from a tv series...

All this is of course wrong, however, it's understandable which doesn't mean it's acceptable.

Actually, now that the world is turning more multicultural, with more mixed marriages and people moving more often, this must be the hardest for those who are indeed the product of two or more backgrounds. In times of crises, neither side thinks they are part of them but a part of the enemy, and in these situations you really have to take sides as a matter of life and death. Think of all you've read about the break-up of Yugoslavia, for example. Just yesterday I saw something on tv of kids that are descendants of Bosnian Muslim mothers and the Bosnian Serbs that raped them. One of the kids was telling that he's a Muslim but the reporter was more pessimistic, claiming that it's not sure he'll be accepted as one... and if not, the seeds of another war have been sown.

Guys, can't you just nominate me for the Nobel Peace Prize..? I start sounding that tolerant nowadays ;-).

Anonymous said...

BTW, I liked Maya's point about thye name changes. That's also a universal phenomenon and because of really various motivations, some voluntary and willing, some forced or appreciated.

Some people think their names are hard to pronounce in the new homeland, some want to have a new start, some simply feel they're so integrally part of their new homeland that they also want to sound like that, some do that because of real or perceived persecution or discrimation, and some simply willingly adopt a new identity. A part of the latter group is that of Westerners converting to Islam and abandoning their given, Christian names.

Take the guy formely knows as Cat Stevens, and of Muslim-sounding Christians Michael Yuhanna better known as Tariq Aziz. Another interesting case is that many Jews "Europeanized" their names in the early 20th century for various reasons, yet today Jews moving to Israel adopt Hebrew ones (what might the verb be... help someone..?).

Anonymous said...

NBA, I appreciate your input , really do . You sound tolerant ;) because you realised that there is no use being intolerant ..see it only ends in heartache.Let the intolerant people wallow in their misery, bitterness and most importantly God's wrath - even if we think they are having it good ..

Anonymous said...

Highlander, thank you for the nice words. I appreciate your tolerance.
Your thought about fears of death made me feel a little as if I had rotated around my own axis (I don't know the English expression for this feeling). Our Earth is also thought to have a limited life span, are we then right to let it go to Hell? (See e.g. But this is subject of another discussion.
I realized that when we talk about inter-cultural relations, we in fact mean hostile cultures, cultures currently at war. I have a cousin married to a German, another married to a Suisse, I know a Bulgarian married to a Philipino and I don't consider these marriages inter-cultural, just the combination Muslim - non-Muslim. (I guess in Northern Ireland a marriage between a Catholic and a Protestant is considered inter-cultural, while one between a Christian and a Hindu is not.)
So, the problems of these relationships (their instability and the lack of good "exit strategy") are probably a consequence of the war and will disappear spontaneously if the war comes to an end.
About being an Arab/Muslim in America, here are 2 contrasting viewpoints: and
It seems to me that Mr. Siddiqui thinks mainly of what he is due to receive from other people, while young Farris think of what he can do for other people, and therefore the difference.

Anonymous said...

I am a 26 year old american women who is planning to marry a muslim man from Libya next year.I am worried because I dont know how easy it will be for him to come to america with me.There are many people here who put judgement on others just because of race and religion.The government has made muslims in america get fingerprinted,where they work,and they have to tell the FBI when they move and where to.But yet we are going to give illeagel mexicans the right to work and become citizens with no problem.Can anyone see anything wrong here?I feel that if you say your a christian then you should do what it says in the bible and love one another.I am also scared of me being judged as just another hating american.I am a christian but when I tell people of who I am going to marry they ask if he knows how to fly a plane or people say that muslims are very bad.All this is coming from "other" christians.This bugs me.The bible says love your enemy,well,are these people true christians?I have been doing alot of searching about the muslim religion and I have gotten a Quran in english.I hope my relationship and marriage is strong and loving.I think that "mixed" marriages are a good thing if you understand each others differences and religion.Both people have to overcome all the bumbs in the road together if its going to last.Thanks for the information I read.