Saturday, June 30, 2012

Gathering for the Fast

Evan Friedman, a charming International Relations student at El Cajon University, wanted to impress the beautiful, Turkish exchange student Afet Musa. 

They were both enrolled in Professor Khoury’s controversial “The Middle East Within You?” course, a course that was cross-listed to fulfill requirements in the History, Political Science, and International Relations Departments at ECU.

Evan was a triple-majoring, straight-A shooting guard who approached every task, whether on the court or in the classroom, with the same attitude: this is cake.

Evan noticed Afet’s soft eyes before he noticed her headscarf.  

Afet Musa came to The States to improve her English.  Plagued by homesickness, she couldn’t stop thinking about the tulips then in bloom around the Golden Horn.  She never felt at ease in the U.S.  The Americans Afet met seemed overly interested in sex, celebrity, and money.  She wished to be visiting a democratic society in which Populism actually meant that leaders heeded the concerns of ordinary people.  At home, Afet had always felt troubled by Turkish notions of Populism in which a benevolent elite supposedly took care of its people.  But living in the United States for eight months left her struggling with her attitude: this is disappointing.

Secretly, she also hoped she’d be lucky enough to find a marriageable, American man, someone like Eddie Vedder.

Evan felt attracted to Afet from the beginning.  He wasn’t sure how to approach her, and he wanted to leave a glorious impression.  When she spoke up in one class discussion, Evan got an idea.  

The students had been discussing the hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.  One of the more vocal students, Bruce Caldwell, asserted that only the Israeli government needed to know what was meant by “administrative detention.”  He insisted that the international community should not intervene in this situation out of respect for Israeli sovereignty.  Afet did not agree.  She looked at Bruce with something like disgust in her eyes, “It is plain to me that Israel insists on a policy to imprison Palestinians because they are Palestinians.  This make me feel sympathetic of Palestinian.  I don’t understand why no one in U.S. has honest discussion about Israel.  If someone express sympathy for Palestinian in U.S., people call her Nazi.  The popular inclination in this country is to side with Israel, but I think that I want to hear the voices of Palestinian’s.  I want to hear their side of the story just as much as I hear Israel’s side of the story.  Isn’t that what Democracy is about?  Shouldn’t we hear what Palestinian people wishes?”  Someone else added, “Not if they are Jihadists whose sole purpose is to kill Americans.”  Some members of the class sniggered.  Evan watched Afet’s eye dart around the room, searching for the speaker who’d said that.  Though she’d felt agitated, Afet’s jeweled eye still held its quiet, a quiet that seemed to Evan almost divine.  Though he tried to make contact, Evan could not get her good eye or her false eye to remain trained on him.  The fifty-minute class ended, cutting off the discussion.   

Evan Friedman was smitten, and now he felt compelled to do something to get this girl to notice him.  So he started an organization on campus called Jewish Students in Support of the Palestinian Cause (JSSPC).  The statement of purpose of the organization is to show solidarity with the Palestinian plight and to write letters warning Israeli government that the lack of transparency in its justice system risks violating Palestinians’ Human rights, like a mini human rights watch. 

Evan wrote up a description of JSSPC, received reluctant approval from school administrators, and set out publicizing the organization’s first event.  JSSPC would hold a three-day fast to show solidarity for the hunger-striking, Palestinian prisoners.  The night before the event, Evan wasn’t sure anyone would show up at the assembly hall for the fast.  He hoped Afet would join, and the idea of just the two of them fasting together in the huge assembly hall excited him.  The next day, the strong turnout and enthusiasm surprised Evan. 

Students from all disciplines and backgrounds gathered for the fast.  Many brought guitars and drums.  They lit candles and burned incense.  Some students sat quietly in meditation while others chanted protests or prayers.  No one thought about food.  The college newspaper and the local East County News came to interview the students and write the story up.  Though the fast gained some local limelight, it didn’t attract the attention of the national press.  Evan kept a journal about the Solidarity Fast on a blog that gained a small international readership. 

Each day, Evan tried to approach Afet.  On the first day, he walked toward her, but a journalism student from the college paper stepped in his path and requested an interview.  After that, the local newspaper sent a reporter for another interview.  On the second day, when he was about to approach Afet, someone threw a stone through a window, shattering glass in the far Southeastern corner of the assembly hall.  Everyone feared that it was a threat or hate crime, but more information about the incident revealed it to be nothing more than a drunken college prankster. 

On the third day, Evan felt light-headed and giddy from lack of food, but full of confidence that he would finally get an intimate moment with Afet.  She looked sallow, almost forlorn.  As soon as he introduced himself to her, her eyes rolled back in her head and she passed out in his arms.  While waiting for the emergency team to arrive, Evan cradled Afet close to him.  Without knowing her fondness for Eddie Vedder, he just started singing a song they’d been repeating at the fasting rally—Pearl Jam’s Just Breathe.  The college emergency team arrived and Evan and Afet were separated.  Days later, Afet received a diagnosis of a severe brain tumor.  She returned to her family in Turkey.  Within three months, Afet Musa was dead.  Evan lived on thinking about her, wondering.

After that, Evan Friedman gave up political causes to pursue a law degree, eventually he gained a judgeship on the California supreme court.  He thought about Afet now and then, regarding her as the love of his life.  Though they barely even spoke, they had exchanged something divine.  Evan decided long ago that he would never date a girl unless she inspired him enough to start a political movement. 

Sometimes he told friends or colleagues the story, ending with an ironic sneer, “Let this be a lesson to you, Gentlemen:  No woman is worth your time if she does not inspire you to contribute to some radical, peaceful, political change.”    

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bearded Lady

The bounty on Zahra Amer’s head exceeds 10 million Egyptian pounds.  Her crime?  She wears a fake beard.

Under the old regime, she paid off police, and they let her go on with her show.  But new leadership demands new tricks.  On this evening in January, the 100th anniversary of the Revolution, Sacred Forces enter Amer’s home to detain her for impersonating a prophet, a despot, a foreign tycoon, and a poet.

Amer evades arrest by sleepwalking. 

Reluctant to wake a somnambulist, military personnel stand with weapons limp and mouths agape while the sleeping suspect proceeds to work in her kitchen.  Amer is worth more if they apprehended her alive, and the team fears that if it wakes her, she’ll die.  So the troops, trained to rely on patience in these matters, observe Amer while she stuffs dates with almonds then rolls the dates in a pile of coconut flakes.  The slow, mechanical movements of her thin fingers hypnotize the troops.  The men nod in admiration at the way Amer’s fingers work like the legs of a spider wrapping its victim in silk.  Their mouths water as she arranges the dates on a brass plate and offers the tidbit to her militant houseguests.  They accept her hospitality.  While the men feast on stuffed dates, Zahra Amer—suspected to practice black magic—fastens her false whiskers to her face and runs.

Still chewing, the men race after her.  Amer stands perfectly still outside a local shrine, posing as a statue of Hatshepsut.  The troops run right past her.

Authorities warn The People that Zahra Amer is a threat to public order.  Investigators use TV, radio, and the internet to broadcast warnings: “Amer is not armed, but she’s got legs and knows how to use them.”  Authorities remind The People of the fat reward.  Certainly, someone will cave into the lure of money.

But Amer’s got friends in NGO places, like Comedians Without Borders.  Though current leaders deem such organizations a threat to national unity, The People regard NGOs a vital part of civil society.  The People don’t want money for turning in fugitives. 

People want bread, individual freedom, and social justice.

Despite what The People think, warnings from authorities continue, “Do not try to apprehend this individual yourself, or you may die laughing.  Report her to the military police.”

Disregarding danger, Zahra Amer chooses to perform one last time in Tahrir Square.  Her show features shapeshifting stunts that make a mockery of the recent verdicts handed down by the makeshift tribunals.  Her fellow countrymen cheer.   

After the ovation, the military arrests Zahra Amer.  She will never perform again.  But her courage inspires the Brotherhood, Sisterhood, Womanhood, Manhood and even the Childhood to rethink their positions on freedom of expression.  Thanks to Zahra Amer, all embrace ARTICLE 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, defining freedom of expression to include the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas.  The article protects all types of expression and modes of communication. 

Beards or no beards, women will fight for human rights.